The Social Network
The Social Network
It’s not about how many friends you have
by Scott Klocksin, Arts & Entertainment Editor of The Hunter Envoy
The first scene of David Fincher’s much-buzzed about new film, The Social Network, takes place in a bar and shows us two people talking to each other, face to face. In a bygone era that lingers in a fading collective memory, that was how we interacted with each other most of the time.
But this story of two lawsuits intercut with that of the pangs of Facebook’s birth on the campus of Harvard has stoked broad debate not only on the nature of how we stay in touch, but on timeless themes that have dogged us for millennia. An October 3rd New York Times article by David Carr posits that a generational fault-line is revealed in audiences’ reaction to the film. Carr suggests that those in the generation of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, tend to view the abrasive, awkward geek as a rightful beneficiary of the spoils of a war fought on economic, cultural and code-writing fronts. Older audiences, according to Carr’s observation, see the film as a clarion call against the perils of hubris and the broader generational malaise found in millions of kids who are long on net-savviness but short on social grace.
It may be a little of both. That we are told the same basic story from several perspectives lends itself to diametrically opposed takes on what the film is trying to say. We may even go back and forth on it ourselves. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Zuckerberg is as believable and raw as could be hoped for—and we can’t help but kind of like his character for it—but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re rooting for him. The twin brother plaintiffs in one of the two lawsuits depicted in the film, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, played jointly by Armie Hammer, epitomize pompous Ivy League entitlement. Yet somehow they manage to earn our respect.
Aaron Sorkin’s characteristically word-heavy, yet crisp and lifelike dialogue might be part of the reason we like people who we probably shouldn’t. Ditto for Fincher’s relative restraint in portraying the lives of Harvard undergrads and Silicon Valley tycoons faithfully yet engagingly.
It almost makes one want to overlook the film’s ceaselessly misogynistic portrayal of women, from their persistent presence as fun-snuffing nags, to their status as things-to-do-lines-of-coke-off-of, to their glaring absence from the dorm room conversations that would blaze trails toward spectacular fortunes. Almost.
The frenetic pace of The Social Network as it tells interwoven stories and assaults us with conversation had by a wide array of people about an even wider array of things, does a pretty effective job of conjuring something essential about the feeling of life in the twenty-first century. “First we lived on farms, then we lived in cities, now we will live on the internet,” the character portraying Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) gleefully declares at one point, with all the confidence and grandeur Thomas Edison would have employed in proclaiming the dawn of the electric age.
But with things like the recent spate of high-profile suicides in which social networking sites have played a prominent role, to speak of the innate virtue of such “progress” seems to lose site of another point the film may be making, if subtly: we haven’t stopped and caught our breath for long enough to take stock of how “life on the internet” is affecting us, let alone to examine whether its inexorable march forward is a good thing.
Whether we were happier before the internet co-opted so many functions of living that were once reserved for face-to-face personal interaction is tough to say. But what’s clear as a clutter-free desktop is that we still struggle to connect with each other, whether it’s through the digital transfer of millions of ones and zeros or through the irreplaceable sensation of skin on skin. And The Social Network seems concerned less with issuing verdicts on where we went wrong, than with pointing out that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
A version of this article will be printed in the issue of The Envoy dated October 14, 2010.