With time on our hands, we are revisiting books and movies that may be seen in the light cast by the Wuhan virus or the lockdowns responding to it. Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Albert Camus’s The Plague come to mind. A stray reference to Anne Frank prompted me to pull down my copy of her diary along with Francine Prose’s excellent Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife this weekend. I wrote about Prose’s book after a visit to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam a few years ago.
To these I now add the famous rant by Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in the film Network (1976), written by Paddy Chayefsky, directed by Sidney Lumet. TCM played the film last night as part of its 2020 stay-at-home Classic Film Festival. Not having seen the movie for a few years, I thought the rant had a new resonance. Acclaimed UBS anchor Howard Beale delivers it in the immediate aftermath of notice that his employment was terminated by network executives:
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.”
Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m a HUMAN BEING, goddamn it! My life has VALUE!”
So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
Even if it is slightly dated, that rant seems to partake of the timeless quality of the opening of A Tale of Two Cities. The video is below.