When a new epidemic is launched and promoted, despite the lack of good science and good evidence, it is jacked up on television screens. Images begin to flow:
An emergency medical vehicle on a street. EMT personnel, in hazmat suits, load a man strapped down to a stretcher, into the van. On another street, a man collapses on the sidewalk. We see a quarantined man sitting inside a huge plastic bubble on a third street. Cut to an airport lobby. Soldiers are patrolling the space among the crowds. Cut to a lab. Close-up of vials of liquid. Camera pulls back. Techs in light green scrubs are placing the vials into slots of a table-top machine. Auditorium—a man on a platform, wearing a doctor’s white coat, is pointing a wand at a large screen, on which a chart is displayed, for the audience. Back to the street. People are wearing face masks
These images wash over the television viewer. Meanwhile, the anchor is imparting his prepared meaning: “The government today issued a ban on all travel into and out of the city…hundreds of plane flights have been cancelled. Scientists are rushing to develop a vaccine…”
The television audience has an IMPRESSION of knowing something. They’re in the flow, the flow of the news…they’re in the images…
—Network, the 1976 film written by Paddy Chayefsky, reveals what media kings would do if they unchained their basic instincts and galloped all the way into the madness of slash-and-burn Roman Circus.
The audience is jaded beyond recall. It needs new shocks to the system every day. The adrenaline must flow. The line between reporting the news and inventing it? Erase it. Celebrate the erasure. Watch ratings soar.
Why pretend anymore? Why spend countless hours preparing and broadcasting synthetic artificial news, as if it were real? Does the audience care about such niceties? The audience just wants action.
The film proceeds from these premises.
Arthur Jensen, head of the corporation that owns the Network, speaks to unhinged Network newsman, Howard Beale, who has revealed, on-air, a piece of the real planetary power structure in a few moments of sanity: “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!! Is that clear?!… 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, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE!”
Head of programming for the Network, Diana Christensen, shifts the whole news department over to the entertainment division.
Thus emerge new shows with soaring ratings: Howard Beale, [Religious] Prophet of the Air Waves; The Mao Tse-Tung Hour, in which a guerrilla group films itself carrying out armed bank robberies; and Sybil the Soothsayer, a Tarot reader.
Diana becomes the network’s new executive star.