TLDR: Peter Finch popularized protest and struggle against modern life and apathy when his character, a newsman, yelled, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” His simple words talked about all that’s wrong with the world and suggested people rise up and take action.
So What? Almost 50 years later, audiences still resonate with the words of Finch’s character and feel the need to express their own anger at modernity when they see things going wrong.
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Arguably the most iconic moment from the movie “Network,” the speech–uttered by Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch in an Oscar-winning performance)–talks about how we should never give into the apathy of life.
The irony of the speech is that it’s never really clear what the newscaster is mad at, nor does he issue a plan of attack. Nevertheless, the speech still has a lot to teach regardless of its specificity, and it seems more relevant than ever, despite being nearly 50 years old.
Dare to Protest
Beale’s line has been used as a protest for so many different causes since Peter Finch uttered it in the movie, that it’s almost a cliche or a parody of itself. At its core, however, the line is meant to say, “Enough is enough! Things have to change.”
As the movie plays out, viewers will note that not much really does change, either for Beale or the news industry in general. For a time, Beale gets a lot of people to parrot his line. The station’s ratings go up, and he gets his own show.
Spoiler alert: Subsequently, things don’t go his way, and he becomes a casualty of the quest for higher ratings as the news gets more extreme. Sound familiar?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Beale’s famous speech seems even more relevant today than it was in 1976. Many news anchors have been caught lying to benefit their chosen political views, and apathy about the state of news and politics may be at an all-time high.
The good news is that great communicators can always inspire people to stick their head out of a window and tell the world how they feel, at least metaphorically. Here are a few other takeaways from the speech and what it can teach communicators about effective messaging.
Speak Truth to Power
The beauty and power of Beale’s speech is its simplicity and plain-spokenness. Beale captivates his network audience (and his bosses, at least for a time) by saying exactly what he and everyone else is thinking. Yet while everyone else is staying quiet, Beale steps forward.
When a speaker is able to “go there” (to boldly say the quiet part out loud), to speak truth to power, it attracts attention and impacts your listeners. While Beale was sincere in his desire to speak the truth about the state of the world, he soon discovered the limitations of being constantly angry.
When the network gives him a show to express these views night after night, Beale discovers a truth that many impassioned communicators often must learn the hard way: your audience’s attention may fade if you say the same thing the same way all the time, even if you say it with great energy and passion.
Beale decides to make his message more extreme just to keep people’s attention. Eventually, that fails, and his ratings dive. Making your message more extreme isn’t going to make it more effective, and your audience may tune you out as irrelevant.
Ask for a Response
One important lesson from Beale’s speech is the power of a call to action.
Beale is able to see some level of change, at least for a time, because he asks people to express their anger along with him. All over the TV coverage area, people are sticking their heads out their windows and yelling, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
As communicators, it’s important to know what we want our audiences to do, and that we can call on them clearly and succinctly (and sometimes repetitively, like Beale). Our audiences cannot read our minds, and they often need a push (or several) to take the leap. Consider your call to action carefully.
Dare to protest. Speak truth to power. And ask for a response.
These are the lessons that worked in the time of “Network,” and they still work today.
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