Network is a prophetic film about the "infotainment" paradigm of our times and it rings more true with every passing year. The story is about a recently fired and distraught news anchor, Howard Beale, who tells the audience in one of his last broadcasts to tune in on his last day to watch him commit suicide on the air. Controversy swirls around this figure but eventually the network realizes that due to Beale's recent antics, its ratings have gone up. The executives of the second-class UBS network feel that they have tapped into a way to higher shares and ratings as they let the washed-up news anchor rage on the airwaves. Somehow Beale touches a nerve with his growing audience that is also disillusioned and fed up with the state of affairs. Everyone around Beale thinks that he has gone mad but Beale believes otherwise. He claims to have been awakened by a Voice, inspired by something cosmic and awesome.
This is a story about the exploitation of the hero and his message, arguably in the same way as the message of Jesus has been exploited and used for tyranny and control. While the whole world thinks that the hero has gone mad, in fact, it is the world that is insane and caught in a web of disillusionment and meaninglessness. Almost every "sane" character in the movie is living by some oppressive or illusory paradigm. The exploiters try to package the hero's message in a way that capitalizes on it. In the end, their plan backfires and they take extreme measures to correct the situation.
Howard: "...The people spoke, the people won. It was a radiant eruption of democracy. But I think that was it, fellas. That sort of thing is not likely to happen again. Because in the bottom of all our terrified souls, we know that democracy is a dying giant, a sick, sick dying, decaying political concept, writhing in its final pain. I don't mean that the United States is finished as a world power. The United States is the richest, the most powerful, the most advanced country in the world, light-years ahead of any other country. And I don't mean the Communists are gonna take over the world because the Communists are deader than we are. What is finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it. It's the individual that's finished. It's the single, solitary human being that's finished. It's every single one of you out there that's finished. Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. It's a nation of some two hundred odd million transistorized, deodorized, whiter-than-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods. Well, the time has come to say, 'Is dehumanization such a bad word?' Because good or bad, that's what is so. The whole world is becoming humanoid, creatures that look human but aren't. The whole world, not just us. We're just the most advanced country, so we're getting there first. The whole world's people are becoming mass-produced, programmed, numbered, insensate things..."
Howard: "This is not a psychotic episode. This is a cleansing moment of clarity. I am imbued, Max. I am imbued with some special spirit. It's not a religious feeling at all. It is a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing as if suddenly I had been plugged into some great electro-magnetic field. I feel connected to all living things, to flowers, birds, to all the animals of the world and even to some great unseen living force, what I think the Hindus call prana. It is not a breakdown. I have never felt more orderly in my life! It is a shattering and beautiful sensation! It is the exalted flow of the space-time continuum, save that it is spaceless and timeless and of such loveliness! I feel on the verge of some great ultimate truth."
Max: "It's too late, Diana. There's nothing left in you that I can live with. You're one of Howard's humanoids. If I stay with you, I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything you and the institution of television touch is destroyed. 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 are 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. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure, and pain... and love."
Howard: "I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. (shouting) You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!'"
Mr. Jensen: "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! ...You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those *are* the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. 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 bylaws 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."
Howard: "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, god-damned force in the whole godless world. And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people... And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome, god-damned propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what s--t will be peddled for truth on this network. So, you listen to me! Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television is a god-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, story tellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers and football players. We're in the boredom-killing business. So if you want the truth, go to your God, go to your gurus, go to yourselves because that's the only place you're ever gonna find any real truth. But man, you're never gonna get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell! We'll tell you that Kojak always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in 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 gonna win. We'll tell you any s--t 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. In God's name, 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 this sentence I am speaking to you now. Turn them off!"