The Social Network: a defamatory revisionist fantasy

20 Oct



Jessie Eisenberg in The Social Network

Old media sets the entry bar high.

To partake in, say, the Hollywood film industry, you’ll need equipment – cameras, mobile cabins, mirrors with lights around the edges and hotdogs.

You’ll need an international film production and distribution company – like, say, Columbia Pictures – as well as publicists, runners, voice coaches and drivers.

You’ll need very famous, very highly-paid, very pampered stars. People like, say, Justin Timberlake.

How it must irk those accomplished and immaculately-connected producers, directors, script writers and actors that anyone can now do this sort of thing for the price of a laptop, a camcorder and a tank of petrol.

Just as it must irk the traditional print barons that Techcrunch, a blog staffed by 40 people, can sell for $40million, while Newsweek – steeped in history and staffed by 400 – just sold for a solitary dollar.

This annoyance is why newspapers across the world have been conducting hysterical campaigns of scare-mongering against Facebook for two years (no, it doesn’t give you cancer).

And it’s why the makers of “The Social Network” have used the film to defame Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s the old media limply throwing stones at the new.

I could forgive its dishonest revisionism, which would shame even the most foaming-mouthed holocaust deniers, if it were a good film.

But it is not.

I could forgive the crude attempt to assassinate Zuckerberg’s character if the cinematography were more than mediocre, the script believable and the acting top drawer.

But they are not.

Where to begin? Well, the beginning is bad enough. Here Jesse Eisenberg, as Zuckerberg, is dumped by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) as the audience is invited to chuckle along at the sand being kicked in the geek’s eyes.

This is the moment at which the fantasy Zuckerberg, who is denied access to elite social clubs in Harvard, plots to take his misogynistic revenge on the world by inventing Facebook, a way of both smiting – and getting – girls.

Leaving La-la Land for a second, Zuckerberg has just told the world he has been dating the same girl since before creating Facebook. The girl in the film is fictional.

But let’s not let the facts spoil the narrative.

Better still, let’s do something that unfacts the facts. Is that possible?

It’s certainly worth a try!

And as you are reading this the old media is trying (desperately) to rake muck, even though they whine that lies and muck-raking are what lets down the internet.

They want Zuckerberg to be a liar. He must be lying, you see, because he’s a sociopath.

Only good-looking liberals could build something as big as Facebook for wholesome reasons. A geeky capitalist would do that because he is bitter that we good-looking liberals got such an easy ride at school while he was getting sand kicked in his face.

This is certainly what the script-writer Aaron Sorkin, one of Hollywood’s most pious, self-regarding, hand-wringing liberals, thinks. (If you don’t know Sorkin, you probably know his most famous creation, Martin Sheen’s president in the West Wing. This truly sick-making embodiment of self-righteousness – supposedly the hero of the show – tells you all you need to know about Sorkin’s worldview).

Here’s what Zuckerberg says about the film’s version of his motives: “They just can’t wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.”

Eisenberg with Justin Timberlake as Napster's Sean Parker

And then there’s the victim of the piece, Eduardo Saverin, a doe-eyed puppy in pretty suits who is sometimes loyal and generous – and at other times generous and loyal.

We are supposed to lose sympathy for Zuckerberg when he schemes to dilute Saverin’s 30% share in the business.

Let’s just take another brief trip out of La-la Land.

Saverin was a small timer who was hastily cut in on the deal in the first place because he had access to $1,000 – then another $16,000 – of mummy and daddy’s money when Facebook began.

Apart from this – and his continual attempts to plaster Facebook with the kind of tacky advertising that would have killed it stone dead in its infancy – that was his part in genesis of Facebook.

I have no doubt Zuckerberg would have created the same Facebook 500 million users enjoy today if Saverin had been born a Highland cow.

Yet the latter reportedly retains a 5% share, which makes him a billionaire, and he is to this day credited as a co-founder. He could barely have screwed Zuckerberg over any more if he’d cut his fingers off.

And how about the over-dramatised contrivance? It’s almost ubiquitous. Napster’s Sean Parker understands the whole potential of Facebook simply by glancing at it on a laptop for three seconds. Please.

Zuckerberg sprints half a mile to his laptop to put the programming icing on the Facebook cake when he hears himself telling a classmate: “People don’t wear a sign round their necks showing their relationship status”. The sound of the penny dropping clatters around the cinema. (BTW, my brother – @frankietaggart on Twitter – tells me the critics, including Mark Kermode, call this a ‘Chubby? Hmm’ moment of any biopic, a phrase coined by Jon Ronson, which originates from the story of Karen Carpenter’s anorexia death).

The Winklevoss twins are like characters from Scooby Doo.

But the biggest crime of “The Social Network” is that it ignores entirely the real reason why Zuckerberg created Facebook and his huge accomplishments that changed the world.

This is a far more compelling story.

So why did Zuckerberg create Facebook?

Read one of his many interviews over the years and you’ll probably learn that he believes that by living public, social lives and sharing information, rather than embracing privacy, we can create healthier communities.

It’s unlikely Sorkin is interested in any of this stuff. Afterall, he’s not even interested in Facebook and has proudly told New York magazine that he knows almost nothing about the 2010 iteration of Facebook and that he doesn’t use social media.

Predictably, The Social Network has a Facebook page. It doesn’t have a relationship status but if it did it would read “married”. For no film in the last five years has been so transparently wedded to the agenda of the old media in the face of the new.

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6 Responses to “The Social Network: a defamatory revisionist fantasy”

  1. Frankie Taggart October 20, 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    An interesting blog – but not so much a film review as drawn-out attack on its central premise. In fact, the only diversion you take from the history lesson to make any comment at all about the film itself is a bellicose, trite and utterly unfair dismissal of the acting and cinematography in a really great and classically Fincheresque piece of work which you can tell from the off is made by the same guy who gave us Seven, Alien 3 and Fight Club.
    I have now seen A Social Network. The only foot David Fincher has ever put wrong was the appalling Benjamin Button. Everything else, including A Social Network, has been a triumph. He is second only to Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento, The Dark Knight) among the truly great story tellers of our day and yet give him no credit whatsoever for the way he tells his story.
    It doesn’t matter if the script doesn’t fit in with your view of Zuckerberg & co. Should we strike Chariots of Fire, Schindler’s List and the Ten Commandments off the list too?
    It doesn’t matter what Facebook became – not in this film anyway, because that’s not what it is about. This film explores the infantile, crass and revolting genesis of a world-changing phenomenon which became so much more. This is interesting.
    You talk about Aaron “Motormouth” Sorkin as if this is his film – it isn’t. It’s quite clearly a Fincher movie.
    Sorry to keep going on about it, but Mark Kermode’s review on FiveLive eloquently makes the point – with which I agree – that A Social Network is very much of the Fincher canon in that it is a film about men with men, a la Fight Club.
    You describe the cinematography as mediocre – again, unfairly. Jeff Cronenweth’s browns and greens and tilt-shift lens work are as evocative as they were in Fight Club. A lesser cameraman would have given you two hours of This Life or Drop the Dead Donkey with a bang-badda-bang script as fast as Sorkin’s.
    Finally, your dismissal of the acting is outrageously unfair. The entire cast – and especially Justin Trousersnake – are believable and engaging as poisonous and essentially unlikeable characters who have enough about them for you to care about what happens to them at the end of the film.
    Old media revisionism? Maybe. Terrible film? As you (kind of) say in your review: Perleease.

    • michaeltaggart October 20, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

      I don’t entirely disagree with what you’re saying about the film (although I do disagree – it’s no Godfather). But why are you judging this as a film review when it’s not one? It’s a media blog. The point I’m making is that Sorkin – yes, the script-writer – is making shit up about history. In my view, when you subtly but significantly change a real story to (again, in my view) bash someone/something, you should tell your audience that it’s just a story, not real.

  2. Scribe October 20, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    I is confused. Having just seen the film, but not knowing a great deal about Facebook’s history, the conclusions I took from it match up pretty well to what your “away from la-la land” scenarios describe: Zuckerberg is in it to build an on-line network, not to make money (he doesn’t sell his old idea to Microsoft, he reduces his own share in the company, etc.) I didn’t see Saverin as a “victim” any more than anyone else. Without initial funding the company wouldn’t have been able to get bigger VC funding, but at the same time it’s clear (IMHO) that he was fairly “old-fashioned” in terms of Internet business models.

    I definitely don’t get the impression that Zuckerberg is a “liar”, more someone that knows opportunities, and finds ways that work to achieve these – putting a higher priority on this than on the consequences. I don’t see this is a “defamation” in any way though, more the hallmark of those who become “successful” (however you want to define that).

    The link between building the site and jealousy/status is left vague enough for me in this case, but bringing it up also raises some good questions about the role of status in capitalistic attitudes. But that’s way beyond the scope of this comment. I’d just say that it’s far easier for people to jump to simple conclusions about what the film is saying based on their own agenda, than to separate out the machinations of reality from the art of storytelling.

    Personally, I hate Facebook just because I don’t want to formalise my social life for the benefit of everyone I’ve ever known. The wider themes brought up in the film – the lust for social status, the desire for a constant student lifestyle, etc – are ones I don’t find particularly confined to the screen.

    • michaeltaggart October 20, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

      Hiya Exmosis, thanks for your view. Have a look around the web – there are at least a few journalists trying to suggest Zuckerberg lied when he claimed he he’s been with the same girl since before Facebook. I didn’t mean to suggest the film-makers were saying that – that’s my poor communication 🙂 I do think there was a real missed opportunity though. If it’s supposed to be a faithful biopic, I believe it should do more to explain the driving principles that guide Zuckerberg. If he’s not interested in money, then what is he interested in? Why is he doing Facebook, if it’s not for money. We’re not told.

      Thanks for a thoughtful contribution.

  3. Frankie Taggart October 21, 2010 at 3:26 am #

    I was directed to your blog by a Facebook post saying ‘here’s my film review’ if anyone is interested. This made me jump to the conclusion that I was being directed towards a film review.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Is the social web a network of ‘weak ties’? « Michael Taggart - October 26, 2010

    […] script-writer scripting a film about Facebook without using or understanding it (oh hang on, I’ve already blogged about […]

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