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where's howard?
he's behind waldo.
by katherine l (aka clevertitania) (@CleverTitania)
pop culture

Tonight I watched the film Network for the first time. I know, what a loser, right? But, in my defense, I was never exposed to it as a young person. I was a year and a half when it was released, and it wasn't the kind of movie that got constant replay on HBO - that was reserved for things like Gremlins. As an adult, I eventually heard about it, and what its message was. I knew enough not to be confused by repeated references to it while I voraciously absorbed the first episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. But it wasn't the kind of movie I would think to look for at Blockbuster, back when I still went to Blockbuster...

I wonder what Howard Beale would think about just how much a beacon of joy some of us consider Netflix On-Demand. Would it change his opinion that it's the reason I finally saw this film?

How meta was that question?

I don't agree that TV, or any audio-visual medium, is all about the lies. I know some people do believe that, and I know those people tend to think people like myself are at the least naive, if not as stupid as the more 'cattle minded' bulk of the population (by their estimation not mine). But I maintain that it is the very existence of films like Network that prove that the art of the moving picture is capable of, and sometimes creates, truth. Do I think there's much truth in so-called Reality Television? Hey, I'm not that stupid. If there is any truth to that form of programming, it's been homogenized and sensationalized away long before a single minute gets to the national airwaves.

The Truman Show, the ultimate (albeit fictional) reality television show, was as close to truth as any reality TV can be. At least, by not editing or censoring, some truth was revealed from Truman himself, or at least that’s the fallacy that Christof maintains. But even that show couldn't exist without manipulation of the message. Christof cast himself as Truman’s god much in the way Arthur Jensen casts himself as Howard’s, and they both seek to tell the world their personal truth through their puppets. But the truth was as much an illusion as the shows they spoke from. Perhaps Truman wasn't tainted by the outside world, but all the people he interacted with were. His relationships were scripted, his major life choices manipulated into being. A man who believes that his wife and friends randomly blurt out commercial catch-phrases isn't living in a world of truth.

There was a time when I would’ve believed movies like Network and The Truman Show were showing us what reality television would inevitably lead to, but now I think the problem has become confused. Reality TV isn't just a distraction for the masses, it's the ultimate misdirection. While we complain that Jersey Shore is numbing the minds of the country, the truth of it is, it's just a local anesthetic. The effects are temporary way to cope with the sometimes painful existence of actual life. Those shows don’t do much for me, but so what. I also find cooking shows insanely boring. I'm sure someone who likes cooking finds them not only entertaining but educational and fulfilling.

We need to stop fretting over what qualifies as entertainment, and instead focus on things claiming to be entertainment in the same way horoscopes do, its tongue in its cheek. From as far back as entertainment has existed as an occupation of sorts, there have been different kinds, some clever and some inane. There have always been things which play down to people and things which ignite creative and intelligent though. Today is no different. We need to focus on exactly who is the new Howard Beale - the self-proclaimed prophet shouting from his pulpit. That's the guy who's affecting the minds and actions of people, not a Snookie.

Those on the opposite side of the aisle probably see John Stewart as the new Howard Beale, shouting to the masses with just enough truth that we'll keep listening no matter what. After all, Howard was clearly a liberal-pinko-commie deep down, right? But the reality is far removed from this. Our trust in people like Stewart (and other liberal humor-pundits) has not only been hard-earned, it can be lost in an instant. This trust was born of years of legitimate points of view, presented with researched, validated and thoroughly explained facts, which could easily be confirmed with a little online research. Truth be told - I don’t believe any of the current comedy/politics shows could have flourished before the age of the internet. These shows are trusted sources of news because the viewers have the ability to verify their sources. We don’t have to trust them, we can always go check. In current American politics, it's the closest thing we get to transparency sometimes.

But - as I said - it can be lost in an instant, and there are two main ways humor-pundits on the left could lose all their clout. One would be if they started giving information that was either suspect or downright wrong. If The Daily Show had even half the revealed skeletons of The Glenn Beck show, John Stewart would have been booed off the stage by now. In fact, all it would take would be proof of a single deliberate attempt to knowingly report false information... the show (and even some of its contemporaries) would never survive the fallout.

The second way is if they stopped making an effort to make us (and themselves) laugh. The only thing that hurt Howard Beale's ratings was a message so dismal and full of doom that it made people hate themselves just by watching him. The reason why we enjoy getting information from funny people is it allows us to absorb the harsh realities of this world with a grain of humor. Without that humor, we become as sad and afraid as Howard Beale as he slipped into what would prove to be the fatal stages of his dementia. We must laugh or risk weeping.

So, if it's not Johnny-boy, who's our new Howard? But we already know this, don't we? It’s the man claiming t be a humor-pundit on the right, but who’s really got a much bigger agenda than a few laughs and little news.
Mr. Beck, come on down. The self proclaimed prophet, who once had the audacity to say, "God is giving a plan I think to me that is not really a plan. ... The problem is that I think the plan that the Lord would have us follow is hard for people to understand. ... Because of my track record with you who have been here for a long time. Because of my track record with you, I beg of you to help me get this message out, and I beg of you to pray for clarity on my part."

About a year earlier he said, "I say on the air all time, 'if you take what I say as gospel, you're an idiot."

And Beck has a point, in the same mix-up way he usually does. The word ‘gospel’ has become a bit muddy in modern thinking. It's presumed by most people to mean the word of god, or something to that effect. In modern context most people would say that any one claiming to preach God's words is speaking the gospel. But actually ‘gospel’ - by Christianity’s definition - is...

The four books in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that tell the story of Christ's life and teachings.

So no, he's not claiming to speak the gospel because what he spouts rarely comes from the 'good book' itself. But he is, whether he is willing to own up to it or not, claiming to be a prophet for a divine force. Here's what the definition of a Prophet is...

In religion, a prophet is a person who has been contacted by, or has encountered, the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other humans.

Here we have a man claiming to be giving us the truth, as much of the truth as we mortals can understand, by a divine force. Sound familiar? (click to see the full speech)

Last night I was awakened from a fitful sleep shortly after two o'clock in the morning by a shrill, sibilant, faceless voice...

And the voice said to me "I want you to tell the people the truth. Not easy thing to do, because the people don’t want to know the truth."


And the voice said to me "We’re not talking about eternal truth or absolute truth or ultimate truth. We're talking about impermanent, transient, human truth. I don't expect you people to be capable of truth, but goddamn it at least you're capable of self-preservation.“


So I thought about it for a moment. And then I said "OK."

So do we now need to wait for Glen to become so mired in his bleak view of the future that he becomes the harbinger of his own demise? And what kind of time could that take?! No, we can't wait for him to implode, because in this version of Network, Glen Beck isn't being played by Peter Finch. Nope, in this revival, Howard/Glen is being played by Robert Duvall. I know, it's all a little Being John Malkovich. Allow me to explain.

What if Howard hadn't been crazy? What if the entire thing had been an act? What if the story played out exactly as it did, but Howard had been a willing voice of Arthur Jensen from the beginning, and his progression into madness was entirely fabricated? Or what if there was no Howard, and Frank Hackett had been the man pretending to become a mad messiah? Because that's what I see when I look at Glenn Beck, Frank. The madness is a front, and he's got Ned Beatty (playing Rupert Murdoch) keeping him on the air to continue to frighten and depress the few who will still listen to him. And the slick-salesman-turned-chairman will keep him on the air, even as the numbers decline, until the corporation has no use left for him. Why? Because that’s the real anesthetic; and it’s keeping us from seeing the real agenda.

Consider the following speech (again click to see the whole thing)...

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 tranquillized, all boredom amused.

The words of Arthur Jensen are both harrowing and infuriating. In essence, what he seems to be advocating is a form of backward socialism that, instead of advocating state ownership of industry, advocates industry ownership of the state. It’s made to sound like a worker’s cooperative, but never does Jensen claim that some men don’t own more than that single share of stock. Now on one hand Beck - in his best "rah Tea Party rah" speeches - speaks out against the corporate control of our government. But meanwhile he advocates for a system that follows the rules and law of business, and whose life and death is tied inexorably to an unregulated free market system. Sound familiar?

Beck says he supports libertarianism, but that's not what he's calling for, or what his backers are trying to create. Argue all you want on what the Koch brothers - and other multi-national interests they work with - intend to do with their ties to the Tea Party, but it's hard to argue anymore that they aren't the financial backing of both the Tea Party political leaders and its supposed 'grass roots' movement. You can say that they have no direct power over the players, but the fake-Koch/Walker phone call basically blows that out of the water. And Beck is their own private Howard Beale.

I know some will say, "Well what about the corporate interests controlling the message in other parts of the political landscape? Are you such a hypocrite you don't see them or advocate for their downfall?" But you know what? I actually do see them and agree that they need to be investigated and dealt with. Let's see the proof of their actions and intentions paraded out on cable and network news and deal with them too, the second we’re done getting rid of Beck’s brand of bullshit. Because he is the biggest thorn in the side of the truth right now. And once he’s gone, and they realize that the world is catching on; we’ll have the lesser thorns on edge. And maybe, if we can ever get enough reality into the news programming, we’ll stop needing pseudo-reality in our entertainment programming.

I don't subscribe to the 'I know you are but what am I' mentality of ideology, communication and politics. There's already a Beale on the floor, and he's done enough damage. And since it appears he's faking his insanity, we can't even hope he'll eventually crack enough that they have to call the white-coats. It's time to follow Howard's sage advice, and "Turn them off right now!" Or at least follow Wes Mendell's advice, and change the channel. If you're not going to watch a more legitimate news source, you're still better off watching the Food Network.


When I grow up, I want to be; whoever Joss Whedon wants to be, when he grows up. I am a writer because it's the first thing I want to do when I wake up in the morning; aside from eating and using the lavatory of course. My work includes screenplays, short stories, film/TV/music reviews and socio-political commentary. The last one is a fancy way of saying I like to shoot my mouth off on many topics. I excel at using $1.50 words. They gone up, thanks to inflation. Isn't our economy awesome?

more about katherine l (aka clevertitania)


agree to disagree
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by katherine l (aka clevertitania)
topic: pop culture
published: 8.27.10

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by katherine l (aka clevertitania)
topic: pop culture
published: 3.22.10


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