Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The News is America’s New Religion, and We’re in a Religious War

By Matt Taibbi

When political narrative replaces faith, truth becomes heresy.

We’ll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell! We’ll tell you Kojak always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker’s house… We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear! We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people… do whatever the tube tells you… This is mass madness, you maniacs!

— from Network, 1976

After a few days away from the news I watched Network, a movie about a mad prophet whose prophesies come true. Anchorman Howard Beale’s seminal speech described how America could commoditize anything, even the awful truth that its mass media had raised an illiterate populace that followed The Tube as the word of God. “Turn them off!” Beale screamed, just before collapsing in religious fervor, but one eye peeked out to see how his revelation was selling. True to form, even Network made a pile of money and won four Oscars.

Forty-five years later, the film’s predictions still look right, but too optimistic. Back then, a few networks dominated, and the trend was the One Big Lie: the Missile Gap, the Domino Theory, 4 out of 5 dentists recommend Trident. What could be worse? Ambrose Bierce once said there were only two things more horrible than a clarinet — two clarinets. The only thing darker than Network’s dystopian future with television as the national religion is the world we’ve got: two religions.

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