Diana Christensen, the fictional head of programming for the also fictional Union Broadcasting System (UBS) in Network is one of the strongest lead female characters in 1970s cinema. As the neurotic, power-hungry Christensen, Faye Dunaway won an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role.
In retrospect, Christensen’s satirical obsession with ratings, reality TV, and angry shows was prophetic. The first show we see her sell is based on a lefty revolutionary group. Her argument? People are angry, and we need to mirror their anger on TV: “I want counterculture, I want anti-establishment.”
The story takes place a decade after Mad Men, and women have moved from being secretaries to running the place. Even though no other woman has reached her level of responsibility at UBS, Christensen is not apologetic for her gender, neither does she consider it an impediment. In her own words: “I seem to be inept at everything, except my work. I’m good at my work.” As a manager, Christensen doesn’t hesitate to ruthlessly play all the cards at her disposal. She can be harsh when necessary, never hesitating to threaten to fire people who don’t share her vision, or sweet if it’s the best strategy. Time and time over, she is compared, either inadvertently, or by herself, to men, even when it comes to her sexual encounters. Her idea of romanticism and foreplay includes telling her lover, former news director Max Schumacher, about network numbers and legal issues.
Christensen sees her personal life the way she approaches her work: “which sort of script can we make out of this?” From the beginning of her affair with Schumacher to her ending it by a now mythical “I don’t like the way this script of ours has turned out. It’s turning into a seedy little drama,” she’s the heroine of her own life. The break-up scene is the only moment where Christensen shows some vulnerability: for once, she looks like she’d rather not follow the script, though she doesn’t consider it an option.
From her first appearance in the movie, Christensen only wears neutral, honey-like colours. Beiges, browns, and whites make up most of her wardrobe palette. Christensen’s outfits are a lesson in corporate chic, before women started to dress “like a woman thinks a man would dress if he was a woman.” She mostly wears separates, below-the-knee skirts and trousers, and often has a lavallière or scarf around her neck. Her only dress is a rather striking, asymmetrical, backless, white number worn to announce to shareholders, “next year we’ll be number one”. A comment on how married to her job she is? The dress might be virginal, but it is the tipping point where Christensen really becomes ready to do anything in the name of her job, even becoming a psychopath. The closer she gets to ordering murder, the whiter her clothes become, in a display of irony from costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge.
- Lucie Goulet