One must find upon critical review a tremendous similarity of thought and process between Bertolt Brecht’s play Life of Galileo and the recent film Good Night, and Good Luck. They both anticipate and express the challenges faced when an individual confronts society with independent authority. Three such issues can be catalogued as follows: Claims of independence can be made in the face of known authority; individual authority can be bolstered by connection with the popular masses; and ultimately the individual authority is subject to final authoritative onslaught.
Quotations from the texts of play and film are the best and most certain way of exploring these connections. In the face of known and powerful authority, individuals can seek authority by claiming independence through their statements. This is asserting independence in defiance of existing powers. Andrea, in Galileo makes the powerful rebuttal statement, “Science knows only one commandment – contribute to science. ”
Edward R. Murrow announces his jump for authority by this line: “But the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the Junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. So Andrea has challenged the church and Murrow the Senator McCarthy. The individual authority can be empowered by reaching out and connecting with the popular masses, the people. Galileo attempted to do this by a twofold process within the play. First he decided to publish his views in the vernacular. Italian was readable by the common folk, Latin not. And so he chose Italian.
This was to gain popular appeal and a groundswell. His argument was, “No, no, no. The only truth that gets through will be what we force through: the victory of reason will be the victory of people who are prepared to reason, nothing else. ” Murrow, too, reached out for appeal on his television spots. He appeared regularly to them with his constant and reassuring assessments of progress against the machinations of political processes. His primary speech is exemplified with this: We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.
Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late. Both utilized the powers of reaching common people in their own language and ways. Unfortunately, in the final analysis, it is proven that even in the best of manners and attempts, the individual authority is powerless against larger, authoritative onslaught.
In Life of Galileo the scientist himself was forced to recant his positions. He abandoned his cause for scientific advancement and refutation of religious rhetoric. This was the only way to assure himself some peace in his life. Good Night, and Good Luck presented an even wider ranging and insidious result. Rather than merely affect Murrow’s life, or the couple hiding from the management, this attempt for free speech against authority also destroyed others.
Don Hollenbeck, coworker and friend (some would say comrade) of Murrow eventually bowed out against the authorities. When they pressured him to admit he was a communist, he committed suicide. His last quote demonstrated his despondence: “I could use a scotch. ” Thus is the individual authority powerless against primary authority. In cohesive manner the Brecht play Life of Galileo and the film Good Night and Good Luck express the challenges, and ultimate disappointments of the individual authority versus the larger powers that be.