If you haven’t seen the movie “Network,” you should immediately buy it or rent it—not just because it won four Academy Awards nor because the Writers Guild of America voted it one of the 10 best screenplays of all time.
You need to see it because it will help you to understand what is going on in America 40 years after Paddy Chayefsky saw it coming.
The film is best remembered for the scene in which Howard Beale, a network news anchor, loses his mind on air and exhorts his audience to go to their porches or windows to shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Although the “establishment” of broadcast network news executives of course thought that Beale should be put out to pasture, Programming Director Diana Christiansen (played beautifully by Faye Dunaway, who won the Academy award for her performance) excitedly explains that Beale has been “articulating the popular rage” and builds the network news hour around him as a continuing show, which features Mr. Beale “oraculating” every night.
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Of course it becomes a huge hit.
The premise of this wonderful black comedy was that the news show was turned into a circus because the authority to program the news was taken from the news division and given to the entertainment division of the network. Forty years later, what’s happened is that the Donald Trump entertainment division has taken over the news, and therefore the political process in this media-crazed society.
Trump is the real Howard Beale. He’s not insane of course, quite the contrary. But he is making the Republican establishment quite loony by “articulating the popular rage” every morning noon and night on TV—after all, he’s not limited to just one hour. And just as in the movie, it’s working.
After years of supercilious pronouncements by congressional leaders and the perception of failed promise in the White House, a large portion of the public is fed up with politicians in general, but more importantly the process itself. Government has grown, taxes have risen and while a substantial amount of time is spent on process, there is little if any meaningful result.
While social programs have increased, it has become harder for people to join and remain in the middle class. Obstacles, restrictions and costs abound at every level of government if you want to venture into your own business. The chasm between the rich and poor is widening, wiping out the middle. The great bulk of the American populace is feeling poorer every year, and in a society whose culture is principally based on the American dream of monetary success, this is disastrous for the establishments of both parties.
Trump was even better cast as Howard Beale than the wonderful actor who actually played the role in the film, Peter Finch. Like Ronald Reagan, he was a TV star before he ran for office, so it is not surprising that people would tune to the right channel whenever he’s around. He is naturally and professionally bombastic, and therefore his seemingly crazy statements have a certain genuine ring to them. He’s a billionaire, at least in part self-made, so he has become everything that the working class in this country would like to be. Finally, unlike Peter Finch, his language and diction is more American than it is English- in other words, he talks the way that the people who are voting for him talk.
So every Trump speech or rally is really a call to people express their frustration, not by screaming out the window but rather by pushing the right buttons in the voting booth. There has been a great deal of pious condemnation of the fact that there have been some minor physical skirmishes at a few of the Trump rallies. Trump says oxymoronically, in a way that only he could, that his followers are not angry people, but they’re angry. In a curious way, he’s right. The attendees of Trump rallies are not necessarily people who have had chips on their shoulders as a permanent fixture, but they do get angry when Trump explains to them how the politicians have screwed them at every turn by catering to special interests, by making ridiculously bad trade deals, and by undermining the military that protects them.
What was funny about the movie “Network” was that the public was so accepting of a news anchor who was actually a madman, who often went into trances, and whose show featured a segment by “Sybil the Soothsayer.” The film was a parody that was close enough to the truth so as to capture the adulation of a large audience.
Trump is a truth that is close enough to a parody to do the same thing.
David Bergstein is a financier and CEO of Cyrano Group. He is known for his talent in accurately predicting trends and recognizing opportunities to restore and reposition businesses. Bergstein is a leading expert in the field of financing.
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