“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

How a 42 year old film made me realise that nothing has changed

Yesterday I sat down and watched a film that was released in 1976. The film was Network and I can still remember that at the time it caused quite a stir. I was ten years old at the time and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Now, forty-two years later and an angry middle-aged man like the film’s central character Howard Beale (brilliantly portrayed by Peter Finch who rightly won the Oscar for Best Actor), I can sense the power the film must have had then. Reading about it now I can see that it generated the kind of debate about television and its insidious effect on the population that M*A*S*H had about the war in Vietnam. The problem I have with it was that was all it did — it generated a debate. A debate that the people who ran the media were able to control so that in time it fizzled out and nothing really happened to change it.

Fast forward 42 years. For television read big tech and social media. In Network, Howard Beale — the so-called ‘Mad Prophet of the Airwaves’ — rants about the bullshit in the media and how the news isn’t really news. He stands up, wearing a soaking wet raincoat over his pyjamas and shouts into the camera, “Godammit I’m a human being! My life has value! I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”. In the film’s most iconic scene (see image at the start of this article) he implores the audience to go to their windows, open them up and shout out at the top of their voice that they are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Of course, the public listen and all over America people are seen shouting out their windows and screaming their anger and frustration at the world. Pity, it was only a film. I would love for this to happen nowadays.

Big tech, and in particular social media controls the minds and lives of most people in the world. Our rich culture is being dumbed down to a series of ‘posts’, ‘tweets’ and ‘snapchat stories’, the content of which are so banal that if it wasn’t as easy as clicking a ‘like’ button most people would ignore them. This begs the most important question of all ‘doesn’t anyone have anything meaningful to say anymore?’

Sadly, the answer seems to be ‘no’. We spend hours debating the power of social media and in the end we will do nothing about it. It will continue to eat away at our cultural lives and in the end meaningful film, books, theatre and music will be left in the hands of a small number who still care and what will that have earned them? The derision of the wider public and the moniker ‘cultural elite’. A name that will be thrown at them as an insult.

You have been warned.

Derek Air

Dudley, July 2018