Over the years I've become convinced that the films Network and Altered States are, if not quite companion pieces, linked to one another in some way. While both films originated from scripts written by legendary playwright and scribe Paddy Chayefsky they are rarely connected in the minds of movie buff and not without reason: Chayefsky famously denounced the latter film, having his name removed from the final credits and replacing it with the moniker of Sidney Aaron (his real first and middle names).
Beyond that the subject matters of both films are, to the mind of normal viewers, worlds apart. Network is famously a scathing sendup of network news and television in general while Altered States delves deeply into some of the most far out theories concerning entheogens the first modern psychedelic era produced. So to were the public responses: Network is almost universally held as one of the landmark films of its era and still remains incredibly beloved (especially amongst the conspiratorial right) while Altered States was a commercial failure upon its initial run but has since gained a cult following as a campy stoner artifact of the 1980s.
And yet both films share something else in common besides Chayefsky's involvement: plot lines revolving around altered states consciousness. This is of course rather obvious in the film Altered States but many often forget that the chief character in Network, newscaster Howard Beale, becomes convinced that some type of entity instructed him in becoming a "prophet" of the airwaves.
Over the course of this series I would like to consider this similarity that both films share, beginning with Network and then moving along to Altered States in the next installment. With these perimeters established let me now briefly break down Network for the uninitiated: The network of the title is the floundering Union Broadcasting Systems (UBS), which has recently been acquired by a mega-media conglomerate known as Communications Company of America (CCA). Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is the aging news anchorman of UBS who is informed by his boss and longtime friend Max Schumacher (William Holden) that he has been fired from the network. During one of his final broadcast Beale promises to commit suicide live on national TV and becomes the center of a media spectacle.
Beale is a hit while Christensen becomes one of the hottest executives at UBS, developing a reality series-like show involving a faux left-wing terror outfit modeled upon the Symbionese Liberation Army called the Mao Tse-Tung Hour. She also begins an affair with Schumacher, who has since been fired from the network.
Beale and the Mao Tse-Tung Hour revitalize the network but the newscaster ultimately falls afoul of CCA head Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) when he disrupts a deal that Jensen's conglomerate is negotiating with an even bigger Saudi Arabian conglomerate. Beale is brought to Jensen, and has another prophetic experience before the CEO and becomes a converted disciple of globalism in the process. Beale then sallies forth to spread Jensen's "corporate cosmology" and ratings promptly tank. Christensen and her boss, Frank Hackett (Robert Duval), attempt to remove Beale but Jensen believes that Beale's message is important and insists that he remains on the air regardless of ratings. Eventually they conspire with the Ecumenical Liberation Army (the Symbionese knockoff) to murder Beale live on TV, thus fulfilling his initial desire to die on air.
Needless to say, this film is certainly rich in symbolism, synchronicities, and twilight language. First let us briefly consider several of the leading characters, all of whom are highly rich in symbolism, beginning with Howard Beale himself. The name Beale has long fascinated the more onomatology-minded conspiracy theorists out there, most especially the legendary and highly controversial James Shelby Downard.
No doubt some of you are cringing simply at Downard being mentioned but he is especially apt in this case as he and the Howard Beale character share a few similarities. Both were effectively granted incredible insights via the madness that afflicted them respectively but their insights were also tainted: Beale by the age from which he grew up in (where the printed word was the end all in legitimacy) and later the corporate globalism of Arthur Jensen; Downard by the Masonic/Talmudic/Communistic conspiracy theories whose modern American incarnation largely originated from a cabal of far right military officers (one of whom we shall briefly address at the end of this article, bringing the Downard/Beale linkage somewhat full circle).
But back to the matter at hand. In Downard's (unstable) mind the name Beale was closely linked to the Kennedy and Bouvier clans.
"Mrs. Edith Bouvier Beale was the sister of John Bouvier, the father of Jacqueline. Mrs. Beale and her daughter Edith (Edie) lived in a state of wretchedness and destitution in a decaying mansion in East Hampton, Long Island. Eviction proceedings against the Beales were initiated because the women were discovered to be living in total squalor amid piles of empty pet food cans, newspapers and assorted filth. For some reason, Madam Onassis permitted a film crew to record the degradation of her aunt and niece, and anyone viewing Grey Gardens will certainly attest to the "House of Usher" eccentricities of the pair. As an anthology of control, it is interesting to note that a peculiar rapport occasionally exist between owners and domesticated animals, and that the Beale mansion reflects a reversal of roles in the master-pet relationship.
"John F. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917 at 83 Beals Street, Brookline, Massachusetts. Beals-Beale-Beal are names associated with the Kennedys through the magic and mystery of words. Beale onomatology is rendered thus: El-Bel-Baal-Be al-Beal-Beale. El is said to be one of the Hebrew names of God, signifying the 'mighty one.' It is the root of many other divine names and therefore, many of the sacred names in Masonry. Approximately one mile from Lindisfarne (the 'Holy Island'/'Holy House') is a barren place known as Beal. Lindisfarne is associated with Heredom, and the legends of King Arthur, the Round Table, Merlin, and other Camelot stories, as well as the Scottish Black Watch."
(Secret and Suppressed, "Sorcery, Sex, Assassination and the Science of Symbols," James Shelby Downard, pgs. 67-68)
"... Jehovah was not yet a transcendental God but lived, like Boreas, in a mountain to the far north; he was, in fact, the white bull-god Baal Zephon ('Lord of the North') who had borrowed his title from his goddess mother Baaltis Zapuna, a name attested in an inscription from Goshen where the tribe of Joseph was once settled. The Canaanites worshiped him as King of the Northern Otherworld and the Philistines of Ekron had taken over the cult; he was a god of prophecy and fertility. Another of his titles was Baal-Zebul, 'the Lord of the Mansion [of the North]' which named the tribe of Zebulon: they worshiped him on Mount Tabor. When King Ahaziah of Israel consulted his oracle at Ekron... he earned Elijah's reproach for not consulting the native Israelite oracle, presumably on Tabor. I suspect that Baal Zabul was an autumnal Dionysus, whose devotees intoxicated themselves on amanita muscaria, which still grows there; the Biblical name of these toadstools being either 'ermrod' or 'little foxes'. By the time of Jesus, who was accused of traffic with Beelzebub, the Kingdoms of Israel and Philistia had long been suppressed and the shrines of Ekron and Tabor destroyed; and Baal-Zebul's functions having been taken over by the archangel Gabriel, he had declined to a mere devil mockingly called Baal-Zebub, 'Lord of the Flies'. Yet the Levite butchers continued the old ritual of turning the victim's head to the north when they sacrificed."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 440)
|Baal-Zebub, more commonly known as Beelzebub|
Thus Beale is very much a archetypical prophet but also a Trickster --A fact UBS/CCA learns the hard way during the Saudi debacle. The combination of Beale's wisdom and madness is a potent brew and make it difficult to determine whether he is the real deal or simply an opportunist. The movie itself does not even seem to know by the final credits. But enough about Beale for now --In the next installment I shall breakdown his prophetic journey in depth. For now, let us finish considering several of the other key characters.
The character of Diana Christensen also has an especially symbolic name. Diana was of course the name of one of the chief Roman deities.
"On August 13th, the pre-Christian feast the Mother Goddess Diana, or Vesta, was once celebrated with cyder, a roasted kid spitted on hazel-twigs and apples hanging in clusters from a bough. Another name of this Goddess was Nemesis (from the Greek nemos, 'grove') which in classical Greek connotes divine vengeance for breaches of taboo. In her statues she carries an apple-bough in one hand, and the fifth-century Christian poet Commodianus identifies her with Diana Nemorensis ('of the grove') whose followers 'worship a cut branch and call a log Diana'. But both Nemesis and Diana Nemorensis are associated with the deer, not the goat, cult. Nemesis carries a wheel in her other hand to show that she is the goddess of the turning year, like Egyptian Isis and Latin Fortuna, but this has been generally understood as meaning that the wheel will one day come full circle and vengeance be exacted on the sinner. In Gaul she was Diana Nemetona, nemeton being a sacred grove; and was represented with an apple-bough, a cyder-bowl with Aethiopians on it, and a lion-eagle griffin to denote the season of her feast."
(ibid, pg. 255)
"She was the Lady of Wild Things, Huntsman-in-chief to the gods, an office for a woman. Like a good huntsman, she was careful to preserve the young; she was the 'protectress of dewy youth' everywhere. Nevertheless, with one of those startling contradictions so common in mythology, she kept the Greek Fleet from selling to Troy until they sacrificed a maiden to her. In many another story, too, she is fierce and revengeful. On the other hand, when women died a swift and painless death, they were held to have been slain by her silver arrows.
"As Phoebus was the Sun, she was the Moon, called Phoebe and Selene (Luna in Latin). Neither name originally belonged to her. Phoebe was a Titan, one of the older gods. So too was Selene -- a moon-goddess, indeed, but not connected with Apollo. She was the sister of Helios, the sun-god with whom Apollo was confused.
"In the later poets, Artemis is identified with Hecate. She is 'the goddess with three forms,' Selene in the sky, Artemis on earth, Hecate in the lower world and in the world above when it is wrapped in darkness. Hecate was the Goddess of the Dark of the Moon, the black nights when the moon is hidden. She was associated with deeds of darkness, the Goddess of the Crossways, which were held to be ghostly places of evil magic."
(Mythology, Edith Hamilton, pgs. 31-32)
|Hecate in her threefold nature|
"I was married for four years, and pretended to be happy; and I had six years of analysis, and pretended to be sane. My husband ran off with his boyfriend, and I had an affair with my analyst, who told me I was the worst lay he'd ever had. I can't tell you how many men have told me what a lousy lay I am. I apparently have a masculine temperament. I arouse quickly, consummate prematurely, and can't wait to get my clothes back on and get out of that bedroom. I seem to be inept at everything except my work. I'm goddamn good at my work and so I confine myself to that. All I want out of life is a 30 share and a 20 rating."
Indeed, during sex with Max Diana even climaxes (quickly) while contemplating the ratings boost the FBI filing charges against the network over the Mao Tse-Tung Hour will generate, certainly a fitting (and just) personification of their affair. At one point Max even goes so far as to compare Diana to "television incarnate" while observing that she has brought nothing but ruin and chaos to those around her. Given the religious characteristics of her name I suppose her character is a kind of observation on the deification of television on some level. In this context at least, Diana lives up to an aspect of her goddess name sake --As Hecate Diana was a death goddess and so to is Diana Christensen, though perhaps Kali would have been a more apt alter ego for Diana than Hecate.
|the chaos-bringing Hindu goddess Kali|
In general the character of Max Schumacher is every bit as pathetic as his name implies: Max is short for Maximilian, adapted from the Roman name Maximilianus, a derivative of Maximus. Maximus in turn means "greatest" while Schumacher is a German occupational surname denoting a shoemaker. Thus, "Greatest Shoemaker," certainly a apt description of Max.
Max's life is riddled with hypocrisy. He attempts to take Howard off the air on the basis of concern for his old friend's health even as one senses that he is spiteful of Diana's superiority over him as a division head --She is the one, after all, who recognizes the incredible ratings potential Howard Beale possesses. Naturally Diana ends up with Max's job, but this doesn't stop him from having an affair with her (one of which he started while she was already eyeing his job). In fact, he moves out of his home with his long-suffering wife and moves into her apartment for a time. Max eventually ends back up with his wife, but after suffering more indignities at Diana's hands (i.e. their sex life, such as it is) that few would endure for the time he does.
Frank Hackett is every bit the hatchet man his name implies. According to Wikipedia (granted not always the most reliable source) the name Hackett is of Norman origins and first appeared in England in the wake of the Norman Conquest. This is fitting, as Frank Hackett's company (CCA) has recently conquered UBS and is subjecting it to increasingly hostile rule. Hackett is the new breed of media corporate overlord: a totally morally bankrupt hack that will seemingly stoop to any level to ensure that the profits flow. The only real poetic moment he has in the entire film stems from the Saudi debacle where he waxes about being a "sun god at CCA" four hours prior but now seemingly a "man without a corporation." Ah, but like all sun gods, he is (along with Beale) reborn again. But more on that later.
"Either I mistake your shape and making quite;
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call'd Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?"
"... Merddin, by this time Christianized as 'Robin Hood,' apparently a variant of Merddin's Saxon name, Rof Breoht Woden, 'Bright Strength of Woden,' also known euphemistically as Robin Good-Fellow. In French the word Robin, which is regarded as diminutive of Robert but is probably pre-Teutonic, means a ram and also a devil."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 396)
As the character of Laureen Hobbs proves to be every bit the capitalist lackey that Diana Christensen is it's pretty safe to assume that this association (if it was in fact intentional) is meant to be highly ironic.
"The SLA was a bizarre revolutionary militant group, whose claim to fame was the kidnapping of publishing heiress Patty Hearst on February 4, 1974... and it has been a favorite subject of conspiracy theorists for decades, who believe that the SLA was a front for a domestic CIA operation. The mere fact of the kidnapping itself, with Patty Hearst being subjected to brainwashing by the SLA cadres and then sent out to help them rob a bank, was headline-grabbing news for weeks, even though many people could not understand what it all represented...
"Much was happening between 1973 and 1975. Donald DeFreeze, the commander of the SLA, had earlier been a prisoner at the Vacaville facility that was used by the CIA as part of their mind-control experimentation program. At Vacaville, an organization was set up to raise black consciousness -- the Black Cultural Association, or BCA -- which was under the direction of Professor Colston Westbrook. Westbrook has since been identified as a former intelligence officer who served in the Far East during the 1960s and, in fact, worked for AID... Westbrook had been a psychological warfare officer in Vietnam, Japan and Korea. At Vacaville, he may have been involved in the MK-ULTRA testing and manipulation of violent inmates...
"DeFreeze himself was a police informant who spent very little time in prison, even though he had a record of arms-dealing, and other felonies. When he left prison, he simply walked out, leading many to assume that his escape was an inside job. This was after prolonged contact with known intelligence officer Colston Westbrook. Although the SLA was painted in the worst possible colors as a violent revolutionary group, the record as violent revolutionaries is rather weak. They make so mistakes, and revealed themselves to so many people during the course of their life 'in hiding,' losing large quantities of arms and ammunition at various poorly-disguised safehouses, that it is possible to view their actions those of agents provocateurs and not as genuine revolutionaries."
(Sinister Forces Book II, Peter Levenda, pgs. 204-207)
|Patty Hearst during her SLA days (top) and Kathy Cronkite as Mary Ann Gifford (bottom)|
"Shockley's most ambitious and most expensive mailing effort was designed to market the work of Berkeley educational psychologist Arthur Jensen in an attempt not only to sway public opinion about racial differences but also to bring pressure on the NAS to adopt his agenda. Although Shockley himself had conducted no empirical studies on cognitive abilities, he was instrumental in persuading Jensen, an active researcher in the field, that blacks were genetically less intelligent than whites and recruiting him into the Pioneer circle. Early in his career, Jensen had believe that racial differences in intelligence test scores were 'due to environmental rather than to genetic factors,' but his position changed dramatically after he spent the 1966-67 year as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences on the Stanford campus, where he engaged in regular discussions with Shockley, the two scientists working so closely together that, when Shockley was out of town, Jensen answered mail addressed to the physicist...
"In 1969, Jensen produced the article that would become the centerpiece of Shockley's campaign to impose his views on the NAS and the public. In this lengthy and inflammatory work -- the longest publication in the history of Harvard Educational Review, taking up almost the entire winter issue --Jensen argued that minority schoolchildren were hampered neither by discrimination or deprivation; their poor educational performance was a consequence of teaching methods that had been appropriate for white middle-class students but not for minorities, who did not respond to conceptual explanations because of the genetic limitations in their intelligence but who could nevertheless be taught by relying on their ability for association rather than understanding. Obviously reflecting the influence of his discussions with Shockley, Jensen also expressed concern that 'misguided and ineffective attempts to improve [the] lot' of blacks through social programs would only lead -- in the physicist's favorite phrase -- to their 'genetic enslavement' unless accompanied by 'eugenic foresight.' The conclusions of Jensen's article thus were both educational and social: rote memorization to improve the skills of low-IQ black children unable to appreciate abstract principles and some sort of eugenic intervention designed to reduce their numbers."
(The Funding of Scientific Racism, William H. Tucker, pgs. 147-148)
The Pioneer Fund was in turn founded by Colonel Wickliffe Preston "Daddy Warbucks" Draper, who surely must be high in the rankings of the most vile and treasonous human beings to ever call themselves an American. Draper was a textile magnate who came from one of the oldest and richest families in New England from his father's side, a clan whom John Bevilaqua alleges played a major role in developing the concepts of the company town and child labor in America. His mother was a descendent of the Wickliffe and Preston clans, two old houses in the Kentucky "aristocracy." Draper's maternal grandfather had been William Preston, a state senator, ambassador, and general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War; another relation was Charles A. Wickliffe, the wealthiest planter and largest slave holder in Kentucky during his era.
Draper spent all of his life and much of his considerable fortune backing any number of far right and frequently racist causes throughout the years. The character of Arthur Jensen in Network seems to be a little too refined to be a stand-in for Draper, but one imagines the Colonel, while objecting to more than a few points, ultimately would have found much to applaud in Jensen's "corporate cosmology."
And it is here that I shall wrap things up for the time being. In the next installment we shall focus in on Howard Beale's disembodied voice and the dueling revelations given to him by the voice and Jensen. Stay tuned.