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What is Reality?

Original post made by Stacey on Oct 14, 2009

In the two films, Network (1974) by Sidney Lumet and Tanner '88 (1988) by Roger Altman, the question, "What is reality?" is raised. Reality, in these two films, is convoluted to focus only on the reality of the media within the context of the media. The audience only sees the media from the media's point of view.
In Network, the entire narrative of the movie concentrates on a broadcasting corporation and the way it affects those inside of it's walls. The other movie, Tanner '88, looks at the actual field workings of the media, how the media goes out and gets their stories, how the media chooses to control what the audience sees.
Network is shot entirely indoors while Tanner '88 includes many outside scenes. This difference works well for each movie for Network wants to give a sense of control while Tanner '88 communicates the wildness and uncontrollability of the media. Being shot indoors, the light in Network is very artificial. This indoors becomes the reality of Network. The audience is drawn into this world where everything and everyone seems artificial and dark. The mise-en-scene in Network accentuates this idea with the dim, flourescent lighting throughout the movie. In Tanner '88, the outside scenes are very brightly lit. Even the indoor scenes are bright. This brightness is very free compared to the controlled environment of Network and reflects in Tanner '88 the freeness of the media. The media is like an uncontrollable beast free to roam where it pleases. People, like Tanner himself, try to direct the beast in their direction, but, as the audience sees Tanner trying to do, it is almost impossible. Tanner ends up several times failing to get the media coverage he strives for. This is the reality of the media in Tanner '88, that an institution like the media can't be controlled directly by one person. In Network, the audience sees the opposite occurring, the media is being controlled by a single person, the head of the corporation owning the network.
Can the media be controlled? Network says yes while Tanner '88 says no, but yes, to a degree. In Network, a single person, through subtle manipulation of the characters, was able to seal the fate of one man. It is in fact the audience of the network that helped by giving feedback to the network through the ratings. The media relies upon its audience to succeed and in both movies, the general public is brought in to help the media in determining what the rest of the public will want to see. Network deals with this by having a live studio audience during the prophet show. Tanner '88 uses a group of people to test a video about Tanner to be shown on television. In both movies, the media is being controlled to some degree by what the audience wants to see, but the media controls what it actually shows and how it is presented. There is a circle occurring in both movies, it's just presented in different ways and focuses upon different aspects of this circle. Network focuses more upon the way the media can be predictably controlled while in Tanner '88, the media can be controlled, but in an unpredictable manner.
Tanner '88's presentation of the media is based upon the assumption of the freedom of the press. Even though we see the media trying to be controlled by Tanner, there still remains a certain free quality about it. This quality is shown through the mise-en-scene. The way in which the camera constantly moves onto other objects in the scene and doesn't actually focus on the people talking is very free-flowing. At the same time it is also distracting. It draws the audience's attention away from the action. In this way, the camera's distraction reflects the way in which a person can get distracted from the actual politician by all the hype the media digs up. Here, the viewer is shown the media controlling what the audience sees.
Network presents the media from the media's point of view throughout the entire movie. This movie makes a clear social commentary upon the direction the media is headed. While Tanner '88 shows the media as uncontrollable, Network works off the assumption that the media is controllable, an idea which is very scary. People's thoughts can actually be manipulated by the media and whoever has control of that resource is very powerful indeed. There are several groups who even try to control the media and are represented by the leftist radicals and the head of the corporation controlling the network who represents the extreme right. The prophet and the network itself become pawns in the game to control the media. This is shown in the narrative. Again, the indoor, stifling atmosphere represents this struggle for control.
The narrative manipulates the reality of the media in both movies. In Tanner '88, the media don't act like they care about Tanner's event until they discover that there was possibly an assassination attempt. The media then makes a beeline to try to get to Nashville. One must ask if the media is really like this. I would say yes, but to a greater degree. In Network, the media's reality is greatly manipulated when the administration decides to assassinate the prophet on air. It really begins before then when the network decides to give the prophet his own show instead of getting him a good doctor, but the assassination is the most blatant example. One comes back to the commentary on control occurring in these two films. The reason the media behaves in this way is because of control. Two different groups are trying to gain control of the media in Network, and one of them succeeds. The media is controlling what the audience is seeing in Tanner '88.
Both these movies only deal with the reality of the media. Network and Tanner '88 briefly touch upon the reaction of the audience in relation with the media, but the viewer never really gets into the audience's head. Tanner '88 also touches upon the life of the politician, but it is presented to the viewer through the media via the video and not through the plot in the movie. This reality of the media is manipulated by the narrative and mise-en-scene.

Comments (3)

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Oct 14, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Hah, from my "liberal" edumacation.


Posted by Opaque, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2009 at 7:12 am

Wow Stacey you are like Siskel, Ebert and Dr. Phil all rolled into one here. Nice.

My father taught me to never forget the words of Benjamin Franklin "believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see." These words have served me well over the decades. That's not to say everyone lies but to remind me that we are all just human. With feelings and emotions. And those can be manipulated.

For me it's like this. What's it going to take to get you to watch a particular channel or buy a particular periodical? They need viewers and subscribers to make money. They will give you whatever it takes to make that happen. Mass media needs us and we drive the media. It's all about getting the most viewers and or subscribers.

I think It's hard to admit how simple and vulnerable we really are sometimes. Maybe most people like to think they have much more control of their lives and are not so easily manipulated by what other people think, say or do. But even the people trying to or capable of manipulating others are themselves being manipulated by greed or lust for either power or money. Like a giant figure eight.

I have never seen Tanner 88 but I remember seeing Network in the theater and when it came to television the first time. The funny thing was that there were people in my neighborhood who actual went to heir widows and shouted out as suggested in the movie. Too funny.


Posted by Stay Cool, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2009 at 9:31 am

I'm interested in re-watching Network and checking out Tanner 88, as I haven't heard of it. Interesting post, thanks!


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