1976: 'Network' Newsman Rants, 'I'm As Mad As Hell, And I'm Not Going To Take This Anymore!'
Even if you’ve never seen the 1976 movie Network, you know the line delivered by TV newsman Howard Beale (Peter Finch): "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." It crystallizes the anger and powerlessness felt by the individual who has no recourse, options or plan. It is anger without a clear target -- just general anger at the disappointing state of modern life.
The line becomes Beale's catchphrase as he proceeds to "tell it like it is" and soar to the top of the TV ratings chart. Beale is mad at TV, not just the news but also the fakeness of other programming. He's mad at the fear that keeps people indoors, watching TV. He's mad at inflation and the Russians. But as the brilliant script writer Paddy Chayefsky intended, we never know what Beale wants.
Beale inspires viewers and earns a bullet for his convictions by the end of the film. For Chayefsky, the film was always meant to be a comedy, but his work connected so deeply with viewers who felt that he understood the downfall of the nightly news that he was hailed as a modern Nostradamus. Here’s what Chayefsky thought about the line, how he wrote it, and how it’s misconstrued through pop culture.
Howard Beale is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore
It’s one of the most well known quotes in film history, this single line from Network. But it’s surrounded by an entire call to action, or rather inaction, from newscaster Howard Beale. In the film Beale is losing his job and his mind so he calls on the American people let out a frustrated, angry yawp with him. The entire speech is amazing and you should watch it as soon as you finish reading this article. Here's the crescendo:
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 gonna 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!
Paddy Chaefsky was frustrated with television when he wrote the film
There was no one catalyst for Paddy Chayefsky writing Network, he was simply angry at the world around him. Chayefsky saw the world devolving around him, specifically the desires of the American television viewer. He saw the way the venom of the Watergate era and the Vietnam War filtered into TV shows that were supposed to make everyone feel good.
In script notes from Chayefsky, he writes that people “don’t want jolly, happy family type shows like Eye Witness News… the American people are angry and want angry shows.” He finished his notes with, “the only joke we have going for us is the idea of ANGER.”
It took forever for Chaefsky come up with the speech
Chayefsky knew that Howard needed a big speech to make the themes of the film coalesce, however his only problem with writing a speech was that he didn’t want the character to take a stand for anything specific. Chayefsky needed Howard’s speech to represent a series of different beliefs, but how do you write that? Chayefsky’s script notes show that he wasn’t confident in his abilities in spite of being one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. He writes:
I’m not taking a stand — I’m not for anything or anyone. If we give Howard a speech at the end of the show, what would he say? I think I would like to say something against the destructiveness of absolute beliefs. That the only total commitment any of us can have is to other human beings.
When the speech was finished Chaefsky knew what it should look like
By the time Chayefsky had the “I’m as mad as hell” speech down on paper he knew exactly how he wanted it to come across onscreen. While most screenwriters don’t hold sway over the final output of their script, Chayefsky had the clout and the attitude to make sure that a director transmitted the tone he wanted. In the script for Network Chayefsky writes stage directions for the the scene surrounding the speech that show he understood exactly how the speech would be taken.
Chayefsky writes that Beale’s viewers respond to his speech by shouting along in “an indistinguishable tidal roar of human rage as formidable as the natural THUNDER again ROARING, THUNDERING, RUMBLING above.” As triumphant as he makes the response sounds he adds this dark qualifier: “It sounds like a Nuremberg rally, the air thick and trembling with it.”
Chaefsky didn’t think so many people would take the speech to heart
During his lifetime Chayefsky never commented on the record about his expectations for Network, or how he assumed people would take the film’s most memorable moment. But years after Chayefsky's 1981, we learned that he wasn’t prepared for the wild devotion to the film, and spite that was directed at the news (and newscasters) of the time. A portion of letters written by Chayefsky that the New York Times transcribed in 2011, addressed to “Walter” and “John,” as in Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor, state, “I never meant this film to be an attack on television as an institution in itself, but only as a metaphor for the rest of the times.” It’s obvious that Chayefsky never thought that the audience would be so affected by this one speech.
Howard Beale’s speech lives on through pop culture
Aside from being a blistering indictment of state of American entertainment in the 1970s, Beale’s speech is one of the most misappropriated quotes in film history. It’s so often quoted that its meaning isn’t just misconstrued, but it’s as if it’s been stripped of meaning completely. The phrase has been parodied and parroted in films and television shows as wide ranging as UHF, Mork & Mindy, Dallas, and Jetsons: The Movie.
Aaron Sorkin, a well known devotee of Chayefsky has included scenes referencing the speech in the pilots of two TV shows - Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom. Most recently the speech was referenced in Sharknado 4 of all things when a newscaster named Howard Beale literally said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
The quote is most often found outside of film and television in political campaigns, most recently it was the slogan of Carl P. Paladino during his run for governor of New York. It’s hard to throw a rock in pop culture and not find a sly reference to or a straight up verbatim quote of Beale’s speech.
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