I have been a frequent defender of the media. This is an unpopular position for sure. The only voices we can actually hear defending themselves, chirping with indignation, come from inside that collapsing industry, the information-entertainment industrial complex. Paddy Chayefsky had it terrifyingly right in his prophetic 1976 film Network. The movie was taken, at the time, as an absurd rant, unrealistic and over-the-top, despite terrific performances and an absolute masterpiece of a script (if at all possible, rush to see the modernized version of this story on Broadway, featuring Bryan Cranston in the lead role until April 28 https://www.broadway.com/shows/network/).
“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear?! You think you have merely stopped a business deal–that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of the country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians! There are no Arabs! There are no Third Worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, inter-acting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today! That is the atomic, sub-atomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature and you will atone! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, Mr. Beale, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. . . . We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been that way since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world without war and famine, oppression and 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, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.”
This terrifying revelation is shouted at Howard Beale, the unhinged network news anchor, by the President of the corporation that owns the station which broadcasts his daily rants. The man who makes this speech is a deity. He barks out the new word of God and orders his prophet to evangelize his listeners. We can look at these words, written more than forty years ago, and make very few changes to bring us to today. There is some corporate shifting and, I suppose, the world has gotten larger, but these exact words can be believably delivered to one of the prime-time opinion show hosts, with more or less the same reaction to Beale’s subsequent “Why me?” following this annunciation.
“Because you’re on television, dummy.”
What happened when the behemoth corporations that own television networks decided that losing money for the public good, as the evening news had always been designed to do, was no longer in their interest? How does one make money off the dissemination of information? One must take a side. One must report the most exciting, most controversial, most virulent, and most horrifying things that are happening, and create a new class of celebrities to star in their nightly broadcasts, which now run twenty-four hours a day.
Conspiracy theories are exciting, and they draw from us deep emotions, both pro and con. Tune into any channel and watch some loudmouth host of the Howard Beale corporate persuasion, shrieking out the gospel of profit over decency. It becomes a blame game. Whose fault is it that the world is what it has become? Who can take away our guilt? What angel can we invent to be our savior, and which devil must be sacrificed in order to shift the focus of reality to one more aligned with the current belief system, in whichever era we chose to condemn?
Political interests (which are always corporate in their mentality, if not structurally in their reality) release, time, leak, and spread their versions of the truth to both friendly and oppositional media. One side goes on to spread their new religion, while the other calls them out for heresy, and this constant battle eventually frays the truth itself, taking whatever is actually real and putting a question mark beside it. The corporations have altered reality and set the world at war with itself, a free-for-all, looking forward to their designed “perfect world without war and famine, oppression and 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, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.”
It is their goal to take away the will from man, nestling them down into a comfortable recliner and broadcasting monster movies all day long. And instead of struggling to survive, we all hunker down, hiding, viewing the world through the approved images, outlining a horrorshow of unimaginable proportions. It is a world where everyone is corrupt, all marriages end in disgrace, children are gunned down in the classroom, and protest marches about every possible issue end in violence (way back when I was in college there was a protest organized against one of the campus cafeterias because they served only one flavor of vegan ice cream, vanilla. Not only was this an outrage because there was no alternative choice, but some people even called this racist. The protest progressed until rocks were actually thrown through windows and the police arrived to cart the most irrational off, to shouts of police brutality).
On the news we watch the frivolous adventures of celebrities saying something stupid and ruining their careers, or shrilly taking a stand against some secondary issue, drawing attention to something that suddenly forms a cult following–again, both for and against. We see their antics, the reality television insight of people so desperate to remain on camera they are willing to make fools of themselves every night of their lives. And these are our seekers of justice, our preachers of the gospel of new truth.
Yes, I defend the media because I do not think that at least some reporters intentionally mislead the public. I believe that there are many noble voices within that fractured industry, and that there are even some who wish to draw our attention to what is truly important. But with the endless tabloid flow of scandal, and the heavily promoted lies that have shorn the world of its honesty–with every intentional alternative truth we remain mired in this bog of short-attention span entertainment. Our world devolves into a formula horror movie, complete with a questionable resolution in anticipation of the sequel. And there we lay, no longer fazed, tired, angry–fed up with everything. And yet we still sit there, watching the end of the world on TV.