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The Social Network

posted by LIM College

describe the imageSorry.  Facebook corporation did not attract an avalanche of venture capitalists because it was cool. The subtribes of the Harvard College tribes are not actually very cool. Linux? Cool. Living a Second Life? Cool. Reviving stereotypes about young people? Even in a world gone mad with franchises, brands, and other tools of conformity, that is not cool. 

This follows up my post about The Social Network during the hype phase, before I saw it at the New York Film Festival screening.  The film will do well on ROI, and some take it for an insightful look at 20 year olds today.  But let’s hope a little rage at the machine still survives.

There are a few slim inventive elements to the film. It may not be a feat worth achieving, but David Fincher made the tourist-ready picturesque yards of Harvard menacingly noir-ish at night. Yet the real menace of the film is deeper and far more terrifying. High school might last forever.

Here is my nightmare of the pitch The Social Network gave to the money people before production. “It’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets Election meets Slackers meets Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle with a hint of Glee, High School Musical, the new version of 90210 and a hint of Gossip Girl thrown in!”

All the generic high school stereotypes, more those from 1950s B-movies than later versions, run through The Social Network. It is puzzling that a writer as talented as Aaron Sorkin has been praised highly for the script. Arrogant rich jocks. Check. Brilliant nerd who gets rich. Check—slight modern tweak. Gradual revelation that a woman with an assertive sex life is actually a psycho. Check.

The Harvard yards are not dark because sadistically difficult and probably meaningless tasks are required of students, as in the Harvard classic The Paper Chase. They are not dark in mourning for the end of the sugary romance of Love Story. This gloom is a zombie-sheltering darkness, appropriate for Jesse Eisenberg’s remarkable performance as someone both enervated and tensile, a perverse triumph.

If 20 year olds today are different from those of the past—and every generation is —they should be unhappy to be depicted in roles so well market-tested.  Couldn’t there be one character who goes beyond a formula?

The least cool scene in the film is when a pair of crew-rowing twins, Harvard classmates who inspired, hired and were manipulated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, meet with the President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, to complain about being misled. 

There is a fun irony.  Summers—who was drummed out of Harvard (and onto the Obama economics team) because of remarks that enraged female Harvard scientists, African-American literature specialists—and many other faculty members, unknowingly helps Zuckerberg by insulting and waving away the twins.  In reality-land, tactlessness can unite one’s enemies. In this fantasy of college and corporate life, arrogance is supposed to be a sign of supreme, if misplaced, self-confidence.  Well, sometimes. OK, I lied.  Perhaps it is cool that in one place, a demanding university, people can be blunt, extreme, and not sugarcoat hard truths.

Like all other adults in the movie, Summers is supposedly clueless about the potential financial value of Facebook (even though Summers points out to the angry hoodwinked young athletes that he served as Secretary of the Treasury). Hmmm, it must have been 20 year olds that supplied all that venture capital to Facebook because Justin Timberlake poured on the charm and coolness.

Adults, you see, just don’t get the new world of blind ambition, loyalty only to oneself, delusions of grandeur, and dreams of wealth and glamour that have hypnotized the young who aspire to zombie-hood. Old folks have never heard of such things before, maybe because they are uncool. They don’t know stereotypes about young people either, and did not live  through and past them. The Gilded Age, the Robber Barons, a business cycle of boom and bust, and ruthless monopolies have never been heard of in American before.

-- Robert Clark


Further Reading

Business writer Joe Nocera finds The Facebook Effect may be no more revealing than The Accidental Billionaires 

If you don’t like Harvard Love Story, the Korean TV series (filmed at U. of Southern California) try these

If a more edgy fantasy about the web and social networks attracts you, see the movie Catfish, which, of course, has a Facebook page

Topics: social media, New York City