"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
I don't remember why we walked out of Network when it was in the theater, or even what I was doing watching it. I would have been twelve years old when Network was released in 1976. There's a good chance I just didn't understand this satire of the television industry. What's interesting to me about it now, having seen it several times as an adult, is that I don't find it especially funny. Satire is an interesting arm of comedy, I think, because it really isn't very funny. The part that is supposed to be humorous is really only sort of intellectually recognized. "Oh, I see that exaggerated tendency," an audience member might say to himself. Or, "If they don't class up the news, it really end up this way." But there's nothing in Network or in other types of biting satire that bring up a real belly laugh. It's cerebral to the point that it's almost
So Network is about a newsman who grows so disillusioned with the way the news becomes sensationalized that he dares to tell the truth about how he feels. He's the one that says the famous line from the film (above). At first the network fires him in embarrassment, but then they realize that his apparent mental illness is a ratings-grabber. They rehire him as a sort of mad prophet with a message. The viewing public buys his message and the network recognizes its marketability. The result is a chaotic spectacle of this man's decline. The man's only protector, Max Schumacher, the boss who fired him and who was later fired for not bringing him back, is marginalized and used by the new leadership, network executive, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). Diana plays a wonderful satire of the typical Type A executive...down to her sexual proclivity. She tells Max that she climaxes early and falls asleep quickly afterwards, an easy parody of the typical male lover.
The basic message of the film is that television networks will do absolutely anything for ratings. To the 2004 audience, this is not news. A few years ago, it might have seemed prescient, but at this point such knowledge has become a cliché. So, it isn't just that it isn't particularly funny, but it is also that I don't see any real insight in this movie. Those are two good reasons why I don't want to include it in my dark comedy film course. It doesn't have as many layers as the others, not enough to discuss in terms of comedy.