That pivotal scene from Paddy Chayefsky's prescient 1976 media satire Network sprung to mind when lowbrow radio clown Kyle Sandilands revved up the outrage machine again this week and was rewarded with buckets worth of free publicity for his troubles.
The speech above is delivered by network executive Arthur Jensen, who drags broadcasting demagogue Howard Beale into the company boardroom to remind him how capitalism works. Beale had "meddled with the primal forces of nature" by venting on air about a contested Saudi takeover of the network, Jensen said, and needed to remember that his primary role was to amuse people, or least distract them.
And distracted we are for a few days this week as the shockjock ritual is played out once more. The actors may change - whether it be Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt or Sandilands - but the narrative arc is the same: Media loudmouth sprays sexist and/or racist bile, sparks revulsion and calls for their silencing, retreats to martyr pose, protests about "free speech" and eats up acres of newsprint, air time and social media space for a few days. Mission accomplished.
There have always been media figures who courted controversy. But the venom was traditionally in the service of a particular end. Now the circus is an end in itself. The advertisers and station owners are not interested in the message, they just want a noise - any noise - so long as it pulls in sufficient eyes and ears to look at and listen to the ads.
Some might say it has backfired in Sandilands' case, with major sponsors pulling their support. But consider this: The man is ubiquitous right now - he even featured on the 7.30 Report, whose crusty audience is a million miles from the politically switched-off Today FM demographic that thrills to such fearless broadcasts as Kyle and Jackie "hanging with the Kardashians".
So one could reasonably wager that, if anything, Kyle's currency has gone up. The fact is audiences are so splintered and entertainment and information sources so diverse these days, that anyone who can command an audience, for any reason, will be courted - if even after a mandatory period in media Siberia.
If you want further evidence of the desperation of the mainstream media money mandarins for manufactured controversy, look at the Ten Network's recent hiring for $NZ1 million of "controversial" Kiwi breakfast broadcaster Paul Henry, whose claim to fame was being sacked by NZ network TV3 for wetting himself on air about the name of an Indian government minister.
"Paul is exactly what we've been after for Breakfast," said Ten's chief programming officer David Mott. "He's cheeky, mischievous and unapologetically forthright, just like Ten's viewers. While you can't ever be sure what Paul will do, when he's on air, you know he's going to tackle the elephant in the room."Yes, elephants. Big and brave elephant hunters,not afraid to tackle the herds of threatening beasts whose presence most of us are afraid to confront: Elephant men like Paul Henry, who fearlessly snickers on air because someone has a funny sounding name. Elephant men like radio "personality" Sandilands, calling a female critic a "fat slag" and threatening to hunt her down. Or the biggest elephant hunter of them all, Alan Jones, Order of Australia, calling for our female prime minister to be stuffed into a sack and drowned at sea.
Network Boss:"All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel."
Howard Beale: "Why me?"
Network Boss: "Because you are on television, dummy."
(PS: If this is all too depressing, Kyle and Kittens sums it up from a pictorial angle)