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November 21, 2007

A new NEA report reveals reading statistics to be shrinking radically. Titled "To Read or Not to Read," the report targets teen and young adults. It concludes not only that declines in reading by those groups have translated into a drop in education test scores over 10 years, but also that the drop poses serious threats to the nation's civic and cultural health.

That this news is nothing new struck me again last night as I watched the 1976 Sidney Lumet/Paddy Chayefsky movie Network. The film, which stars Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch and William Holden, mentions erosion in reading levels in the U.S. Which goes to show you that people were worried about this issue 30 years ago. What the NEA's Dana Gioia tells us in his new report is not news.

This film is just about the most prophetic artwork I've seen in the past few years. When Chayefsky wrote the movie, which charts the erosion of the network news media into a "traveling circus" featuring a raving "mad prophet" and a fortune teller among other interesting sideshows, he could see that the world was already changing. He foretold how corporate values would destroy the news and peoples' ability to think independently. What Network predicts has come to pass.

I leave you to digest your Thanksgiving turkey with this exchange between network boss Arthur Jensen and loose cannon ex-news anchor turned "mad prophet" commentator Howard Beale:

Arthur Jensen: The world is a business, Mr. Beale; it has been since man crawled out of the slime. Our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality - one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock - all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.
Howard Beale: Why me?
Arthur Jensen: Because you're on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.
Howard Beale: I have seen the face of God.
Arthur Jensen: You just might be right, Mr. Beale.

Happy thanksgiving. Back to blogging on Monday.


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