The Social Network

The Social Network ½

One of the most wretched films I’ve ever seen—a celebration of the worst aspects of our culture. 0/10

So much of the discussion of this film has centered on the irrelevant—claims of inaccuracy, especially—that its true nature (and worst crimes) have remained largely hidden. And it’s a shame, because this is probably the most important, generational-defining film of my lifetime.

The character of Mark Zuckerberg is key (I have no interest in Mark Zuckerberg the person). His arrogance and prickishness are accepted as unquestioningly and uncritically as his programming skill. He is Mark Zuckerberg: ####### hacker. Which is good—this is not a biopic. The Social Network is not the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to fame. Nor is it even the story of the creation of Facebook. You could replace Facebook & Zuckerberg with Google & Page or Amazon & Bezos and tell the same story, with the focus on the same struggle that defines our generation: What the rise of the new, technologically privileged, upper class means to our collective morality.

Privilege drives the film. Zuckerberg’s foils are all primed to be members of the new ruling class. His 20-something enemies, it’s derisively noted, “come from money.” They’re more attractive. They attend cooler parties. They wear nicer clothes. They #### hotter girls. And it drives Zuckerberg insane—he’s envious of that lifestyle! (his opening conversation with Erica: “If I get in, you’ll be meeting a lot of people you wouldn’t normally get to meet.” ) And we’re meant to share that envy—the next scene cross-cuts between Zuckerberg and his nerd friends writing code and drinking cheap beer in his dorm, with the Winkelvoss-types drinking Cristal and partying like Caligula.

(The opening party scene is slightly ambiguous—a case can be made that the Finals Club party images we see are just in Zuckerberg’s imagination.)

This struggle between Zuckerberg and his oppressors (esp the Winkelvoss twins) is the key to the film. The Twins are ripped constantly—they’re treated as bumbling, privileged idiot jocks by the screenplay—even though their actions throughout are motivated by old-fashioned morality. But, no, that doesn’t stop Fincher from trivializing their rowing competitions by shooting it like a Gatorade commercial, or relishing in their real-life Olympic failures with a post-scripted dig.

But Zuckerberg betrays them in pursuit of the good life. Before long, he (and his partners) use Facebook to pimp their way through nameless Asian co-eds, living the nightlife around the country, etc. Zuckerberg’s partner (Saverin?) attempts to run it as a more conventional—more moral—business, and is too promptly thrown out of the company. And his “oppressors” (Saverin, Winkelvoss, etc) attempts to achieve justice are circumvented*—Zuckerberg’s multi-million dollar settlement is framed in a way that allows him to admit no wrongdoing (he says to Rashida’s lawyer character in the end “but I invented Facebook!” and she agrees—and there are several iterations of this throughout the deposition). Zuckerberg is above the law, above ethics, above responsibility, above everything—because he created Facebook. “You have part of my attention—you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.” Issues of morality are of no concern when technological progress is at stake.

It’s a scary idea, but one that Hollywood—whose entire life support rests on the notion of technological fiat—gladly laps up. I’m scared by its appeal among critics and audiences. Our faith in Big Money is at an all-time low, and this crash in confidence has happened at the same time as technological breakthroughs have enabled a new class of persons access to the System. If we want reform, this is our chance, but we need to keep the notions of justice and interpersonal relationships at the forefront. That our new ruling class of Mark Zuckerbergs will be more meritorious will mean nothing if it’s also more soulless.

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