The movie “Network” represents the bureaucratic side of television. It has instances that suggest its existence as a kind of art medium but it mostly focuses on the financial and executive aspects of the television industry. Within the context of Network the only thing that matters to the television industry is ratings and money. While the livelihood of the workers within the film depends on the viewers, whose audience creates the ratings the executives cling to so fiercely, they mock the fact that an entire generation has grown up on television and that they know little else.
This dramatized, fictionalized behind-the-scenes look at how a television network runs makes these claims about the business of television and its hypocritical and self-serving qualities. Within the film, the network discussed does extreme and illegal things to help ratings in order to save their failing network. This presents the network system in a terrible light whether the actual system of television does similar practices or not.
The network’s executives feel the need to join forces with questionable people in order to have their ratings aided. They make deals with bank robbers, because they think people will want to see their story, thereby vindicating their illegal activities and glorifying the illegal. They use Howard Beale and his apparent mental breakdown to gain ratings but as soon as he starts being detrimental they kill him. Even though these are extreme events, this seems realistic in that this is similar to the situation presented in Ant Farm’s “Media Burn. In this video the people sent invitations to the news stations in order to get them to come and the news stations came even though they didn’t know what they would find.
These real television companies did not want to risk not having a ratings maker or to be behind other stations with the story and so they went to find a potentially time and money wasting event, and then they aired the footage because they had gone to the trouble of filming it. This event could have been about anything, including an illegal activity, but they went to it anyway just because they might get some viewers from it.
This is comparable to the bureaucratic insanity of the people in Network, not only allowing Beale to stay on the air, but to give him his own show. David Antin’s article, Television: Video’s Frightful Parent, helps explain the reason television networks have always been so competitive when he discusses the origin of the television industry. He explains that the industry grows from the ashes of World War II when power in every sense was hard to find and rationing was just leaving the United States.
This means that people were starting to look for frivolous things to spend their time and money on and thus grew the television. The competitiveness is born from the fact that “control of the new medium was in the hands of the powerful radio networks” (36) which caused the networks to compete for viewers in the new medium as they competed in the old medium. This competition grew as television popularity grew and created the issues represented in Network.
Though Antin’s article helps explain beginnings of the power struggle within television, none of the readings actually discuss the way stations and networks go after ratings like starving beasts. This is probably because this view of television is not a way to see the art within television, and that seems to be the goal of the readings. However, Stanley Cavell discusses the human desire for the entertainment that television provides, in his article The Fact of Television, which shows the fruits of the ratings grabbing labors of the networks.
He states that, “television is addictive” (76) which is reflected in the statements made by the elder characters in Network who talk about the “television generation” who “learned life from Bugs Bunny”, and seeing the world through the frame of the television set without really seeing or understanding the world. Unfortunately, these claims about how much people want television supports the reasoning behind some of the outrageous actions that the executives in Network do. Even though some of the readings discuss this need for television as entertainment, they are still trying to throw television into some form of art medium.
Why is it necessary for television to be a medium of art? It seems that television is solely a medium of money and business. That is not to say art cannot be presented on or in television, but in order for the art to make it onto the television there must be some form of money and someone’s business supporting the art that goes onto the television. Television shows, no matter what they are about, are sponsored or paid for by some commercial. Something or someone pays money so that that program gets put on the air and this is the side of television that Network is representing.
The better the show does, the more viewers it procures. The more viewers, the higher the rating and the more people are watching the commercials during that program. The more people watching the commercials, the more money the station or network can charge a business or person for their commercial to be put on during that show. This is television in a nutshell. This is what keeps television running and this is what keeps shows, of any level of art, on the air where people can watch them. Network points to this side of television which supports the argument that television is a medium of bureaucracy, plain and simple.