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There's Nothing the News Won't Do for Ratings | The 1976 film Network
Here is a scene from the 1976 film Network. You might remember one of its more iconic scenes when the news anchor Howard Beale rants about the terrible state of the world and starts shouting “I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” The TV Network realizes they can bring in huge ratings if they give him a regular slot where he continues ranting like that. The phrase “I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” becomes the new entertaining slogan of the day. The corporations responsible for all the issues in the world rake in the advertising dollars from giving people an outlet to vent their anger as a harmless form of entertainment.
I like this scene because it uses the language of the environmentalist movement in the 70s to make a moral argument for why we must conserve and protect the corporations (standing in for “ecosystems”). There is a delicate balance, an ebb and flow of money and commodities, explains the president of the network, and when we disturb the delicate and natural equilibrium processes of capitalism, we will end up destroying the ecosystem. He even goes as far as using the same rhetoric about how the “real world” has no national and political boundaries, and that if we work together to protect the natural processes of business, everyone in the world will benefit as its shareholders. It will be a perfect world, he says, “in which there is no war, or famine, or oppression, or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company for whom all men will work to serve a common profit in which all men will hold a share of stock.”
Later in the movie, Beale’s ratings start sinking so the Network decides to assassinate him on live TV to spark up new ratings. The network chooses to have a group of communist radicals assassinate Beale. They figured it would be an interesting crossover and bring up the ratings for the communist radicals’ new show in the lineup.
When the film was first released, the TV and News industries it satirized hated it. Edwin Newman said it was ridiculous to suggest that TV producers would stoop so low for ratings, and the president of CBS News at the time said this kind of thing going on behind the scenes of the news simply couldn’t happen.