“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Forty years ago Peter Finch won an Academy Award for his haunting portrayal of television newscaster Howard Beale in the movie Network. Beale channels the rage of his age into a nightly newscast that predated reality TV by decades. The two-minute newsroom scene where Beale goes crackers on the air still gives me goose bumps.
Beale styles himself as the “mad prophet of the airwaves denouncing the hypocrisies of our times.” The man who wrote that line, Paddy Chayefsky, also won an Academy Award for his work, which was a black comedy informed by an “end-of-the-rope contempt for the corruptions, hypocrisies and humiliations of corporate life and the power of society’s image-makers,” according to Chayefsky’s obituary in The New York Times.
Increasingly, it seems Howard Beale has become every man and woman. We’re all fed up. Some of us may be better than others in containing our hair-trigger temper, but as a general statement, many of us are just one tick away from losing it. A particular product, service or interaction may not be completely awful, but still we lash out, disappointed less by the product’s failure than the time it will take to return or replace it. And, increasingly, we use social media to share our views.
Chayefsky’s name and Beale’s character are once more in the news with the publication of a new book, Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in the Movies. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asks what Howard Beale or Paddy Chayefsky would make of today’s corporate and media landscape. The Atlantic riffs on how Beale’s character created a template for today’s era of outrage.
The social, economic and consumer forces that drove Beale to madness are not only still with us, they have gotten exponentially worse over the last 40 years. Utilities cannot insulate themselves from today’s age of rage. In a recent column in Intelligent Utility, Kathleen Wolf Davis provocatively asked, “How pissed off are your customers?” Read more »