Nov 14, 2010

Notes on The Social Network

I have been staring at the screen for a full 7 mins wondering where to start. i want to write about The Social Network (TSN) but I realize its gonna be less about the actual movie and more about the phenomenon of success and the assholes who find it, about human relationships and a social order where getting into the right clubs is an all-consuming passion for many. TSN is about all this and much more. And yes, it is about a stupid fallacy we lay too much premium on – friendship.

David Fincher’s film based on the novel ‘The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich is fast paced, deploys scintillating wordplay, and is gripping. Considering that it after all tells the story of a computer geek who is at his best writing 800-lines of code during a 36-hour stretch, one would expect us to sit stumped and disinterested. But that doesn’t happen because even as the first scene unravels, you sense you are going to be watching a movie whose hero is a thoroughly unpleasant character and who does not deserve an iota of the success he finally gained. This knowledge dawns on you in the film’s first 10 mins and it leaves a vague acidic feeling; it’s a realization that you probably possessed when you heard ‘good guys finish last’ but the Facebook phenomenon and this film about its founder Marc Zuckerman provide the moot evidence how true it is.

Of course this is a wildly fictionalized account of how the idea behind FB was born and the film is unabashed in its attempts to paint Marc as some kind of poor lost kid who though a lil narcissistic is also pretty misunderstood and lonely because he lacks social skills. Which is all crap of course.  What Marc or people like him really are is that they are children who never grew up. There is no one more self-centred than a child for it cannot see anything beyond its needs, beyond its ego; try explaining to a 5-yr old that its mother has a splitting headache due to which she’ll skip the nighttime story reading session. Ending the war in Iraq is probably easier. That is Marc for you. And we are all a part of the age that made him a  success.

Racy and gripping as the conversation between Marc and his gf Erica is in the first scene, you gradually figure out that it involves a man who has such set notions about the rightness of his views that no real conversation is ever possible with someone like him. He’d be best left talking to a stone wall instead – one which would never dispute his narrow, single-toned vision of what is it that really defines success. This is also the moment when you realize you are one of those billions of people who make folks like Marc a success. The conversation ends with his gf telling him: “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.” Marc is stunned and what does he do? He rushes to his room and calls Erica a bitch on his blog, reveals nasty details about the size of her bust or rather the lack of it, and starts a site called Facemash where he uploads face shots of all Harvard women in pairs who can be graded on the basis of their hotness quotient. Forget feminists, any human being would be disgusted. But no, that doesn't happen. Facemash is a success; there are so many hits in a single night that the Harvard servers crash. Of course legal issues arise but this single momentous prank or incident sparks off the idea behind FB. It's altogether another matter that the film doesn’t dwell too much on what Erica has to endure as a result of Marc’s  disclosures or the fact that the trend which Marc started flourishes today and FB (and much of the internet) today is indeed a weapon which angry couples use with impunity. And we are all a part of the age that made FB a success.

Lest it seem that Marc is painted only in shades of grey, let me assure you that is not quite the case. Indeed there is a scene where we see him in the middle of a deposition looking out of the window pensively as it begins to rain. There is such acute sadness on his face that at that moment you realize how removed he is from the rest of us. You don’t even blame him when he says: “I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. 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.But the Eduardo episode is yet to unravel.

The narrative switches between the present, where Marc is involved in double law suits with his best friend Eduardo and the Winklevoss twins - fellow students at Harvard with him. While the latter are suing him for stealing their idea, Eduardo is suing him for swindling him out of money that rightfully belongs to him. It is to Fincher’s credit that he conveys all of this with a moral ambivalence that we are never sure that there is no basis behind the three litigants’ claims. Of course the Eduardo episode is dealt with in much greater detail later on and he forms the moral cornerstone of the film. Indeed one does not expect to shed tears in a film like TSN and yet they flowed, they flowed freely in that one penultimate scene between Eduardo and Marc. It is not so much that what Marc does is wrong as the fact that the wrong is perpetrated on the ONLY real friend he has; that it tells us that there is indeed something wrong with a universe where the founder of one of the world’s most successful friendship sites doesn’t hesitate to betray his only friend; where a man doesn’t hesitate to befriend new friends at wild parties but shoos away those who offer him unconditional support.  And we are all a part of the age that made FB a success.

The film would be incomplete without a mention about Sean Parker, millionaire, coke snorting playboy and founder of Napster, played with amazing aplomb by Justin Timberlake. He is the kind of guy who makes you go ‘eeeks’ and then you wonder, ‘ Really’? Another world, another time, wouldn’t we all be like him or at least die for a chance to snort coke with the likes of him? I dunno. I am not sure of anything anymore.

This is by no means a ‘review’ of Fincher’s latest work; my perception about TSN is far too subjective. It shook me deeply; it made me angry. It made me angry to see on screen what I already knew - that there are people like Marc, who are not really bad, or evil. They are simply people who spend their lives treating others as towels. You face a  moment of minor irritation if you cant find it but nothing is really lost if its missing. Sure, he misses Erica occasionally and even goes to apologize once, but that is not out of any real feeling of affection or regret. I don’t think he shines the torch inwardly even once. He thinks about Erica when it suits him, not because he bothers to imagine how she must be without him. This towel ring syndrome is what makes him successful. And we are all a part of the age that showers success on him. 


stonetemplepilot said...

marc zuckerman came up with a business model and it worked for him. end of story! :)

the movie producer is making money by basing the story on this guy for god's sake!

the perfect male specimen is found only in mythologicals!!

D said...

Now I know why you refuse to login to FB. At least, you have that going for you. :)

Seriously though, don't you think he simply sensed a need, a gap in the school dating scenario and banked upon it? In that he is the same as any inventor or entrepreneur who enjoys first mover's advantage. How people choose to behave over FB is surely irrelevant.

Nevertheless, I wish MZ read this post. :)

drift wood said...

STP & D:

Everybody is making money and i have no problems with that. My irritation stemmed with the means people adopt to make money - slamming ones gf on a public platform, cheating someone out of their rightful share....etc. Call me old fashioned or a puritan or whatever.

And no, the perfect male specimen is only found in the female imagination. Not even a Shiva or an Adam can measure up to such imagination. :)