When I picked up “Network” at the library recently, my only memory consisted of Peter Finch exhorting his audience to go to their windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
I did not realize how prescient the 33-year-old film was.
Finch, as Howard Beale, could easily fit into any cable news network lineup today. His rants sound right at home alongside such anger-mongers as Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin. And the media conglomeration feared by writer Paddy Chayefsky has, in large part, come to pass.
Which is why the scolding that Arthur Jensen delivers to Beale near the end of the film is not nearly so outrageous today:
There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state — Karl Marx? They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business.
The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine, oppression and brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.