Thoughts on “Network”

I watched the movie “Network” for the first time last night, and I’m convinced that there’s something we can learn from the film about the modern state of the media.

The story revolves around a network that’s bleeding money, especially from its news division, which loses around $30 million per year. After the network’s news anchor is laid off, he goes a bit nuts and starts cussin’ and revelatin’ on the air.

The viewers, browbeaten by a recession and terrorism and violence and general hopelessness, eat up the anchor’s odd behavior, and the network gives control of the news division over to the programming division, which turns the nightly news into a targeted show, designed to appeal to the most people and earn the highest ratings possible — integrity be damned.

What struck me about the movie is the quickness with which the corporate owners of the news abandon tradition and ethics in favor of advertising revenues and popularity. The honchos are willing to do anything to make money and save their stockholders’ pocketbooks.

The whole movie is an indictment of corporate ownership of media. It paints a bleak picture of what could happen to the news if profits are put over the news’s social mission.

This is the obvious message the film is trying to push, but I think there’s another message buried just a little deeper. Most of the pubic and some of the younger characters in the movie are described as having grown up hooked on television — unable to tell the difference between reality and the simulated world on the screen in front of them. As a result, this generation of TV-people eschew tradition and embrace the kind of drama and senseless violence that can only really happen on TV.

I connect this to the current debate between the print and digital generations — those people who have grown up primarily interacting with book and those who grew up with computers — or newspapers and the Web.

The movie wants us to feel some remorse that we’re letting the old traditions and media be corrupted for the sake of profit, wants us to grieve for the loss of something that’s better than what we have now; but the movie doesn’t come right out and tell us that the old ways were best. I think that was wise on the part of the filmmakers, and I think it’s still the message we need to take away today.

The old ways are to be missed and maybe defended, but they aren’t necessarily better than what has been developed since.

And another thing about the movie: It’s full of dialogue. Talk, talk, talk, and I loved the hell out of it. Plus, the whole movie is filled with television jargon and big words, and it doesn’t apologize for those words once or try to dumb down its dialogue for the common viewer. I appreciated that.