Summary: On 16 December 1773 angry patriots dumped tea into Boston harbor. Two centuries later, in the film “Network” Howard Beale yells that “he’s mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore.” But unlike the patriots of 1773 he’s unable to effectively apply his anger, and so becomes an exemplar for Americans today. Individual action does little; collective action can change the fate of nations. What is the first step to put us into motion? That is the question we’ve wrestled with so often on the FM website. Today we re-visit one of the answers.
“Anger is easy. Anger at the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, is difficult.”
— Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, book IV, chapter 5 (lightly paraphrased)
“Telemachus, now is the time to be angry.”
— Odysseus, when the time came to deal with the Suitors. From the movie The Odyssey (1997)
Here we have three brilliant comments lifted from the comments to Occupy & Tea Party are alike, both saving America through cosplay. Here is the section that caught their interest.
FM: “This is what we need to be, from “Network” (1976)”
“Network” has become one of my favorite movies because it has proven to be so amazingly prophetic.
From my perspective, the most tragic thing about Howard Beale is that the same madness which gives him the ability and incentive (or rather the desperation) to say things that resonate with so many people also prevents him from seeing the ways in which he’s being used and manipulated by some of the very same people whom he’s speaking out against.
These people are only too willing to exploit him and profit from him as long as he continues to be useful to them. However, the moment Beale starts saying things which conflict with their own agenda, they pull him aside and take away the one thing which makes it possible for them to profit from him — and at that point, they ruthlessly do away with him.
It occurs to me that some of the people from the Tea Party could stand to watch this film and learn something from it — they have quite a bit more in common with Howard Beale than they themselves realize. One can only hope for their sake that they don’t end up dooming themselves to a fate similar to his.
First, a couple observations about the Boston Tea Party.
It was not a (merely) symbolic act. When the ships bearing taxed tea did not leave Boston, as ships in other ports had done, the entire shipment — at an estimated value equivalent to over one and a half million of today’s dollars * — was destroyed. The result was not to persuade the rulers to be more mindful the protesters’ grievances. The result was increased oppression.
I think the function of protest is no longer well understood. Almost never is the result of protest that authorities conclude that their actions have been inappropriate, and that they henceforth seek to be more accommodating.
Protest serves to make unconcerned citizens aware that something is going on — something with which, perhaps, they should be concerned. Things change, not because of the protests themselves, but because of their effect on a much larger number of people who would probably never engage in civil disobedience or march with a sign, but whose quiet coöperation (including voting) underpins the authorities’ power.
FM: “This is what we need to be, from “Network””
My reading of the Network scene is much different. Howard Beale (the newscaster) describes his frustration with the way things are, that they are not as he knows they could and should be, and would be if only it weren’t for… well, something, there has to be something, though he doesn’t know what it is. He is the quintessential member of the bewildered herd.
Following the clip sown above, we see a family watching the spectacle on television. A teenage girl runs, delighted, to the window, “to see if anybody is yelling.” They are. The yellers in Network are grateful — and excited! — to have been given instructions that permit them to vent their frustration in a way that demands little, risks little, and even provides a transient, false sense of community.
Meanwhile, back at the station, the executive in charge of programming exclaims, “We’ve hit the motherlode!”
Later in the film, Howard Beale happens to incite the public about an issue that actually matters to the people who employ his handlers. Shortly thereafter, his career, and his life, come to an end.
It helps little for people to “get mad” that the world is not as they feel it should be, when they not only lack effective knowledge of why it is as it is, but don’t even have a common view of how it should be. Many of us are angry that class divisions are so acute; probably at least as many believe all would be well if (other) people just knew their place. Some of us are embittered at the intrusion of government into what we see as private, personal issues. Others insist that God will judge us harshly until we bring our laws into conformance with His Word.
* estimate of value equivalent to £968 thousand today from Wikipedia; multiplied by 1.62 US Dollars per British Pound current conversion rate per Google.
Coises’s analysis of Beale’s outburst is indeed interesting and enlightening since it highlights something very ironic about the people who yell in response to his impassioned monologue. They’re not just “grateful — and excited! — to have been given instructions that permit them to vent their frustration in a way that demands little, risks little, and even provides a transient, false sense of community” — they’re actually inspired to do the exact opposite of what Beale is trying to get them to do.
This and most of Beale’s subsequent speeches are in essence an appeal for people to turn off the television and begin thinking (and acting) for themselves instead of mindlessly accepting whatever someone on the television shows them — but unfortunately, these pleas only serve to encourage more people to tune into his show and parrot the phrase which has become associated with him.
Of course, the consummate irony is that Beale himself — without being consciously aware of it — is dependent on the fact that they’re not really listening and would probably have merely met his end even sooner if they had done what he said.
For More Information
(a) See the FM Reference page listing all posts about Politics in America
(b) About films:
- Does the Tea Party movement remind you of the movie “Meet John Doe”? , 27 January 2010
- About the movie “Fight Club”, 28 March 2010
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
- We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America., 11 January 2013
- Loki helps us to see our true selves, 15 May 2013
- My movie recommendation for 2010: Vitual JFK (the book is also great), 30 June 2013
- Hollywood’s dream machine gives us the Leader we yearn for, 30 June 2013
- Rollerball shows us one aspect of America, and a possible future, 13 August 2013
(c) Posts about music and revitalizing America:
- A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words., 26 June 2009 — About the Man in the Mirror
- The New America needs a new national anthem! Here’s my nomination., 24 November 2012
- Listen to hear the state of America (and its cure) explained in song, 8 February 2013
- The third step to reforming America, with music, 3 September 2013
(d) About protesting in America:
- How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
- More people participating in politics: is this good for America?, 20 June 2010
- How do protests like the TP and OWS differ from effective political action?, 26 October 2011
- What are the odds of violence from the Right in America?, 2 October 2013
- The Million Vet March, a typical peasants’ protest. Does it portend more serious protests in our future?, 13 October 2013
(e) Steps to fixing America:
- Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
- Five steps to fixing America, 19 October 2011
- A third try: The First Step to reforming America, 28 May 2013
- The second step to reforming America, 14 August 2013
- The third step to reforming America, with music, 3 September 2013
(f) Other posts about reforming America:
- Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
- The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
- Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
- The sure route to reforming America, 16 November 2010
- Should we despair, giving up on America?, 5 May 2012
- We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
- The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy, 27 June 2013
- Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013