Monday, October 11, 2010

The Social Network

I lose my geek bona fides if I don’t respond in some fashion to The Social Network, the new movie that claims to be about the origins of Facebook. I say claims because the movie really follows a typical  manipulative Hollywood plot: nerd loses girl, nerd starts $25 billion company to get even, nerd … well, I won’t spill too much, since obviously the ancient origins of Facebook are shrouded in mystery.

On the official site for the movie, the tag line is: A story about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook. Not The story, as in what actually happened. Just A story. I think that about says it all.

You might think watching a bunch of brainiacs type at computers for two hours could get tedious, but this is broken up by thrilling action sequences of lawyers talking in conference rooms.  And yet, I have a number of problems with the film. Specifically,
  1. The flashback approach is interesting, but considering that in the present we jump back and forth between two different lawsuits, the plot gets a bit scrambled. In one suit, founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin are co-defendants, in the other, Saverin is suing Zuckerberg.  Maybe a flashback blocker would help.
  2. Although this movie is inspired by and devoted to nerd-dom, it can’t resist nerd-bashing. In one montage, campus parties abound with unbridled hedonism, while Zuckerberg and his cohorts sit hunched over their computers. The nerd idea of a good time, as shown later, is a hacking competition performed while the contestants drink shots.
  3. I don’t know what former Harvard president Larry Summers is like in real life, but I somehow doubt he’s really Groucho Marx reincarnated (especially since Marx was alive when Summers was born).
  4. Despite his fascination with making Web sites to facilitate relationships and coupling, Zuckerberg himself seems asexual. In fact, he seems completely emotionless  about everything. He just shuffles along while others hurl money at him. A slight trace of a grin after a hasty  sexual encounter is his only hint of libido, and that was apparently brought on by no less an aphrodisiac than a lecture by Bill Gates.
Just as the movie dodges any probing of Zuckerberg's personality or lack thereof, it also begs the central question: Why Facebook? Sean Parker, creator of Napster, is shown taking credit for single-handedly bringing down music industry giants like Tower Records, ignoring the influence of Apple's iTunes or the MP3 format in general.  But outside Hollywood, causes and effects are rarely that simple. Why did Facebook so completely eclipse earlier sites like Friendster and MySpace?  Perhaps the answers are too complex for a glib screenplay.  Maybe we have to resort to the anachronism of reading the book.  
    Though the movie feels like Revenge of the Nerds for grown-ups  (okay, Revenge of the Nerds for anyone), ultimately, it is a morality play, preaching that success leads to sex, drugs, and home repair. Heck, for a few billion dollars, I’ll take that chance.

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