*Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Ya, what’s going on
Wall Street: a neighborhood that handles the finances of those elusive job creators who have perpetrated the ultimate coup: enacting a suspect political dogma that the masses think they understand. Simple wording and snappy sound bites are all part of the gelatinous political-stew of lies and half-truths. But wait a minute, not all the masses have eaten this last supper of deception. Zuccotti Park has become a festival of signs and faces of protest which brings to mind a certain declaration – the emotional genesis for many a proletariat movement – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Today, life imitates art imitates life… (I could go on). The art here is the 1976 movie Network (written by Paddy Chayefsky, Directed by Sidney Lumet) where the mad rantings of prophetically sensitive newsman Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) send the network establishment into the hair-pulling tizzy of damage control. They fire the unhappy newsman deeming this much easier than attending to the root of his suicidal outbursts. Beale’s position is saved by a friend’s intervention and his promise to apologize to his viewers. But the emotional waters have already boiled and all it takes is heat from the lights, camera and the countdown to spill over. Once more, rather than the promised apology, Beale rages at the camera calling life meaningless and “bullshit!” The “angry man” scenario is an overnight (today it would be instantaneous) ratings hit moving the network to give Beale his own show. Network is ripe with subtext and the firing of Beale highlights the old Hollywood maxim – “…you’ll never work in this town again — until we need you.” The personal urgency behind Beale’s rage remains unexplored by those he works for and the audience he entertains with his emotional antics as the “Mad Prophet” who refuses to be ignored any longer. Timing is everything in love, politics and business and Beale hits the perfect note when he persuades his audience to throw open their windows and shout the “mad as hell…” mantra of the masses. The people have found their leader and, at his behest, will send letters and telegrams (yesterday’s e-mail and twitter) to the White House in protest of the UBS network company being bought out by a Saudi conglomerate (any of this sound familiar?). Beale’s pending emotional breakdown is ignored even as his message is being co-opted and twisted by his employers who fear his power. The big boss does manage to get a naïve Beale to put his evangelical zeal to work on another, less populist cause. As a result, ratings tumble but Beale is kept on and, like a public hanging in which the corpse is left (as a lesson) to twist in the wind, his messages, along with Howard Beale the Mad Prophet, are barely remembered.
In 2000, because it was considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” Network was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. And rightfully so. Those protesting in Zuccotti Park are mad as hell and (in a figurative sense) refuse to continue the dance with their executioners. It is as if Network creators had their fingers on the pulse of the future.
I have a journalism student who spent several days photographing, talking and sleeping at
Zuccotti park as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This highly motivated and intelligent young woman believes that education is her key (as it has always been) to open the gates of success. I wondered if she would come in contact with other college students, those who perhaps have already acquired the key to said gate. Would they tell her how the key no longer fits? How can there be a future with bright horizons when there is no present to occupy? Sadly, it is part of the grand deception; the horizons that once belonged to today’s youth have been bundled, parsed and sold as part of the derivative stew of lies and half-truths. Yes, education can be the key to success, but not in a society that allows the 1% to leave the building and take all horizons with them.
In the quest for lost horizons, frustration becomes the muse of the masses from Egypt to Oakland and major points in between. If Howard Beale represents the 99%; those unemployed without hope and those workers with more empathy than hope, then the 1%,
the vile and heartless who today would mock the protesters as they sip champagne on a balcony overlooking Wall Street, is represented by Diana Christiansen (Faye Dunaway) the network programming head whose spiked heels have pierced many backsides in her race to the top of the ratings chart. Like the Wall Street dwellers, Christiansen has crapped where she lives but a little cinematic license allows her to close the door on the smell.
Not so in life – today. Chickens truly do come home to roost- witness Zuccotti Park. But, until these demonstrations manifest in a change that will slay greed thereby returning futures to their rightful owners, these Wall Streeters get the same warning of self destruction that Network‘s Christiansen received from her lover (William Holden), “You are [greed] incarnate…indifferent to suffering, insensitive to [true] joy.” For Diana Christiansen, “All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality.” And so it goes with a life owned by those who would mock misery with their bitter toasts.
*From, What’s Goin’ On/Marvin Gaye