After I finished watching Network a couple of days ago, I looked online for analysis and interpretation. I found an interesting article entitled: "SPOOKY: The 1976 Movie 'Network' Predicted YouTube And 'Two And A Half Men," published in February 2012. Clunky headline aside, the article does make a number of revealing observations.
However, while that article is insightful, it was written almost five years ago. An awful lot can change since then. With the rapid rise of #Netflix, the entire television landscape has been redefined. #Smartphones have also paved the way for a new experience when interacting with the news. So let's take a look at the satire of Network through a more contemporary lens.
Big Brother Is Watching
In 2016, the lines between the surreal and the fantastical have been blurred. Terrorists with high-quality video and recording equipment film bloody execution videos for the world to see. If I wanted to, I could download an app that allows me to tap into CCTV cameras and watch ordinary people going about their daily lives. Finally, a reality television show built around a violent and horrific murder case has been renewed for a second season. Yes, I'm looking at you, Making a Murderer.
So what does this have to do with Network? This level of absurdity in all aspects of the media that we consume is exactly what director Sidney Lumet was warning against 40 years ago. For those who haven't seen the film, I'll explain its premise as simply I can: A struggling TV network uses the rantings and ravings of one of its disgruntled employees in order to gain immense worldwide popularity.
Network is Lumet taking a swipe at the fame-hungry corporations willing to do anything for television ratings. The movie imagines a world where executives are so desperate for better ratings that they would commission and exploit the live rantings of its enlightened employee Howard Beale (Peter Finch) to their advantage. Of course, this level of greed was simply unimaginable in its time. I mean, what right-minded television executive would commission the extreme viewpoint of one of its own employees for a better ratings yield? Right?
As the above clip shows, it seems that certain news execs are prepared to employ radical and potentially controversial figures, and then let them say whatever they want. While Fox News is one example that springs to mind, there have been other news channels that use controversial figures and their equally controversial opinions in order to draw in viewers.
However, Network's satire and relevance does not end there. The film also predicted the rise of reality TV. While deemed a ridiculous notion back then, a subplot in Network follows the fictional UBS network's programming executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) as she attempts to negotiate a new prime-time docuseries starring a radical terrorist group. Again, this is another of Network's predictions that at the time seemed inconceivable.
Using one such show as an example, in the UK Channel 5 recently produced a documentary that is so reminiscent of Lumet's satire, one must wonders if the producers had watched Network for inspiration. The show is called Gangland: Turf Wars and pushes the idea of the reality show to the extreme by giving a number of London gang members cameras — so that they can film the brutal reality of everyday life. These gang members record themselves waving heavy weapons, producing drugs, and even — in an especially controversial scene — hiding drugs in undesirable parts of their bodies.
To me, this show is absolutely incredible. However, there are many who believe that it went too far in its depiction. Has #Gangland cheapened the reality of a very real problem by making it almost quasi-entertaining television? This is a question for another time, and so to avoid getting off track, I want to look at another of Network's spot-on predictions: The rise of #YouTube.
Because You're On Television, Dummy!
Network features another side plot, wherein Christina Christensen is attempting to find something interesting to fill an hour of prime-time TV. One of the ideas that she comes up with is to commission a show that follows bank robbers as they film themselves robbing a bank. Again, as ridiculous as this must have seemed in 1976, it's an almost everyday occurrence on YouTube, thanks to a fair number of prank channels where the posters and content creators film themselves doing incredibly dangerous things, or even committing acts that are illegal — something that no network would or should commission.
The rise of prank channels as viable forms of entertainment would have surely baffled viewers in the '70s. Who would want to watch someone risking their life or hurting themselves? However, in more recent times, such channels have become incredibly popular. See below for an example of one channel "robbing" a convenience store.
YouTube has provided the world with a means to create its own entertainment. Or has it exposed the fact that greed is universal, regardless of the media platform? I mean, many of these YouTubers are earning thousands, even millions of dollars on faked setups made with little effort.
If you haven't already seen the film, then get to watching, or at the very least check out the trailer below. Network is an excellent, timeless piece of art that inadvertently paved the way for the completely crazy evolution of the media industry of this millennium so far. It is truly the golden age of homegrown journalism, with sites like YouTube and apps like #Snapchat leading the charge for anyone with a camera to report breaking news. However, is it the golden age of human morals? Did greed win? Sound off in the comments section below.