The other day, while flipping through TV channels, I stumbled upon one of my favorite films: Sidney Lumet’s “Network” (1976), a satirical, pitch-black behind the scenes look at the world of television.
My favorite scene from the film describes – aptly – mass media as illusionists. In a riveting speech, former TV news anchor turned “TV prophet” Howard Beale says:
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.
And my favorite part from the speech:
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!
If I had a million dollars’ worth of funding for The Illusionists, first thing I’d do, I’d buy the rights to use this scene!
You can watch it here (embedding is disabled for the video – if you click on the screenshot, it will lead you to YouTube):
- Network on IMDB