'Mad As Hell': Behind a Political-Season Refrain

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Over the past several months Carl Paladino, the winner of New York's Republican primary for governor — and a Tea Party favorite — invoked a theme that prompted wild cheers from his supporters: "I'm as mad as hell."

And he's not the only one who's "not going to take it anymore." Earlier this month, Fox News contributor Monica Crowley said, "We are mad as hell because since the Democrats took the White House and the Congress, we have awakened to some new horror."

And all this "mad" talk isn't confined to the right side of the political arena. Liberal commentator Jamie Court is "mad as hell" too, "and I don't think any of us should have to take it again."

The source material for this line, of course, is the 1976 movie Network. In the film Howard Beale, a washed up anchorman at the end of his career — and, at the end of his rope — vents his rage on the evening news:

"I want you to get up right now, go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

The famous scene, unmoored from its context, sounds like a rallying cry. But in fact, it's meant to be the pathetic ramblings of a lunatic. Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, is described by one character as a "manifestly irresponsible man."

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino at a campaign event on Sept. 10, 2010.

hide captionRepublican gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino makes a point at a campaign event at the Elks Lodge in Riverhead, N.Y., on Sept. 10, 2010.

Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/AP

Beale is also called a typhoid, a plague and smallpox. He is screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's critique on American society in the television era, legions of citizens tuning into a glowing box and unquestioningly, uncritically react to emotion rather than utilizing critical thought.

Is it a fair point?

New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who didn't much like the movie, allowed that satire doesn't have to be fair to be funny. After enough time, it doesn't even have to be satire.

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