The Social Network
Film review by: Witney Seibold
“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
-Dialogue spoken to Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in “The Social Network”
I have a profile on Facebook.com. So do you. So do your friends and your family. I also still have an active profile on MySpace.com and Friendster.com. Even though my telephone still works just fine, and I’ve had the same e-mail address since the mid 1990s, the social networking sites have become the primary mode of communication for my peers. I didn’t necessarily join these sites out of novelty or zeal. I joined them because, in many cases, it was the only was I could reach some of my friends.
David Fincher‘s brilliant film “The Social Network,” written by Aaron Sorkin, does not roll around in the importance of Facebook.com, nor does it bank on the images of the website; it’s not a puff piece or a lionizing blowjob to internet entrepreneurs. It’s not an outright vilification of the wealthy either. What it is is a careful character study, and a strangely, brilliantly, astute essay on the current mold of American business and the way the internet has changed not only the way we communicate, but how it has altered our values.
Zuckerberg was a computer science major at Harvard back in 2003. He was aware of social networking sites, and most high-profile private college had their own facebooks. Sorkin’s screenplay is careful to get all the facts correct, and the recent history is, from what I understand, correct down to the letter. One night, in a fit of bitter jealous pique (after being the brunt of the dialogue above), Zukcerberg started a bitter website where college students were invited to rate the hotness of the local co-eds. The site was so outrageous and popular that it crashed the Harvard server. This didn’t earn Zuckerberg any points from the Harvard board, but it did attract the attention of one Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) and ultra-white bluebloods Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by the hunky Armie Hammer). They proposed the idea of The Facebook to Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg took this idea and ran with it. He asked his only friend, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) to put up some money, and Zuckerberg essentially programmed the entire Facebook website all by himself from his dorm room. He never talked to the Winklevoss twins or to Divya, and rarely even with Eduardo. It wasn’t long before the Facebook became so popular that Eduardo had a hot Asian girlfriend (Brenda Song), and Mark is rubbing elbows and taking social advice from Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the ousted founder of Napster.
The film is sturctured largely in flashback from the infamous legal inquest that the Winklesvosses and Narendra put against Zuckerberg.
“The Social Network” posits that Mark Zuckerberg was not a nerd, but was more of an asshole, but was only an asshole because he didn’t have the social graces to really connect with real people. So, in a way, he was a nerd after all. I’ve known people like this. The ones who want to be surrounded by people, but don’t have the wit or charm to really have people listen to them. They turn inward. They focus on the task at hand. It’s all they talk about. That one project is the only thing they know how to bring up. Even when you get them off topic and rolling on something more personal – or even more frivolous – they will turn the topic back to their interests. Zuckerberg was witty, intelligent, and seemed to know how a website should go. But he didn’t really know how to leave his dorm room and have real dates with real people. The dialogue spoken above was by his short-lived girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), who was actually invented by Sorkin, and serves as Mark’s Rosebud. She is the one thing that he could never have.
“The Social Network” is also about how “cool” has come to supplant anything useful in the the current internet business model. Being popular has officially supplanted being useful. The old invention adage used to posit that one should find a niche and fill it. That is no longer the case. One does not need to be smart to be successful, you just have to strike a vein for a few weeks. These people are not “entrepreneurs” in the true sense; they are not enterprising individuals who are out to start something big for the world. They are greedy computer nerds who are trying to amass money and popularity for their own selves. And, as a result, 500 million people have an addictive website that they visit several times a day. I mean, hey, how did you find out about this very review?
“The Social Network”even goes so far as to posit that our pop culture consciousness, and knowledge of retail businesses is all founded in very small social interactions. At one point in the film, Sean Parker tells a brief story as to how Victoria’s Secret got its name. It was all a small idea by a single man. These stories serve, though, not a up-with-market business myths in the corporate training video mold, but as a way to reveal that we, as Americans and as consumers, tend to mythologize the things we consume. Consumption, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher seem to be saying, is not a casual desire to fulfill needs, but a way of defining our very character as a species.; it’s become a philosophy in itself.
“The Social Network” is one of the best films of the year. Be sure to go see it. Then go write about it online. It’s our only recourse.