11 October 2010

First Impressions: The Social Network, Part II: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Facebook

As The Social Network (2010) has remained the number one film in the country for the second weekend in a row, I'm left with a few more items to ramble about. You can check out some primary musings about the acting and other technical aspects of this fantastic film over here. Today we're going a bit grander - examining this flick and its subject matter in its context within zeitgeist, major themes and its place among the social revolution. Let's get to it:

This is Mark. The real Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook (doubtful of the legitimacy of that claim? Um...watch The Social Network), the world's youngest billionaire, and the greatest percentage gainer on the Forbes 400 list from 2009 - 2010. Checking out this kid's bank is sick, he makes AVABAR (2009) look like a Soup Kitchen. He's coasting on a cool $6.9 Billion thanks to his 24% share in Facebook (which implies Facebook getting a sweet $28 Billion or so total worth, although this company took a few years to turn a good profit). Wikipedia has a great bit on how this is possible at all, it's hard to believe that Zuck gets this bank through advertising alone. Essentially, Facebook advertising is ridiculously valuable.

As self-published, nearly 50% of Facebook's 500 million users check the site at least once daily. That's 250 million folks exposed to advertising on any given day. To place this in perspective, the #1 Television show for the WEEK last week was ABC's Dancing with the Stars at 21,341,000 million viewers. Regarding movies, as I said earlier, the #1 film of the week was The Social Network at $18,703,991 worldwide. If we for the sake of easiest estimated argument guess $10 a ticket (for some reason I don't think the 3-D Social Network sold well), around 1.8 million people saw a movie about Facebook around the world while 250 million people checked Facebook around the world. The website has cemented its status as a societal institution and for all its importance Mark gets another check. As you can tell, this trend is only increasing.

So all this is saying is that Facebook is one of the most profitable, invasive and important companies in the world. Zuckerberg's genius deserves praise (recognition) as much as he deserves his status as privacy-demolishing asshole. The Social Network, with whatever liberties they took (probably lots) demonstrate this idea brilliantly in its opening moments. Eisenberg as Zuckerberg is cocky and confident in his own element and exhibits a unique understanding of what other people want. He has troubles however, relating to other people. It's a unique dialogue, Zuckerberg is able to distance himself and diagnose the desires and interests of those around him without ever identifying with them on a personal level. His genius is incomparable (many of the classroom scenes also demonstrate this), but it comes with this bitter resentment of both lack of aforesaid recognition and respect, a direct result from his off-putting demeanor. He's thus in a pretty awful circle that he could release himself from if he were any one else.

There's almost this idea of talent wasted on the young. Zuckerberg puts himself on everyone's map by getting silly drunk and hacking into half of Harvard University's student records with his Facemash Application. Genius goes to his head. He has this nerdy confidence in his own effort, surely deserved on some part. He talks down to Harvard Administrators, high-priced Lawyers (including an incredible scene articulating exactly why the Winklevai lawyer is literally not worth his full attention) and finally showing an extreme disregard for business rivals.

Zuckerberg and Sean Parker in the film represent everything people like the Winklevai fear in New Money. They lack regard for gentlemanly conduct. As one of the Winklevoss twins (I freely admit they are different characters, but I cannot name which is which. Tyler or Cameron. You sucked in Beijing) mused for most of the film, there is supposed to be this unspoken sense of decorum among the Harvard University Class System. These kids who have just fallen in money don't share this notion. They in fact have no concept of how they are "supposed" to act. In fact, the film works in part because it's pretty believable watching what would happen if all these nerd college jagoffs suddenly find themselves self-made billionaires. Look how they spend their first summer. They're Programmer Rock Stars. In between marathon coding sessions they're hitting clubs and sucking bongs with random groupies. No one told them how to act, when they try to make it up for themselves they crash and burn.

This interactive trailer is really cool and full of some interesting facts. What's great about this film is that it simultaneously signals the arrival of Facebook through an origin story, yet by its creation it also dilutes the impact of the supposed social revolution. Director, David Fincher, Writer, Aaron Sorkin and Star, Jesse Eisenberg all do not use Facebook. This almost comes true in the film - the Eduardo Saverin character also does not know how to use the site despite being the CFO. The creators of the film claim  to have created a film based on character and plot, rendering the ultimate Zeitgeist story timeless. This is very true, but part of what faults this from being a perfect film is this lack of commentary on how deep the Social Revolution has hit its generation. Indeed this really won't break until the first generation of Facebook Users (ME.) are out there controlling society and running everything off the site.

Landon Palmer's column over here hits on some of these ideas. He contends that the film's treatment of the Founding of Facebook are more examples of business truisms from yesterday applied today. What's certain is that this film is going to mean very different things to different generations. Somehow it's already ranked as one of the highest-grossing College Comedies (this is a comedy?) and actually shows more of College than any other film on that list. Actually, the only major difference between life depicted in the film and College life during the past half-decade is the lack of Facebook Usage. Drinking and Drama. Is there anything else?

I'll go back to Zuckerberg one more time to wrap this up. The Social Network is an incredible film, and the ending, while somewhat predictable to fulfill Zuck's character arc also has a lot of meaning. Tying into his opening distance he exhibits with all his personal relationships, his social loneliness remains high despite his efforts to bring people together. Throughout the film though, it is clear that none of his motivations are altruistic. Refreshing Erica Albright's (Rooney Mara) page after a friendship request is Zuck's perfect "rosebud" scene. The only thing he wants is what he wanted before all this shit. Despite all his effort and accomplishment to make up for his shortcomings, none replace what he really needs, which is that intimate human connection. In essence, this is the best treatise against Facebook itself. Ones and Zeroes will never replace actually talking and developing a relationship with another human being.

As Zuckerberg basically admits in the film, users primarily are addicted to Facebook for boning, or at least the thought of boning. This is the ultimate irony of Facebook that exists every time you log on (hey oh!)- does it increase or decrease friendships? Do our relationships become too technical and facebook-icised? The scene when Saverin's girlfriend is pissed at him for not changing their Relationship Status comes to mind as a perfect example. In our lives it's no longer real until it's on Facebook. Shit never happened if photos are not on Facebook. People won't come to Events unless they're posted on Facebook. Is it streamlining lives or complicating them?

I don't have these answers. Maybe Facebook does. Now go out and Facebook us...

1 comment:

  1. Good review, bud. You brought up some great points at the end of it. I'm going to have to check this movie out.


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