The Oscars and the Film Network

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The Academy falters, the critics fail, and the people rule!

In the brilliant 1976 film Network, news anchor Howard Beale rallies the whole country behind him with a classic mantra: "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!"

More on Network in a moment, but that mantra also applies to how many of us feel about the current state of cinema. As many of you know, I have written recently about the pathetic state of mainstream movies and film critics, most particularly the ugly, violent films that were praised by critics and also nominated for the 2007 Academy Awards.

Well, the Oscars were broadcast on February 24, and, lo and behold, the show received the lowest rating in the history of the Academy Awards!

Why?

People were so turned off by and uninterested in the dark, violent films that were nominated that the broadcast was viewed by a million fewer people than even the previously lowest rated show in 2003. No one cared about No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and all the other dark, nihilistic films that were nominated. (The adorable Juno being the only exception.)

The highest rated Oscar show ever occurred in 1998 when Titanic, a big, powerful, epic love story dominated the nominations. Almost 56 million people viewed that broadcast, compared to a paltry 31 million people this year. That’s 25 million less people between the highest rated show ever and the lowest rated show ever. Give us classic love stories and human dramas that uplift us and we care. Give us doom and gloom and we won’t watch. And that’s very, very good news. The studios can no longer deny how many people they have driven away with their drivel.

Maybe 2008 will be better, but movies take a long time in the pipeline so we might not see much of a change in programming until 2009, if even then. But the truth is out there now. Hollywood, keep making your dark, ugly, violent films and we will all vote with our feet and remote controls, stay away, and turn you off.

In other words, "We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!"

If you have never seen the brilliantly satirical Network, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. The winner of four Oscars, the film revolves around network news anchor Howard Beale (Best Actor winner Peter Finch) who is fired for low ratings and announces on the air that he is going to kill himself during his last broadcast. All hell breaks loose, the ratings soar, and the news show is transformed into a three-ring circus with Howard, bellowing about the hypocrisies of the time, as the ringmaster. Then, however, Howard’s rants focus on the corporate nature of the network and the decision is made to…well, see the film.

Network eerily predicted how news shows would be turned into entertainment and no longer have the journalistic autonomy that they used to have in the days of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Huntley and Brinkley.

Even more amazing was how far ahead of its time Network was in its vision of how "reality" TV would take over television programming and absurd it would become. Just recently, I saw ads for a new show entitled, "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew." At first, I thought it was a practical joke, but then I realized that it was a real show. Even Howard Beale wouldn’t have believed that one.

So…if all of this nonsense around us gets to you…do what Howard urged all of his viewers to do. Go to the window of your home, your office, your car…open it…make sure no one is in the direct line of fire so they don’t think you’re yelling at them in particular and you don’t scare the heck out of them…and yell out as loud as you can: "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!" Better yet, go out in the woods and bellow out to the universe in private: "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!!"

Thanks, Howard. That really does feel good!

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