IN A TIME OF NATIONAL DARKNESS AND DESPAIR, SHINES THE BRIGHT BEACON OF ART…
ART AS A POWERFUL AGENT OF SOCIAL CHANGE
HOWARD BEALE LIVES ON!
by Michael A. Kominsky (© 2019 Michael A. Kominsky, all rights reserved *)
If justice perishes, human life has lost its meaning
– Emmanuel Kant.
August 19, 2019
“I’m mad as hell…and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Shouts Howard Beale erupting during the middle of his newscast in a beige rain coat, his wet, gray hair plastered to his head. It is the beginning of his transfiguration into a mythical cult hero, now an enduring totem crying out against social injustice.
So, who is the eponymous Howard Beale…and why has he become the iconic symbol for outrage and political activism against the collective insanity, the social ailments and depravity existing in the world? And why is he now more relevant than ever?
Howard Beale is the fictional central character from the film Network (1976). In the film, Beale, the anchorman for the UBS Evening News, struggles to accept the inequities of the world he reports. The film concludes with the murder of Beale on national television; a voice over darkly proclaims him “the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings”.
You can view the eerily prescient, brilliantly written (by Paddy Chayefsky) 13 min. video excerpt, along with the actual screenplay text, which distills and delivers the moral payload of the film: the socio-pathology of world domination by the mega-corporations of capitalism (at 7 min. into the video) at:
To better comprehend and appreciate the social phenomenon of a Howard Beale, we must first understand how man’s intrinsic imperative to grapple with the inherent social contradictions of living in a so-called civilized society has been ameliorated by art. Through the millennia, the innate human compulsion to connect with his fellow man beyond the quotidian task of survival through various art forms has somehow survived, despite desperate attempts by despots to silence it. Art is a meta-level of consciousness: An affirmation of the human condition and all its wonder, and it must not be left unsaid, its foibles and flaws. To create is as intrinsic in the human spirit as the biological urge to procreate.
Early manifestations of art as a powerful agent of social change can be found in the art form of the novel. The novel with a purpose is, one contends, a preaching novel. But it preaches by telling things and showing things. The preaching, the moralizing is the result not of direct appeal by the writer, but is made—should be made—to the reader by the very incidents of the story. It is the complaint of the coward, this cry against the novel with a purpose, because it brings the tragedies and grief of others to notice. Take this element from fiction, take from it the power and opportunity to prove that injustice, crime and inequality do exist and what is left? Just the amusing novels that entertain.
Throughout history, some of the greatest agents of social change have been ignited through works of fiction—including classics: Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly—1852), Charles Dickens( A Tale of Two Cities—1859), Herman Melville (Moby-Dick; or The Whale—1851), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World—1932), John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath—1939), and George Orwell (1984—1949).
So just as the opening question in Ayn Rand’s iconic Libertarian novel Atlas Shrugged, is, “Who is John Galt?” — he is no longer a person but a symbol for Libertarian ideology and unfettered free-market capitalism. Howard Beale is the liberal antithesis of Galt…raging against the inequities of a rigged corporate system of hyper-capitalistic greed and avarice. Capitalism run amok.
It is through this ancient and sacred tradition of allegory, of striving to deliver their moral payload, that is documented as far back as the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux 20,000 years ago. By connecting to the primordial instinct to share the experience of the human condition through captivating storytelling, in all its art forms, thus passing on cumulative wisdom and tradition through parable for generations to follow. I believe the highest and indispensable calling of the artist is to be a prophet, essentially a healing secular shaman, historian and conscience of civilization.
The exponential technological evolution of the forms of artistic expression now allows us to put words to music, and more cogently, words and music to moving images, and through the internet essentially dismantling the traditional broadcast paradigm from one to many, to…many to many. In its highest form unfettered democracy unleashed – it can promote a synergy of magnanimous ideals and enlightenment. Or sadly, a powerful force for the promulgation of malice and far too often, willful arrogant ignorance.
I believe that if Howard Beale was actually alive, he would be screaming full volume, leading a roaring chorus of outrage, “I’m as mad as hell…and I’m not going to take it any more!”
Ah…but the good news is…Howard Beale Lives On!! His domicile is:
Hunter Beale, Howard Beale’s not-so-kinder, gentler “son”… is still “mad as hell”, and is carrying on his father’s work with even more ferocity…of fighting the international mega-corporations and collective world-wide insanity of apathy to climate change and injustice.
Which brings us to the current perverse political landscape. The ubiquitous media dominated by the domineering bully pulpit of bombastic, divisive and nativistic narrative, propagandized by the Bully-in-Chief, and through the tacit advocacy of sycophantic Republicans, is crowding out any altruistic counter-narrative.
And this is where art, as a powerful agent of social change must now intervene. We need a new story that explains the present and guides the future, says author George Monbiot. Drawing on findings from psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology, he offers a new vision for society built around our fundamental capacity for altruism and cooperation. As Monsboit insightfully states, you cannot expect to change someone’s toxic inner narrative without first offering an alternative which appeals to the innate altruism of man to replace it. But first, a prelude of moral outrage must occur, a chorus of disparate voices across all party lines, races and religions, most especially the so-called Christians, of calling out the absence of moral outrage against the abject immorality and injustice of the status quo; a contagious viral epidemic chanting, “Where is the outrage?”
It has been said, that the role of the artist is to live out loud. The visuals arts can communicate in even more powerful ways mere words cannot. Painting, photography, sculpture, dance and cinema can connect at a visceral metaphysical level that can, when done with passion and purity of intent, bypass the intellect, directly penetrating our primal core. It is long past due to counterbalance the cacophony of the increasingly alarming zeitgeist of malicious, indeed malignant narrative. Artists must now, more than ever, take up the clarion call to not just offer an alternative narrative but to shout it from the rooftops as Howard Beale exhorts us all in the film Networks: “I’m mad as hell…and I’m not going to take it any more!” Life imitating art…in other words, Be Beale!!
The calling out of the blind worship of capitalism, industry, technology and oblivious reliance on fossil fuel, despite imperative warnings of 97% of the credible scientific climate community, is being subverted by the Trump administration and the alt-right media, most especially state-run TV, Fox “News”. The idiot light on the dashboard is now frantically flashing red, admonishing us to shut down the engine of greenhouse gases…before any more irreparable damage is done. It is the tragic replay…over and over again…of the Greek mythos of Nemesis, (Gr. to pay what is due) divine retribution for man’s hubris as he blithely allows the slow systematic Matricide of Gaia. Tortured and slowly suffocated by a blanket of CO2 at the hands of Her own ungrateful children—a deadly irony—with the same inexorable efficiency of the technology that caused it.
Literature, music, journalism, all art-forms, and yes, especially film-making must now respond as if the survival of democracy as we know it is to endure. Because it does. For it is no less an existential crisis for the survival of fully formed civilized humans, than reckoning with climate change. Indeed climate change cannot realistically be solved without first confronting the injustice of the status quo. The Great Wake-up. It is time for a Neo-Renaissance – an explosion of scientific innovation to combat climate change, Simply stated it is time to change the national narrative from ME…to WE.
If the timid among the Democrats fail to even attempt to hold this miscreant Pretend President Trump accountable, the profound negative consequences of ignoring the rule of law, I believe places the democracy in extreme unprecedented peril.
The Democrats would lose all moral authority to govern. If not this president, at this time, then when?
Trump must be held accountable and subjected to the rule of law. He must be indicted and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Convicted of his heinous crimes against our democracy. But regardless of the outcome, the country will have tragically, perhaps irredeemably, lost it’s way and forfeited any moral authority on the world stage…to our allies…and more importantly, our enemies, most especially Putin and the Ruskies, the PRK and Iran.
History will not be kind to those who failed to do the right thing, to execute justice in the face of such overwhelming compelling evidence of criminal misconduct/malfeasance for fear of some adverse political consequence…including those in the HR and especially the Senate. With the overwhelming mid-term victory in the HR in 2018, the people have vociferously and unambiguously spoken…and it will only get louder if the Democrats demonstrate the courage and political will to DUMP TRUMP. Now it’s time to focus on the mid-term congressional election of 2022, most crucially the senate…to elect candidates representing not just the wealthy plutocrats, but ALL of the people of their constituency.
Make all of them walk the political plank by recording their vote on the prosecution for treasonious seditious conspiracy for history and let the people see who voted along strictly partisan lines, then carpet bomb the airways with TV campaign ads calling them out as partisan political hacks who value party over country. This could spark a collective epiphany of voters, potentially replacing most of the 22 GOP Senate seats up for re-election in 2022 giving the Democrats the trifecta in 2022 and perhaps a filibuster-proof Senate majority. Then let’s clean house, drain the swamp and reclaim the land formerly known as America.
Nobody knows what the considerable judicial power of a formal Department of Justice inquiry could reveal. Corruption, etc.. It’s just the top of the first inning. The political landscape can change almost overnight…IF…and only IF congress does its constitutionally mandated duty.
History informs and instructs us that for decades nothing seems to happen…then in weeks, decades can happen…
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke.
I hope you good men and women of goodwill, will exhort all those who have not voted in the past to get out and vote. VOTE!
To the artists: BE BEALE! Noli Timere!! (Be not afraid! The dying words of Irish poet Seamus Heaney)
Michael Kominsky (aka Hunter Beale)