I’m sure like many Americans last night, I found myself pacing around my apartment at about 7 PM PST, while the TV played the dispiriting election results which showed that, good lord, Donald Trump might have a serious chance of being our president. Then, from some nearby house or apartment building, I kid you not, I heard someone yell the phrase, “I’m as mad as hell! And I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Which of course is the iconic line from Paddy Chayefsky’s script for the 1976 film Network, which for many years has been my favorite movie of all time, and is also a film that I kind of feel like I’ve been living through for the past year or so.
In Network, that particular line is used as a sort of rallying cry that newsman-turned-TV-prophet Howard Beale tells all of his viewers to shout out their windows, because they’re sick and tired of feeling like their lives don’t have value in 1970s America. Though the thing is, I couldn’t tell who the guy yelling last night was supporting — Donald or Hillary? Because he could’ve been yelling in response to the inconceivable fact that Trump seemed to be headed toward a victory. Although I suppose it’s more likely that he was one of the disenfranchised Trump supporters that had their hearts set on electing an “outsider” who “told it like it is”. Which of course is all bullshit considering Trump isn’t gonna spare two farts for the unvoiced working class, but we’ve been through this already, haven’t we?
And yes, I realize it is a bit weird for me to be talking about politics on this blog, which has served as a celebration of all things pop culture, not real-fucking-life (though we did dabble in some political stuff in 2008, when we were figuring out what the hell this site was). But no, this blog has always been a haven for talking about anything other than the news, but I suppose this felt like an election where politics and entertainment sort of merged in a not-so-pretty way. And I want to hope that this is as far as we take this trash-media-obsessed approach to politics, since we in essence elected someone whose qualifications were based on his “charisma” and ability to entertain people’s most base instincts.
And it’s all there in Network, a movie that at this point is so prophetic that I can’t tell if it’s my favorite movie of all time, or my least favorite movie of all time now that it rings so true (assuming you sub out the power of television for the power of the internet). Because for those that don’t know, Network centers on Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch), a soon-to-be-fired newsman who after getting news of his termination, says he plans on committing suicide in the middle of one of his broadcasts. Then, after he makes this declaration during the fictional UBS network’s evening news, ratings go through the roof. This then leads the ruthless head of news, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) to turn UBS’s nightly news into a sideshow, as every episode centers on him going on these maniacal rants about the indignities of the modern world, and unsurprisingly America eats it up.
Granted, I feel like the story of Howard Beale is a little more similar to what Glenn Beck was a few years ago — this guy just going off on these weird angry tangents that didn’t always seem aimed at anyone in particular. But I think Trump did kind of pick up where Beck (and Beale) left off, by taking this braggadocio-fueled showmanship and combining it with the racism and misogyny that apparently still lies at the heart of our country. And I suppose that’s what makes this all so terrifying — Network actually seems tame by comparison to what we just witnessed in this past election. Because Network is purely a work of absurdist comedic satire, considering that there wasn’t anything like Howard Beale on television in 1976, and there wouldn’t be for nearly 30 more years until we got reality TV, which of course begat our current president-elect.
So yeah, basically we’re living in a scenario where the guy from Network not only became a TV sensation, but also ran for president (and won) against the most over-qualified badass woman we could’ve run against him, and he did it on a platform of hate and bigotry. I know, things are all very uncertain and it’s all very scary right now. But America’s been through this before. In fact, it’d just gone through a crisis of identity in the post-Watergate mid-70s that could only birth an amazingly complicated work like Network. Also, 1976 was the year that Network went head-to-head in the Oscar Best Picture race against the likes of Taxi Driver, All The President’s Men, and Rocky, and lost, because it was just that great of a time for American movies. Also mind you, this was the same year The Ramones released their first album while punk rock was being born in the streets of NYC, when that city was at its most murderiest.
Still, I’m a little hesitant to embrace the idea that this new presidency will inspire great art, since people are making great art all the time regardless. Though I do feel like now more than ever, we truly need the kind of escape (as well as commentary) that movies and TV and music give us, which means they might mean more to us at this particular point in time. Hell, I can’t wait to see the just-released indie flick Moonlight, the supposed story of a young gay black man whose humanity and coming-of-age is explored in lyrical fashion, which couldn’t sound more appropriate for a year in which we should be focusing on our humanistic similarities and not our differences.
So I guess what I’m saying is that this isn’t a time to get “mad as hell”, just militant as hell. We’ve seen people get mad as hell in this altogether depressing election cycle, and it won’t end well. There’s no doubt that this administration will be to quote the orange monster himself, “a disaster”. So I suppose the only way we can conquer this thing is with love, not hate. And I know, that probably sounds woefully naive, especially for someone who spent this whole piece writing about how a deeply cynical movie like Network is his favorite movie of all time. But at this point, I’m mad as hell at people being mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.