Those of you who, like me, are actually middle-aged probably recognize the tagline for my blog. It’s from the movie “Network”, made in 1976: a satire about the powerful media, mega corporations, financial manipulation and the choice between apathy or engagement. The central figure is middle-aged broadcaster Howard Beale, who restarts his failing network career meteorically as “the mad prophet of the airwaves.” In an iconic scene, he urges his viewers on live TV to go to their windows and shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”
I was a teenager in 1976, and I remember the sense of malaise. We had just come through one “oil crisis” and, though we didn’t know it, were headed for another. We had suffered through Watergate and massive disillusionment. Inflation ran amok and people like my parents, middle-aged at the time, despaired as they saw savings become meaningless and the cost of living seemingly escalate beyond their reach or control. Our great cities were failing. New York City came within a whisker of declaring bankruptcy. The culture wars were brewing and the idealistic flower children of the 1960s had morphed into the narcissistic “Me Generation” of the 1970s. Things were bad.
Since then, some things have gotten better and some have gotten worse. Better: People of color and women really do have more enforceable rights under the law and have more opportunities. Worse: this has inspired a backlash on many levels, political and cultural. Sometimes that backlash is violent, as we’ve seen recently in Charleston, South Carolina and Lafayette, Louisiana. Yes, those killers were crazy — but they were also reacting violently against what they saw as challenges to a world where they, as white men, were entitled and superior to others by sole reason of gender and race. Those are all those guys had going for them, and they knew it. The people they killed were far better human beings.
Better: inflation has been tamed. Worse: the world economy is increasingly manipulated by financiers. Financial maneuvering has displaced actual innovation and production in many advanced countries’ economies. And the worst aspects of unconstrained capitalism, including abuse of labor (i.e. people), flourish unabated in the Third World, aided and abetted by the First World, whose economic masters have shipped so many jobs and so much production there. Human trafficking has exploded globally.
Better: we have so much more scientific knowledge! The human genome has been mapped. We can see the inner workings of human brains. We’ve looked up close at Mars and Pluto. We can actually see what’s going on with the Earth, via satellite images. We have the Internet! Worse: the Internet has empowered some of the worst among us; child pornography, for instance, was on the wane until the Internet made it so much easier for pedophiles to connect and encourage each other. Powerful economic and political interests are promoting the denial of science, as in denying climate change. Seriously? Does Louisiana have to vanish beneath the waves to convince some people?
Better: overall, violent crime has dropped in this country. Worse: mass shootings, with all the horror they engender, have proliferated in the U.S. to a degree most of us find inconceivable. High-powered military-style weapons are available to disgruntled shooters largely because of a decades-long strategy by the NRA and the craven compliance with that strategy by a Congress that, due to the rightward swing of the Supreme Court, is basically up for sale to the highest bidder and acts accordingly, in disregard of the views and needs of most of the American public.
Better: we have so many more means of direct communication! And regular folk like us now have the tools to express ourselves in a polished, sophisticated format, thanks to options like WordPress. Wow. Worse: the manipulators of popular opinion have also become much more sophisticated. They know exactly what buttons to push, conscious and subconscious, to shape public opinion. Some of what they are doing is truly scary and reminiscent of the strategies used by Goebbels, among others, but enabled by 24/7 data analysis and mega data. The “Big Lie”, anyone?
Which brings me back to my tagline. We the ordinary people need to start shouting. We need to express our outrage. We can do so without violence — we should do so without violence — but we need to make ourselves heard. You won’t see me opening my window and shouting like Howard Beale, but I can: write; blog; speak up; and most important, vote. I’m mad as hell. And I’m not going to take this any more.