Sunday, November 27, 2011

Looking Into the Future

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Howard Beale (Peter Finch)
Network (1976)

I guess everyone knows that speech — if folks don't know it by heart, at least they know the catch phrase — "I'm as made as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore."

That speech by actor Peter Finch in the 1976 movie "Network" has achieved an iconic status in the annals of memorable movie lines — alongside Rhett Butler's "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!" and Vito Corleone's "offer you can't refuse" and all the others that have become virtual cliches.

It isn't necessary to be old enough to remember when the movie was showing at the theaters for someone to be familiar with the line and the context in which it was said.

When Woody Allen quoted (or misquoted, actually) Humphrey Bogart in the title of a movie ("Play It Again, Sam"), it wasn't necessary to tell people that the line came from a movie that was made three decades earlier. Everyone already knew.

But there was really so much more to "Network" than Finch's rage — and some of it has taken years to emerge. Maybe you do need to be old enough to remember the movie to appreciate how much has changed.

When "Network" made its debut 35 years ago today, cable and internet may have existed, but they were technological toddlers. They are much larger, much more mature today, and those who have known no other probably cannot appreciate how prescient Paddy Chayefsky's story really was.

When I watch it today — and I have probably watched it a dozen times or more since I first saw it on the big screen — I marvel at all the things he anticipated. Maybe you need to be able to remember a world that had no cell phones or personal computers/laptops — no instant information or communication — to comprehend just how on target Chayefsky was.

His story anticipated things like reality TV — albeit in a much more extreme form than anything we have seen in real life — and "news" anchors whose personalities are more important than the news.

His script warned us just how shallow our role models would be in the years to come, how many would resort to exploitation to raise their ratings, how they would be driven by little more than those ratings (which are designed to measure the quantity of the audience and not the quality of the programming).

It was all tongue in cheek, I'm sure. Chayefsky wrote his story to entertain. I don't think for a second that he believed he was being prophetic.

It just turned out that — in many unexpected ways — he was.