"Because you people, and sixty-two million other Americans, are listening to me right now. Because less than three percent of you people read books! Because less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers! Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube! This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers... This tube is the most awesome [...] force in the whole [...] world, and woe is us if it ever falls in to the hands of the wrong people... "So, you listen to me. Listen to me: Television is not the truth! Television is an [...] amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We're in the boredom-killing business! So if you want the truth... Go to God! Go to your gurus! Go to yourselves! Because that's the only place you're ever going to find any real truth.

"But, man, you're never going to get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We'll tell you that, uh, Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker's house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he's going to win. We'll tell you any[thing] you want to hear. We deal in *illusions*, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds... We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even *think* like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! [...] You people are the real thing! *WE* are the illusion! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I'm speaking to you now! TURN THEM OFF..."

Network (1976)

So, if you survived that quotation, I'd had this movie sitting around for some time due to my Timmverse watchthrough as well as other causes, but finally got around to watching Network. I knew the premise of the movie; knew what they were satirizing. And as the movie started to unfold everything began to fit into what I expected. But then it kept going... And got bigger. And I started feeling this movie in my gut. I started feeling like I was getting assaulted by this movie.

The movie is often designated a comedy. Honestly, you will get more laughs out of many action movies out there. However, a comedy fits better than most genre labels. A dark comedy for sure. It is almost a drama, but things are just askew enough that a comedy is a slightly better designation. It isn't the real world, but it unfortunately too closely is.

And yes, this post has mostly said nothing beyond the above quotation. First off let me warn people about the content of the movie. I don't want people rushing off to see this movie thinking I recommended it. I will talk about it. As for recommending, make up your own mind. Content-wise though, this movie has some fairly profane language (both in particular words and discussion content), adultery, and a sex scene. This movie will not leave you feeling clean afterwards. It shows a messy broken world. Though unfortunately, some people might be amused by my warning due to the lack of content in this movie as compared to other such movies. Yes, it is not the worst movie in these regards, but I am just being up front about what is in it.

With that behind me though, the aspect of this movie that started to get to me was not the lambasting of news-casting and its sensationalized condition. It was the exploration of the impact of a generation raised under a TV. What is worse, this movie was made in 1976... pretty much 35 years ago. Now we have generations raised under a TV, and it is only getting worse.

Humans need stories. They shape us. Culturally, morally, in many ways they shape us. Listen to the questions a child has after watching a movie. You can sometimes hear them being shaped. It is scary (not necessarily bad, it's just scary in its importance). And today, we have more access to stories than ever before. What is more, our stories are even more immersive (and our prime sources involve less personal subcreation (a topic for another time)). We begin to live our stories and not our lives. Please don't read this as me being above this condition. I love the Story. I have very much been affected by this same beast. And please don't take this as I am saying Story is bad. I am just trying to figure out the balance; where our feet should stand.

I wish I could say something psychologically significant about what this is all doing to us. I can't. I puzzle over it frequently, but come up with little. I see effects and would try and connect them, but don't know that I am wise enough. I do think our rise in divorce rates are very much connected with our culture's present version of the Romance Story. I do not think we teach a romantic love that permits the troubles of a marriage. Of course, another cause is our focus on our own wants as opposed to our spouses, as well as many other reasons, most of which I have no business even attempting to discuss considering my lack of relational savvy.

But regardless, the TV is the shaper of our culture today. At least in America. It is the hub of our national worldview. It is how we form ideas of how things should go. What we should pursue. What we should value. The generally pervading morality of our culture is found in the TV. When you hear people say what they think is right and wrong... the most likely source was through their TV whether they know it or not. As an example, one could probably call Oprah the single most important American religious leader. I am sure she would cry foul at such a claim, but it is how she functions. We do not realize the power of this tube.

I have mostly stopped watching broadcast television. It is not out of some self-righteous fast. I am not above the evil beast or some such. In college we never had cable or much of a TV schedule and so I just sort of phased out of watching broadcast TV and have never found the need to resume watching it (I still watch plenty of shows on DVD as well as movies). This does not however keep me free of the beast. Our American religion (what I describe is not Christianity... it is that thing that creeps out all those vaguely spiritual embracing nothing while embracing everything that if you espoused before a general audience they would all applaud you even though you pretty much said nothing sort of talk) is pretty much bound up in our television language. But you see it then carried into everything. It is sad to see people who think they are independent of everyone else's ideas and then they recite to you exactly what every speaker and didactic little message on any show you might tune into on primetime would also tell you. Our culture tells you to be yourself by being just like everyone else.

Okay, I am ranting. [deep breath] As Network (the movie I talked about way back when) is showing though, the TV shows us what we want. If it does not, it gets bad ratings and it gets canned. So it is not like the TV is devoid of the input of its audience. The audience votes every week as to what they like, what they embrace, who they sympathize with. The TV is not an independent force of its audience. And honestly, the TV is the thing of the past. We are deep into the transition into the internet being our culture house. Which introduces new pitfalls and dangers. And blessings. Please don't hear me as pure naysaying.

I suppose the thing I am trying to get at is all of these mediums bring with them their balance. They can be used for good and ill. Network showcased many ills, so those are what are in my mind right now. Our filters are all askew though. We view our world through the TV, not the TV through our world. That is out of balance.
"You're television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy.  All
of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death - all the same
to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even
shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You're
madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you."

1 comment:

Skip said...

Powerful rant. The need for balance is ever present and yet falls short all too often. Stop absorbing and start processing, it's hard and it's not what we are trained to do.