Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio was prophetic in its portrayal of outrage culture – CNET – ApparelGeek

Contempt. Hyperbola. Provocation. Confrontation. These are just a few items from radio host Barry’s incendiary toolkit (Eric Bogosian). As the protagonist of Pierre Olivierthe 1988 drama-thriller, Talk Radio, he’s never one to shy away from fanning the flames of anger and grievance on his Dallas-based nighttime talk show. On the contrary, Barry delights in provoking the heavy and varied feelings of his listeners by regularly engaging in heated matches of verbal combat on the waves. Coming and going with a groan a few years after Stone burst onto the movie scene, the film is an adaptation of writer and lead actor Bogosian. Pulitzer Prize-nominated piece of the same name. Barry’s story is loosely based on that of Alan Berg, a controversial radio host who was murdered by a white supremacist in 1984.

Chronicling a few days in the life of a man whose popular show is about to air nationally, Talk Radio is one of Stone’s lesser-known works, but undeniably one of his most timely in the digital age that promotes a constant and relentless cycle of content aimed at capitalizing on outrage. Much like anonymous voices online, often in a shrill voice, spouting venom and vitriol on a variety of topics, including politics, culture and societal discontent, the film takes the pulse of what compels people aggrieved to engage with media material and personalities that make their blood boil. Barry may not be a likable character, and his lack of empathy for his fellow man often takes the film into uncomfortable territory, but his voice is certainly recognizable in the modern age of democratized public discourse.

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Who was Alan Berg?

Born in Chicago in 1934 to Jewish parents, Alan Berg attended the University of Colorado and earned a law degree in 1957. According to rolling stone, after a battle with alcoholism, he moved to Denver with his wife in the 1960s and later worked in a shoe store, where he ran into a customer who invited him to appear on a show. radio. After an impressive start in which the inexperienced Berg held his own on the air, he had his own show within weeks and, over time, was able to grow and maintain a fan base of listeners with his brand. irreverent and contemptuous accommodation. Whether one liked Alan Berg or not, what couldn’t be ignored was the magnetic, incendiary style he brought to the medium. He touched a nerve with the public as an equal opportunity offender, putting every demographic in society in his crosshairs at one point or another. By approaching radio fearlessly, taking listeners into the darkest recesses of society and human relationships, he effectively held up a mirror to his audience and challenged them to take a closer look at themselves.

Berg often found himself the object of ridicule and hatred among some who listened to his show. He received numerous threats over the years and one such incident saw Berg dangerously close to death. After a particularly tense spat in 1979, he was confronted by the unhinged caller in his studio. The man, later determined to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, pointed a gun at Berg and told him he was going to die. Five years later, on June 18, 1984, Berg was shot and killed outside his home in Denver. Although it is widely believed that his death was at the hands of white supremacists who had disputed Berg’s comments on his show (he was a vocal critic of anti-Semitism), no suspects were ever convicted of his murder.

Controversial and combative as he was, Berg’s death had a lasting impact on members of the local community. Stephen Singular, who would go on to write a book about Berg, interviewed several of the host’s listeners to rolling stone. One said: “He was provocative, insulting, arrogant…He gave us everything he was and didn’t hide it. He didn’t say, ‘Everyone should be like Alan Berg.’ He said: “Let me shake you out of your gaping passivity. Agree with me or disagree with me, but don’t just sit there. “”Perhaps, if nothing else, Berg appealed to people largely because of his transparent nature as a man. who did not flee or hide his imperfections. Knowing that human beings are shades of gray and plagued with contradictions, he brought a level of raw authenticity, self-degradation and instigation to the airwaves that few in his line of work dare to display. While people are naturally reluctant to admit their flaws, let alone confront them directly, however uncomfortable that may be, Berg gave people permission to recognize this painful and universal reality of existence.

Who is Barry in “Talk Radio”?

Image via Universal Images

The protagonist of Stone’s film possesses much of the same combative personality and fiery rhetoric that Alan Berg was known for. Caught up in the maelstrom of corporate pressure as his show is poised to go national, as well as all the angst surrounding his anger-inducing broadcast brand, it’s safe to say Barry is put to the test. test during the film. A few days. As a talk-radio veteran with high ratings and a rabid fanbase that both worships and hates him, he’s the kind of man who thrives on the attention he gets, no matter what. the intention behind. Barry has achieved a cult status and personality that crosses political and social lines, basking in the vitriol that regularly comes his way and spitting it back at his listeners with gleeful abandon.

It quickly becomes clear that while Barry projects a sense of confidence and self-assured strength in the coarse personality he has cultivated, he is a deeply anxious and unhappy man. Unable to make a genuine and meaningful connection with those around him, namely his ex-wife and members of his production team, Barry can’t help but push people away when they try to break through his emotional armor. . He’s much more comfortable communicating impersonally with the faceless voices that call out to his show every night.

As the narrative progresses, however, the seemingly fearless broadcaster shows signs of self-doubt and a growing inability to tolerate the level of anger and grievance he evokes in his audience. A package he receives in the mail contains an anti-Semitic death threat, as well as a Nazi flag and a dead animal. The calls entering his broadcast escalate in their hostility and relentless attacks. The corporate suits surrounding the show like vultures are growing increasingly worried about whether they’ll be able to close their deal with such a volatile personality.

It all comes to a head in what is perhaps the film’s most memorable and cathartic scene. Barry comes to the end of his rope and, instead of taking calls from his audience, goes after them in spectacular fashion. As he unleashes a scathing rant, focusing on anything about society and humanity that he finds repugnant, including his own hypocrisy, the studio set up behind him spins as he stands still. It’s a truly dizzying moment and, appropriately, perfectly illustrates the toxic downfall that descends upon the host as he takes it out one last time with his loyal listeners.

‘Talk Radio’ shows little has changed

Talk Radio Cast
Image via Universal Images

Maybe it was easy to take Talk Radio for granted in 1988. After all, a movie about a largely unlikable man who lives in negativity for a living can’t have been very appealing to the average moviegoer. But the weather has been kind to Oliver Stone’s film in the sense that, in 2022, it feels more relevant and relevant than ever. The Barrys of the world are no longer relegated to the isolated airwaves of talk radio. They now also occupy the often anonymous, often malicious and equally solitary social media platforms, and the internet more generally. In a world where public communication is democratized and anyone can stand on a soapbox, declare some kind of moral superiority over others and castigate those who dare to disagree, the character of Barry has become an archetype. common in our digital age.

The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that outrage is a business and one of the most lucrative forms of currency in modern society. It is no coincidence that at the end of Talk Radio, once Barry delivers his epic rant, the corporate goons who hovered over the studio are through the roof with excitement about the possibilities a nationally syndicated Barry could bring. They know very well, as the titans of Silicon Valley will know years later, that a public consumed by discontent can generate boatloads of money. Much like being addicted to a substance, people intuitively understand that regularly giving in to outrage, contempt, and grievances is a harmful form of behavior, yet they continue to give up their own well-being for that next fix.

As many members of society become increasingly isolated, lost and suspicious of each other, there are only so many places they can turn to find some kind of relief in their lives. their own misfortune. While talk radio was a terrific option in the analog age, it pales in comparison to the power and influence of digital technology that has been deployed over the past two decades. With such a rapidly changing news cycle and corporate interests and individual voices seeking to profit from the misery of others, it has become nearly impossible to avoid being drawn into the toxic and undeniably addictive vortex of the indignation and discontent. Barry would find himself at home on platforms like Twitter and YouTube, and think about Talk Radio in this context is a sobering reminder of how little we have changed despite a seismic shift in the way we communicate with each other.

Perhaps most insightful is how Alan Berg described his appeal to audiences when he told Stephen Singular, “I stick it to audiences and they love it. Everyone here is dying to be noticed, to be felt. needed me, but I missed them when I was gone… I give them something to feel, an emotion… I’m angrier than anyone calling my show. Anger is one of the biggest motivators in the world. Rage destroys.

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Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio was prophetic in its portrayal of outrage culture – CNET – ApparelGeek