America’s Well-Documented Decline Amid Wars in the Air
In 1976, some of the families sharing older ancestral lineages in my hometown were asked to march together in our bicentennial parade. Although I was at an age where I found it somewhat embarrassing, I did enjoy waving at my friends and schoolmates along the way. Especially the girls.
Although the Saccharine Seventies manifested as a tarnishing patina on the silver platter of Norman Rockwell’s America, much of the shine still remained then in my hometown; even in the years before Ronald Reagan’s repolishing as the table was set again for his 1984 “Morning in America”commercial.
Ah, the power of television. What began with Elvis and his now iconic gyrating pelvis, later made Richard Milhous Nixon appear as the scowling ogre before Sir John F. Kennedy’s Camelot. Then, the next thing we knew, a former actor had become president, followed by shock and awe warfare, a stained blue dress, hanging chads, and elections predicated upon melanin and genitals. Today, we view Reality TV political press conferences almost as exciting as productions staged by the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Who knew?
Ironically, the film “Network” was also released in 1976. In watching it again recently, what struck me was how well-identified were the seeds of America’s decline – even back then, more than four decades ago. The film starred many Hollywood heavy-hitters including Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty. It was a critical and commercial success that was, in fact, nominated for ten Oscars and won four. Twenty-four years later, the movie critic Roger Ebert likened the film to “prophecy”.
The narrative described a fictional television network, in the wake of low ratings, degradingly commercializing its once highly-revered news division to appease the corporatacy; and, in that regard, the film actually did predict the future.
In the story, just as audiences were demanding entertainment over information, the news anchor of the network, Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch), had a psychic breakdown of sorts to the point where he began to tell the truth. And, boy, did he ever. As ratings skyrocketed for the network, its corporate overlords were thrilled right up to the point the frazzled news anchor was honest enough to interfere with the avarice of the puppet-masters. This is when Mr. Beale was treated to one of the most epic beatdowns ever seen on film – delivered in a monologue by Ned Beatty playing one of the corporate drones.
Here are the final lines of the monologue:
……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 since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or 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.
– “Network” (1976), Paddy Chayefsky, MGM/United Artists, Release date: November 27, 1976
It’s fascinating to realize that, as a nation, we’ve known this type of fuckery has been occurring for decades and, yet, we’ve been powerless to prevent its progression.
Is it because we didn’t care? Because we thought someone else would step up in our place? Or, because our prosperity had lulled us to sleep?
In the thread of my last article, “It Is What It Is”, a commenter posted this video clip from the 1981 film “My Dinner With Andre”: