'Mad As Hell': Behind a Political-Season Refrain Over the past several months Carl Paladino, the surprise 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." He's just one of many from across the political spectrum who "aren't going to take this anymore." But do they know the phrase's roots -- the 1976 movie Network -- and its context?

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

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This past week in New York, a surprise candidate won the Republican nomination for governor. He's been quoting this one line over and over, which made me wonder if he really understands the roots of that line. First, let's allow him to introduce himself to you and include a small biographical detail.

Mr. CARL PALADINO (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, New York): Hi, I'm Carl Paladino, and I'm mad as hell.

PESCA: Paladino made sure he invoked the mad-as-hell theme in just about every interview he did or ad he ran.

Mr. PALADINO: If we've learned anything tonight, it's that New Yorkers are as mad as hell.

(Soundbite of applause)

PESCA: These were the first words of his victory speech the night of the primary.

Mr. PALADINO: And we're not going to take it anymore.

PESCA: Paladino isn't the only one using the phrase during this election season. Fox News' Monica Crowley brought it up.

Ms. MONICA CROWLEY (Fox News Contributor): Why are we mad as hell? Because since the Democrats took the White House and the Congress, each day, we have awakened to some new horror.

PESCA: Even some on the left compare their displeasure to Satan's zip code.

Mr. JAMIE COURT (Author, "The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell"): I'm Jamie Court. I wrote "The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell" because I'm mad as hell, and I don't think any of us should have to take it again.

PESCA: But let's consider the source. The phrase comes, of course, from the movie "Network," or as it's often referred to, Paddy Chayefsky's "Network," which is just about the only example I could think of when a movie is attributed to its screenwriter, not its director or producer.

In "Network," Howard Beale, a washed up anchorman at the end of his career and the end of his rope, vents his rage:

(Soundbite of movie, "Network")

Mr. PETER FINCH (Actor): (as Howard Beale) I want you to get up right now and 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.

PESCA: That's the famous clip. And unmoored from its context, it sounds like a rallying cry. It is, in fact, meant to be the pathetic ramblings of a lunatic. Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, is described by one character as...

(Soundbite of movie, "Network")

Mr. ROBERT DUVALL (Actor): (as Frank Hackett) A manifestly irresponsible man.

PESCA: Another says:

(Soundbite of movie, "Network")

Mr. WILLIAM HOLDEN (Actor): (as Max Schumacher) The man is insane. He's not responsible for himself. He needs care and treatment.

PESCA: As for Beale's self-evaluation:

(Soundbite of movie, "Network")

Mr. NED BEATTY (Actor): (as Arthur Jensen) Good morning, Mr. Beale. They tell me you're a madman.

Mr. FINCH: (as Howard Beale) Only desultorily.

Mr. BEATTY: (as Arthur Jensen) How are you now?

Mr. FINCH: (as Howard Beale) I'm as mad as a hatter.

PESCA: Beale is also called a typhoid, a plague and smallpox. He's depicted as hearing voices and given to collapsing in a heap of apoplexy after a trademark rant.

In short, channeling Howard Beale as a guiding light, a moral compass or a truth-speaker is a little like quoting Captain Queeg on the issue of strawberry consumption; Grand Moff Tarkin on military readiness; Blanche DuBois as a guide to self-sufficiency; or Lennie from "Of Mice and Men" on the issue of rabbit husbandry.

Among Chayefsky's critiques was that people were living in an age that relied on the audience's lack of critical thought, that TV was turning out legions of citizens who knew nothing of context, who got off on the adrenaline of, say, an angry screed, but didn't possess the critical faculties to see beyond its emotion. Is it a fair point?

Even critic Pauline Kael, who didn't much like "Network," allowed that satire doesn't have to be fair to be funny. And given enough time, it doesn't even have to be satire.

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