“We’re not a respectable network. We’re a whorehouse network, and we have to take whatever we can get.” – Frank Hackett (Network)
That pretty much summarizes the message of Network. Every word in the script is dipped in satire, every sentence reflecting upon how the television news industry was 35 years ago. The same holds true today, maybe more apt even.
Each character has a story to tell Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the main protagonist, is allowed to continue on his broadcast show despite his poor mental health because his provocative speeches boost the channel’s ratings.
With very few sentiments to spare Diana Christine is media madness personified; a brilliant performance by Faye Dunaway. She is portrayed as annoyingly inhumane and career obsessed. She cleverly uses Beale’s deteriorating mental state to the channel’s advantage. Towards the end when things get out of hand, she proposes to dispose of him, like human life were nothing but a matter of business.
Max Schumacher (William Holden), who sees the decay in the dignity of the profession, fights to help Beale and get him psychological help. Through the affair between aging Max and young Diana Christine, a striking contrast in values, priorities and work and family ethics is brought out.
“You’re television incarnate Diana. Indifferent to suffering. Insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War. Murder. Death. All the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy,” he tells her.
Network as it stands today. There is no denying the benefits of news channels, the freedom of expression and opinion, the instant availability of breaking news. It has a revolutionary power vested in it. But what is the primary purpose of television news today? Has it shifted from ‘reporting news’ as it is, unbiased, to ‘making news’? What I see is a maddening circus crying out loud “Desperate for rating!”
What they term as ‘breaking news’ may not even be that breaking for me. This is the primary reason why every sphere of journalism- sports, arts, science, literature, etc- has not evolved uniformly. As P.Sainath rightly pointed out, there are over 500 journalists covering a fashion week, but not even one to cover a daily beat on poverty. There is no discretion or dignity in delivering news. Dramatizing and repeating one section of the news is very annoying to watch. So much aggression in debates leaves no room for a logical conclusion.
“This is mass madness, you maniacs. In God’s name, you people are the real thing, WE are the illusion.” That’s the best excerpt from a brilliantly crafted script, ‘Network’.