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It’s the Individual That’s Finished

For all you reclaimers of the web, that was, or is… I’ve been immersed in the present future as portrayed in the past, 1976 to be precise. I’ve been a bit obsessed with the Paddy Chayefsky’s epic Network, which then was not a connection of people on digital lines, but of the television network.

If you ask people about the movie, the will most likely only recall the Howard Beale rant

but that’s kind of like paraphrasing Gone with the Wind as only “Frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn…”

I am going to be using this scene in an upcoming presentation. You have been warned.

The premised of Network is exactly what we are seeing now with the internet network. In the movie, we witness the fall of the golden era of television news as (semi) pure journalism, the Walter Cronkite/Harry Reasonor era. For years, the business of TV accepted news as a loss leader, and was not driven by business principles.

But in the movie, the UBS network has been taken over by a corporate conglomerate, CCA, and a bean counter executive Frank Hackett (played ruthlessly by Robert Duvall) is calling more of the shots, and the new division now is dictated by the entertainment mindset of the soul-less Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway).

My we could insert the names of some venture capitalists for today’s version of the movie. The mad visions of almost outed newscaster Howard Beale as seen by the greedy corporate drivers as only a way to get more market share (more students in courses?), and they only wish to exploit the never he has tapped in the public.

In the director’s commentary, Sidney Lumet points out that every character in the movie has been corrupted, by greed, money, sexual desire, power EXCEPT the mad Howard Beale. He remains pure. Lumet describes the progression in the movie of opening scenes with minimal ambient lighting, the street and bar conversation of Beale and veteran news man Max Schumacher (William Holden) ar elit by something less than desk lamps. Through the movie, the lighting then grows more intense, even grotesque, to the culminating final scene described as “lit like a Ford commercial” where the executives calmly discuss the morbid last act, all in the name of ratings.

Again, the parallels with the tension of a medium of communication being subverted to the monetary needs of corporate interests, are an eerie parallel to the things we see now, with the web we may have lost and the growing corporatification of education.

And maybe it is the open reclaimers who are the Howard Beales, imploring us to get mad as hell.

There is a ton of classic lines. And you know what the current open internet provides? free access to the entire movie script, and in reading it you can conform what Chayefsky’s colleagues said in the DVD extras, the screenplay was meticulously written, even in the description of the sets and lighting.

In one of his middle act speeches, Howard reinforces how we are in “a lot of trouble” describing the state of things after the death of UBS executive Edward Ruddy and what it means for the network to be run by Hackett.

Just substitute “web” for “television” (my emphasis added). Yes if people really buy the “education is broken” bullshit, then we are in a lot of trouble.

Edward George Ruddy was the Chairman of the Board of the Union Broad- casting Systems — and woe is us if it ever falls in the hands of the wrong people. And that’s why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died. Because this network is now in the hands of CC and A the Communications Corporation of America. We’ve got a new Chairman of the Board, a man named Frank Hackett now sitting in Mr. Ruddy’s office on the twentieth floor. And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamned propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this tube? So, listen to me! Television is not the truth! Television is a goddamned amusement park, that’s what television is! Television is a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats and storytellers, singers and dancers, jugglers, side-show freaks, liontamers and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business! If you want truth, go to God, go to your guru, go to yourself because that’s the only place you’ll ever find any real truth! But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell! We’ll tell you Kojack 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 going to win. We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear!

We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people sit there — all of you — day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds — we’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe this illusion we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and 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 think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We’re the illusions! So turn off this goddam set! Turn it off right now! Turn it off and leave it off. Turn it off right now, right in the middle of this very sentence I’m speaking now —

In a later scene, Christensen and Hackett are yucking it up at some network awards ceremony, on top of the world, when they get called out to watch Beale’s installment where he exposes news that they did not even know, that CCA was about to be bought out by Middle Eastern investors.

The exposure kills the deal, and causes havoc for CCA who is in debt for all their greedy acquisitions, and Beale gets called in for the “Wrath of God” speech by CEO Arthur Jensen.

It is a sermon of reality spewed by Ned Beatty, who apparently was tapped for the role at the last minute, and basically was on the set for only 2 days of shooting, the bulk of it for this scene in the “boardroom”, actually a meeting room at the New York Public Library.

Again, the dimming of the lighting suggests a power and control tactic of Jensen, but holy brimstone, here is the future of the internet network! The world is not made of nations, it is a business!

“It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet!” ahem Google, Facebook, Apple… There is more truth in these words of 37 years ago… (my emphasis added)

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear?! You think you have merely stopped a business deal — that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance!

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians. There are no Arabs! There are no third worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars!, Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today!

That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?

You get up on your little twenty- one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and A T and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state — Karl Marx? They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do. 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 by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine, oppression and brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding…

And Beale beams into the face of God (Jensen) and assents. Or so it seems.

In his last tv appearance, Howard fills his audience in on what he learned in this encounter, that it’s the individual that is finished:

Because, in the bottom of all our terrified souls, we all know that democracy is a dying giant, a sick, sick dying, decaying political concept, writhing in its final pain.

I don’t mean the United States is finished as a world power. The United States is the most powerful, the richest, the most advanced country in the world, light-years ahead of any other country. And I don’t mean the Communists are going to take over the world. The Communists are deader than we are.

What’s finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it. It’s the individual that’s finished. It’s the single, solitary human being who’s finished. It’s every single one of you out there who’s finished. Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. This is a nation of two hundred odd million transistorized, deodorized, whiter- than-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods

And so it goes with the lost web. It’s the individual who is finished. Blogging is dead, and our remaining bits of expression are locked into the data churning ad returning machines of GoogleFacebook, a web of two billion million data analyzed, ad-served, status messaging, app infested bots, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as … well I am lost on that metaphor. We are willing to outsource our most important vehicle of innovation education for the individual, to corporate interests, just to do more cheaper.

In all of the huffing and puffing of massive education, let me ask you this. The numbers are all on the side of the MOOC providers. How big they are.

As one student in a class of 160,000, do you know what that makes you?


Try that one on.

Welcome to Web 3.0. It’s all about the matrix. Jack yourself into the plex.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. Remake the Network.
    There are no nations Mr Beale.
    Only Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple & Microsoft.
    The Web tells you what to think, what to eat.
    Truth, It lies like hell, the bots will tell you anything you want to hear.
    There is no democracy it’s all an illusion Mr Beale.

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