Cynicism in “Network”

In what has perhaps become one of the most quoted movie lines of all time, Network‘s famous “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” speech is the epitome of American cynicism in the 1970s.

Newscaster Howard Beale, who had begun a Charlie-Sheen-type meltdown, started broadcasting not the news but his own personal life philosophies. In this scene he is calling on his viewers not to take action, but simply to get mad. The speech is so perfectly crafted that there is no way for me to properly summarize it. I’ve listed the full text below:

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!

We all know things are bad — worse than bad — they’re crazy.

It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.”

Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.

I want you to get mad!

I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.

All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.

You’ve gotta say, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

Howard Beale was hitting on the dominant American sentiment at the time: that despite distractions from politics, the news media, and other aspects of society, people knew things were getting worse. They were cynical of the message being broadcast to them from the powers above – and they responded strongly to Beale’s message. He was tapping into a fire that was brewing deep in the hearts of Americans, throwing gasoline onto it to ignite a revolution.

The scene is filmed in a way that forces you to listen to this crazed man’s speech with enthusiasm. The camera pushes in on a slow, long shot, moving ever closer to Beale as his passion is peaking. The only cut is to show the pleased segment producer in the control booth, thrilled at Beale’s latest stunt. The camera continues to push in, framing Beale with the world clocks in the background, signaling that this is a universal message that transcends one single city, state, and country – everyone is mad, and everyone is fed up with how the world is being handled. Finally, the camera positions itself beneath Beale, looking up at him like a prophet, as he calls on his viewers not just to take the standard step of writing to a Congressman, but to stand up and yell, as a human being, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

One response to “Cynicism in “Network”

  1. A brilliant scene, and a brilliant movie! It fits into the cynicism themes perfectly as you described, but I also think it can be seen with the other two.

    It’s a matter of time, after all. If Network had been made in the 40s, it wouldn’t have had the same impact, because such fears were not so prevalent. That was a time of patriotism and loyalty. By the 70s, everything had fallen apart – even the family unit was disintegrated. It’s a necessary part of Beale’s character, I think, that he be old enough to remember the country of “once upon a time.” It’s the nostalgia that contrasts with the present to allow such cynicism.

    And there’s also an inevitable paranoia involved when you tell someone that the world sucks and there’s nothing they can do about it. In fact, this is really the reason Howard Beale became so popular – he justified the country’s fears. He told them they were right to be afraid.

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