There’s a narrative popular in establishment media, propagated by the stodgy old talking heads and their formulaic entertainment. Contrary to the designation “social networks”, these online platforms that disseminate content have a de-socializing effect on its users. That these platforms that are built around information sharing and messaging have an insidious isolating effect. In this telling, social networks have produced addicts, and coddled mass shooters.
Whatever Mark Zukerberg’s true character, writer Sorkin is more interested in shaping him into a human representation of social media flaws. Jessie Eisenberg portrays a clipped bird: sweaty, nervous, and fundamentally antisocial. He is deeply competitive, to such a degree that he’s willing to jeopardize all his personal relationships. The origins of these competitions is Zuckerberg’s most valuable asset. Zuckerberg’s friends and hangers-on must be punished for their transgressions even if they are benign. When the thinly sliced Harvard-ham Winkelvoss twins try to recruit Zuckerberg to code up their inept web site concept, he doesn’t merely decline. Instead he strings the brothers along for months, letting them twist in the wind. It’s a decision that will eventually cost Zuckerberg millions, giving the Winklevoss’s enough ground to sue, and Zuckerberg enough reason to settle.
What a missed opportunity this film is!
What could have been an incisive look at the man who shepherds the most important communications platform to emerge in the new millennium (to date) is instead a trojan horse for Sorkin’s generational discomfort towards new technology. The Eisenberg Zuckerberg is a walking cautionary tale…. He who mastered social media for he is the personification of social media. Engage in social media and you too could be financially wealthy and a failure as a human. But that ignores of course that Zuckerberg was actually in a healthy long-term relationship with Priscilla Chan during the time depicted in the Social Network, and found himself dining at the same table as Steve Jobs and President Obama.
Sometimes you have to question why a production wouldn’t just change the characters’ names. If a film focused on the formative years of an ultra successful social networking site, the audience wouldn’t be able to not make the connection to Facebook. The Social Network is false assumptions argued as facts.
More egregious than the reimagined Mark Zuckerberg is the Eduardo Saverin played by Andrew Garfield. The film goes to absurd lengths to make this a sympathetic character, even using his vantage as the audience’s avatar. Every successful company leaves a wake of victims screwed from their rightful earnings, but Saverin is especially ill fitted for such a distinction. His ideas toward monetizing Facebook involve larding up the site with banner ads. Mark Zuckerberg resisted this, The Social Network argues, out of a pig-headed need to retain control of his creation. But in reality covering Facebook in banner ads would’ve been a huge hit to the site’s usability and attractiveness at a time when it was trying to differentiate itself from the competition at MySpace and Friendster.
The film also skips the transgression that supposedly got Saverin outed from an active role in Facebook. He tried to use Facebook to market his other companies. That’s fairly insulting to his main gig. It’s demoralizing when a founder devotes their attention to a new venture, especially in a startup culture that demands great sacrifice from its early employees. Venture capital will often stipulate that founders must focus on the primary business for years after an IPO to prevent these cases.
In real life, Eduardo Saverin renounced his US citizenship, and subsequent tax obligations just prior to Facebook’s IPO. Take that as an indication of his true character.
As for the film itself, it’s crisp and cool. As the years go by The Social Network will be regarded as one in a generation confluence of emerging talent. Jessie Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, and Arnie Hammer have all gone onto leading roles in major Hollywood productions.
This marks the first Trent Reznor film score, and it’s a winner. Sleek and cool, with the lingering threat of slipping into full dissonance,
A good companion piece to The Social Network would be with “Startup.com”. The entrepreneurs there had an entirely different relationship with the elder class. They trusted them, won their approval, gave them posh ceremonial positions and wound up bilked with a terrible site.