The World, as depicted in Satirical Comedies


The Good The Bad and the Interesting
I find it quite fascinating that the more accurate depictions of a dystopian future are not found in the inner workings of inquisitive minds, such as George Orwell in his totalitarian novel, 1984, which portrays a future ruled by “Big Brother” and forbids individual thinking. The world we see today is not near the future depicted in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where the government controls all media and any form of literature not approved by the state will be burned and destroyed by firemen. Instead, it seems quite odd that the very programs that were initially written to be satirical, such as episodes of The Simpsons are transforming from entertainment to reality, right before our very eyes.

The 2006 satirical comedy, written by Matt Judge, Idiocracy is a recent example of comedy turned into morbid reality. Idiocracy illustrates an America 500 years after the new millennium, where commercialism and entertainment have become the focal points of society. This is a nation where free thinking is a thing of the past and instead, the people have allowed corporations to do the thinking for them. The change in societal norms derives from a shorter attention span and reliance on technology. With each advancing generation, more people have traded their books for TV monitors and the curiosity to learn new information has been diminished. This is a reality where companies are so vital to daily life that families often name their children after their favorite products, such as Frito. Although Americans are not as dimwitted and devolved as the citizens depicted in the motion picture, there is no denying the fact that this generation has a shorter attention span and a desire to be constantly entertained. The ever decreasing literary and mathematical performance within this nation’s youth has also caused many to cite this film, not as a comedy, but a documentary.

Does this rampant layout full of advertising not look like something you just downloaded off the app store?

Another somewhat recent satirical comedy with a hint of reality would be the 1998 sci-fi flick, starring Jim Carrey, The Truman Show. The film, written by New Zealand screenwriter, Andrew Niccol shows an America that is in constant captivation over an insurance salesman named, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) who unknowingly has his entire life projected, as a never-ending series throughout the world. Truman lives in a fantasy world fabricated by television executives, everyone he knows is an actor and the world really is a stage. Once Truman is made aware that his whole life is just a TV show he has a breakdown trying to cope with the situation. Although this is not relatable to most people today, it does pertain to a select few; starting in the early 2000s reality television became a smash hit.

Just like many today Truman Burbank lived his life within the borders of a TV screen.

There are children who were born living in a world where cameras constantly followed their every movement, but just like Truman they often have a difficult time transitioning into the real world once the show is over. We, as an audience don’t know what happens to the protagonist once he enters the real world and can only hope for the best. Does he adjust well, or does he, like many reality stars and child actors succumb to the evils of criminal activity and drug addiction? The answer is we just don’t know.

Truman taking those final steps toward reality.

Perhaps the closest satirical prediction of the future can be found in Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 screenplay, Network about the direction of media and its influence on critical thinking from the masses. Directed by Sidney Lumet, who also brought us films such as 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon, Network gives a quite eerie look behind the scenes of the Union Broadcast System’s (UBS) Evening News to show what really goes on beyond the frame of television. The star of this film is without question the seemingly senile and veteran news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch), from the UBS Evening News.

Due to declining ratings, the network executives have decided to take Beale off the air, which causes him to give the first of many tirades this film is known for; the rant he gives on air causes a rating spike. The program director of the network, Diane Christensen (Faye Dunaway) sees potential for the old man, not as a newscaster, but an “Angry profit denouncing the hypocrisies of our time” and decides to give him another chance. It is through this second chance that Peter Finch gives one of the most memorable monologs in all of cinema. Frustrated with the crime, depression and corruption in government Howard Beale urges his viewers to get up and yell out of their windows, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

"I think I'd like to be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our time."
-Howard Beale

It is the monologs presented later in the film where screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky proves himself to be an accidental prophet. Chayefsky did not like the idea of corporate ownership of TV news and when the Communications Corporation of America (CCA) buys out UBS, Howard Beale says, “When the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome god damn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what sh** will be paid off for truth on this network.” Little did the cast know the power media conglomerates and the impact media mergers would have on this country.

Around the time of the film’s release 50 companies owned 90% of the media in the United States. By the late 90’s that number shrunk to nine corporations and today only six corporations, labeled “The Big Six” own 90% of the media. (Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, The News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom and The CBS Corporation.) Another statement made by Beale is, “Television’s not the truth, television’s a god damn amusement park.” This quote falls in line with a recent 2015 Gallup poll which showed that 60% of Americans have little, or no trust in the mass media… that is an all-time low!

Limiting media ownership is an issue, as it reduces diversity in content and perspective. We see this topic boundary on a daily basis. How many times can the number one cable news network, Fox News harp on the Affordable Care Act, when there are plenty of bills being passed every week in Congress that also need media coverage? How many times will CNN discuss a speech by Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton and fail to mention third party candidates? How many journalists need to be covering the same protest in outrage of police brutality by “Black Lives Matter”, but yet ignore the outrage in front of the capital during the “Democracy Spring” protest that very same year? This is not meant to be a political issue, but instead a media issue. These are simply examples of recent situations that were covered poorly by the mainstream media. The danger of media mergers is that it causes a lack of diversity in news coverage.

When the film was initially released in 1976 those working within the cable news industry disliked the film, as they feared the masses would see the film as fact and not fiction. Now more than ever before Network can be presented as fact. Corporations have one goal in mind and that is to make a profit and the same goes for corporate media. Ethics will be thrown out the window if need be. Writer Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, Newsroom, The West Wing, The Social Network) said in regards to the film, “No Predictor of the future – not even Orwell – has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network."

The best I can determine from your essay is that you think other satirical works were more "predictive" than 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. I've not read 1984 but it certainly seems the whole idea of Big Brother watching you is more real than ever, and I'm pretty sure the purpose of Fahrenheit 451 wasn't in predicting anything, since book turnings were going on well before the novel was written, but to simply make a plea for the value of books and open information.

As for the movies you think are effective, I agree with you, even if you overstate the importance of Idiocracy a bit. It's kind of funny, but that's about it.
I may go back to hating you. It was more fun.

Interesting post, PP.

Art and entertainment are not separate from what is called real life. Whether directly or allegorically they are merged. If you believe in fantasy it is real to you in phenomenological sense. But if one is inclined to seek truth, which is a fair compulsion, then I think he can find it in most movies or most unexpected places.

Regards in peace.