Daily Archives: August 7, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies: “Network”


Peter Finch as Howard Beale: “But first you’ve got to get mad.  And I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” The complete film posted at Google Video here.

We had something else lined up for tonight, but it feels sort of zeitgeisty that, after posting multiple entries yesterday on obscenity and satire (here, here, here, and here), as well as featuring Jon Stewart’s inspired tirade on The Daily Show the other night — and even putting up video earlier today that perfectly captures the inanity of what now passes for television news — tonight’s movie offering should be Paddy Chayefsky’s classic, deadpan satire Network.  Those of us who are old enough to have seen it when it was released in 1976 may recall the queasy feeling back then that it was a grotesque extrapolation of social trends that could not “really” descend so low.  What dreamers we were.  How sweet our innocence.  But for anyone who grew up during the evolution of the 24 hour news cycle and the proportional devolution of news into ideologically mutant infotainment, not to mention the onset of the multiple myeloma that is CNN and Fox News, this wonderful movie will not be so much “satire” as documentary.

Again, for those old enough to remember, this is the great Peter Finch‘s last role, and it is a tour de force, playing the divinely demented Howard Beale, the staid old school newsman who becomes a deranged but truth-speaking prophet.  For those too young to have seen Peter Finch before now, this performance will be a revelation.  They don’t make actors like this any more.  And he makes it look so easy.

This film is not available on YouTube, but Google video has posted it in its entirely.  Just hit the link at the top of the post.  (Be aware that the last 16 minutes of the film appear as “Part 2” at the above link.)

Here’s Frye on the “satire of the high norm“:

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Videos of the Day: CNN’s Top Ten Gaffes


Rick Sanchez: “. . . you think of Hawaii and long words like that”

Vanity Fair has put together an idiots’ parade compilation of CNN’s top ten gaffes.  From the idiocy of Wolf Blitzer (for whom ten mangled words are always preferable to a single well-chosen one) to the idiocy of Rick Sanchez (“Iceland’s too cold for volcanoes”) to the idiocy of Erick “Son of Erick” Erickson (“David Souter is a goat-fucking child molester”), and all the way back round again to the primogenitural idiocy of Wolf Blitzer, l’idiota di tutti idioti.  Just one question: Why stop at ten?  A top one hundred would not be much more time consuming to compile.

Fox News may be evil incarnate.  But CNN is clownish stupidity, from one end of the 24 hour news cycle to the other, day in, day out, and without fail.  It’s all Ted Baxter now.  As with Paddy Chayefsky‘s Network, what was once satire is now just the new normal.

Frye and Obscenity (2)


Here is a selection from the diaries and notebooks referencing obscenity.

Anatomy Notebooks.

[118] The conception of semniotes is beginning to take shape.  Primitive tribes distinguish serious tales & less serious ones; this distinction appears later as the distinction between myth & legend or folktale.  One has to distinguish between an intensive encyclopaedic tendency, which selects & expurgates & builds a canon, from the extensive one that we find in satire & in prose fiction generally.  The latter is exploratory of the physical world: hence satire & irony are “obscene,” just as painters are forever poking into women’s bedrooms & toilets (the actual process of changing a menstrual pad or cacking on a pot is, however, considered unpaintable).  Hence literature expands through satire & through the genre of fiction (cf. Shaw’s preface to The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet on the “Eliza in her bath” problem in drama).  Folktales expand the original quest-archetype, which is forever collapsing into semniotes.  Cf. The Egyptian masturbating god with Jesus’ clay & spittle.  Semniotes is connected with abstraction was well as morality—we often speak of “pure” abstraction, & the purifying of myth is like the purifying of mathematics. (CW 23, 241)

[The issue Shaw examines is the difference between impropriety in books and in plays.  He reports that Sir William Gilbert remarked, “I should say there is a very wide distinction between what is read and what is seen.  In a novel one may read that ‘Eliza stripped off her dressing-gown and stepped into her bath’ without any harm; but I think that if it were presented on stage it would be shocking.”  Shaw proceeds to demolish the illustration as an argument for censorship on stage (Preface, The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet [New York: Brentano’s, 1928], 69).]

[Semniotes appears to be NF’s coinage, derived from σεμνός, decent, modest.  On the Egyptian myth, see AC, 156.]

In the circle of myths, I must work out some more oppositions between romance and irony.  Irony-satire is always what is called “obscene,” & hence is the exact opposite of the element in romance which is the release of erotic fantasy.  Sadist fantasies (Romantic Agony, Spenser’s Amoret & whosit in 6—not Seven, though she fits, but the C of L [Court of Love] one—Mirabell, I think, & my William Morris stuff), masochist ones (I think less common, but cf. the C of L) & other erotica (in Freud’s sense of Eros) are found.  I’ve just been reading an admirable piece of science fiction: [John Wyndham’s] “The Day of the Triffids.”  Catastrophe blinds all the human race except the merest handful of survivors—Flood archetype.  Brought on by human folly—Atlantis archetype.  (The writer is intelligent enough to note both).  Heroine makes her appearance being whipped.  Harem (two extra girls) introduced, but censored out.  Little girl often picked up—erotic archetype censored out.  The flood archetype is the transference of an infantile fantasy: suppose everybody died except me & the people I could boss, or at least play (i.e. work) with.  The comfortable good [?] & the world shut out feeling, the sense of holiday, turns up early when they loot a Picadilly flat: I don’t know if this kind of erotica, which turns up in the dismissal of catechumens theme in ghost stories (Turn of the Screw) has a name, but it’s linked with the regression to the family unit which is a part of the Flood archetype.  Several important things have to be worked out.  Pr. ph. 4. (ibid., 246)

Late Notebooks.

[222] Rimbaud again: “Venus Anadyomene” is a deliberately “shocking” poem, but not obscene: no hatred is expressed for the poor creature.  “Mes Petites Amoureuses” I thought obscene at first, because of the hatred (“Que je vous haïs!”) and sadistic wishes to break their hips.  Yet the real context of this poem is the Lettre du Voyant, in which it is included, and the letter prophesies a new age of poetry where women will have a leading part.  The “amoureuses” are not girls but false Muses.  He says the poem isn’t part of the argument, but (a) it is (b) one can take that remark both ways. (CW 5, 39)

[715]  For mother’s generation Scott was the pinnacle of serious secular reading: no one realized that he inverted a popular formula, and isn’t “serious” in the way Jane Austen or Balzac are.  This point has been confusing me: it’s involved me in one of those “revaluation” antics I detest so much, and which invariably appear when there’s a confusion of genres.  If Scott had been allowed in his day to be, if not “obscene,” at least as sexually explicit as Fielding, he’d have been more centrally in the Milesian tales tradition. (ibid., 247)

[197]  The whole section on the Spirit and the transition to kerygma needs [sic] more careful expression.  Of the chaos of myths waiting for the Spirit to brood on them, ranging from the profound to the frivolous, the reverent to the obscene, which can be “believed”?  Belief here means the creative use of a recognized fiction.  Myths that cannot be “believed” remain in the imaginative corpus, as possibilities only. [See WP, 129.] (ibid., 294)

[593]  I think, with a modicum of that horrible obscene four-letter word (ugh) WORK, these four chapters will come off all right.  Eight will simply extend the ascending ladder into evolutionary & other views that start with nature & end with man.  The intensifying of consciousness bit & the four levels of time & space will fit into the end.

[594]  Now what do I do?

[595]  Well, first you finish the fucking book. (ibid., 377)

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Dame Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene

Today in 1606 is the first recorded performance of Macbeth.

Macbeth is the most concentrated study of tyranny as a force within an individual soul, which has to be cast out of that as well as out of society.  The tyrant exists because the victims are tyrants to themselves.  (CW 15, 243)