So this is going to be two posts in one. More value for your blog reading dollar. Inspired by my recent viewing of The Social Network on DVD, it will contain both my review of the movie and a meditation on friendship and other relationships in the age of Facebook and other networking sites.
Movie Review – The Social Network
As a species, we have always had an interest in keeping score. In having more or better stuff than the other guy, being socially dominant. Animals do it too of course, survival of the fittest and all that. Back in the caveman days, if one particular caveman had a nicer cave or a nicer cavewoman than all the others, he could claim to be better than all the other cavemen. That is until another caveman hit him over the head and took both his cave and his woman. Then he became the dominant one until…and so it went. And yes, I am referring to the behavior of men, women also strive for social dominance I’m sure, but being a man I have no idea how it works and I would probably be scared poopless if I ever understood it. So the rest of these thoughts will pertain to men.
As the millennia went by, we became much more sophisticated at how we keep score. Many countries have people who are born into dominance and get to be royalty, others in the lower classes aren’t left entirely out of the game though. One dirt poor peasant can claim to grow better turnips than the next dirt poor peasant, etc.
Here in the United States of America, we will have none of that. We are a country that is based entirely on equality and the fact that absolutely anybody can rise to the top if they are smart enough and work hard enough. And are white. And male. Oh, and it helps if you start out rich too. And it helps to have a degree from a high tone school like Harvard. And don’t be a Jew, well OK, you can be Jew-ish because we’ve heard that you guys are pretty smart and good with money. Which leads us to this guy:
Well, actually this guy:
See, the thing is…as someone who never came near the sacred ground of any of these ivy league, east coast schools, I naïvely thought that once you got into Harvard you were at the pinnacle. As long as you graduate and don’t wash out, you’re in. Big time. You’re one of the Masters of the Universe. I had no idea that even in Har-freaking-vard they separate themselves into winners and losers, the socially dominant vs. those who just aren’t in the club. At the beginning of the movie we see young Mark Zuckerberg on a fateful night in 2003 talking to his girlfriend about how he’s going to get into a prestigious “final club” at Harvard. Now, since my knowledge of Harvard’s final clubs extends to only this movie, just as my knowledge of fraternities consists solely of multiple viewings of Animal House, I won’t try to enlighten you on the differences between them. Suffice it to say that it seems in order to be a top dog at Harvard one needs to get invited into one of these (male only) clubs.
At least according to this movie. Which would make this a good time to clarify some of my thinking on movies based on real events. The one thing that we have to remember is that when a movie is made and screenwriters are hired and actors are brought in to play people who exist or existed in real life, much of the result is going to be…oh how to put this delicately…bullshit. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the Oscar winning screenplay admitted that his loyalty was to storytelling, not necessarily the truth. Documentaries and books probably get closer to the truth, if they choose to, but the truth is that any history written by a human being is going to be skewed by that person’s bias. Look at how different historian’s views on US history are, from Howard Zinn to more traditional/conservative authors. All that is to say that, in this post, when I refer to Zuckerberg et al, I will be referring to them as movie characters who may bear little resemblance to their real life counterparts. Where possible, I’ll show the “real” people vs. the “reel” ones, because I find it interesting, but keep repeating, “It’s only a movie.”
Back to the class issues, they play a major part in the Facebook story according to the movie. While Zuckerberg fails to get “punched” (invited to apply) by any of these clubs, his friend and future co-founder of Facebook Eduardo Saverin is courted by the Phoenix Club. Young Zuckerberg thinks that his time has come when a couple of actual Masters of the Harvard Universe invite him back to the Porcellian Club (“the best of the best”) for a chat, sadly he never made it past the bicycle room – the only room non-members are allowed to set foot in – and his suitors are only interested in his web expertise.
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, as well as their friend Divya Narendra, were interested in Zuckerberg because of a stunt website he created on that fateful night that got so many hits that it crashed the Harvard computer network. They have an idea for an online “facebook” for Harvard students called HarvardConnection.com, and they wanted Zuckerberg to program it. He agrees and then they don’t hear much from him, then all of a sudden Zuckerberg puts up this site called “The Facebook.” The lads are a bit annoyed at this, but being “gentlemen of Harvard” (gag), they decide to go through proper channels before eventually deciding to sue Zuckerberg.
OK, two things about the Winklevoss twins, or – as they get called in the movie and elsewhere – The Winklevi: First, they are basically played by the same actor, Armie Hammer. Another actor, Josh Pence, sat in as the other twin during filming, then Hammer’s head was digitally switched with his. So that’s cool. Also, The Winklevi are such perfect villains. They’re rich, they’re athletic, they’re preppy. You just wanna say, “Screw them!” Even though you may feel like they kind of have a point.
Sorkin’s screenplay alternates between the story of Zuckerberg and Saverin and the beginnings of Facebook, and two depositions where Zuckerberg is being questioned by attornies. Zuckerberg was sued by both the Winklevi and his former friend Saverin after he was forced out when Facebook got new investors. All of this happens seamlessly with a nearly perfect blend of humor and pathos. Director David Fincher seems genetically incapable of making an uninteresting movie, and this one is no exception.
In the movie version of things, Zuckerberg and Facebook were led into the big time by the seductive powers of Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster (or was he?). I have to say this about Justin Timberlake, I have never been a fan of him as a solo musician, a member of ‘New Kids on the Backstreet’ or whatever the hell, but as an actor he has been very good in some fairly risky roles. I have been reluctantly impressed with him in Black Snake Moan and Alpha Dog.
Other standout performances come from Rooney Mara, Dakota Johnson, Brenda Song, and Rashida Jones from The Office and Parks and Recreation whose character nails Zuckerberg with the truth about why he has found himself where he is.
In the end, we see Zuckerberg alone. He’s a billionaire, but claims that money is not important to him, and he is now left to wonder if he has any true friends in the world or just people who have attached themselves to him like so many remora eels. I couldn’t help thinking of Jesus’ words in scripture: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Friendship in the Time of The Internets
I first signed on to Facebook in 2008. I had recently been evicted from my apartment, lost three jobs, and was living in a motel. Every day was a struggle to remain hopeful that things would get better. A dear dear friend sent me an invitation to become her Facebook friend and I went for it. I had already been on MySpace for a while and had a few friends there, but I wasn’t doing much with it. Deserved or not, for me MySpace had the reputation of being a place where teens went to hook up with each other, or worse, where middle age trolls went to hook up with teens. Some profile pages you would go on and the backgrounds were so busy you could barely read the thing, and then you have people with crazy ass names like ±h£ !nFålVloÚs ï<Íç!, (-lEMERl-) ! ! [R.I.P] DAD LOVE U.[Cesar] & [JOE], ←ღ*♥ ÄlÈ ßß¥ ♥*←ღ, and ☠ dabaddestbitch™ ☠. It just seemed like graffiti to me, but not creative Banksy style graffiti. More like huffer graffiti.
Then when I went on Facebook, the layout was clean and seemed more user friendly. People tended to use their real names (unless they happen to be scaredy cats who adopt a fictitious persona…losers). It just seemed more grown up and professional. I guess maybe that’s because it was born out of Har-freaking-vard. Obviously a lot of other people thought so because Facebook has eclipsed MySpace and pretty much put other competitors like Friendster out of business.
After I started on Facebook, people I hadn’t seen for 20-30 years started coming out of the virtual woodwork. It was amazing! That was my friend’s ulterior motive all along. She knew that this would be a rough time for me and that I tend to isolate even in good times. Facebook got me “socializing” with people all over the world that I had lost touch with. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Facebook saved my life, but it helped and I thank God for it. It was addictive and a great time waster. This was a good thing when I was chronically depressed and on disability. I had a Little Green Garden and a Little Blue Cove that I tended. I had a Farm, I was both a Vampire and a Mafia member. I played the Never Ending Movie Quiz and, as I’ve already mentioned, answered the 10 Second Interview questions.
In the early days, I would meet people on some of these games and request friendship. Sometimes I regretted this, other times they turned out to be really cool people that I could actually be friends with in real life. Mostly what’s happened is that I’ve re-connected with people. Some of those relationships I absolutely cherish, and I have vowed to never lose touch again, with or without the internet.
Friendship on Facebook and MySpace is a different experience though. Friendship in the real world can be murky and hard to figure out, especially for those of us who tend to be a tad socially awkward to begin with, but on Facebook it’s black and white. You’re either a friend or you’re not. In the real world you can sometimes wonder if someone is your “friend” or not, but not on MySpace. Never before has there been an actual toggle switch: FRIEND/NOT A FRIEND.
Sure, when we were on the playground we would say, “Let’s be friends.” Then when another kid ticked us off we would say, “I’ll never be your friend ever again!” That behavior tends to go away by the time we hit puberty, but on these social networks we find somebody that we want to be friends with, send them a message saying we want to be friends, then they either accept us as friends or they don’t.
Or both. In my early days on Facebook I used to post more political things than I do now, and I suspect that “friends” have “unfriended” me because they don’t agree with my politics. The thing is, you don’t know. Unless you actively count the number of friends you have, you won’t know that somebody has gone away unless they tell you…and they never do that. Only once did somebody tell me that she was unfriending me because of my continued support for Barack Obama. I didn’t like it, but I had to admire her for telling me the truth. Most of the time I’ll realize that I hadn’t seen a post from somebody lately, so I’ll type their name into the search box for my friends and they aren’t there. Oh…um…OK, bye.
Of course I do the same thing, but not very often. I’ve deleted a couple of people that turned out to be a little creepy, and I didn’t let them know why. Usually if somebody posts too many obnoxious things I just hide their posts from my home page.
Twitter is a little different, and in some ways I like their approach a bit better. On Twitter you “follow” people, and they might not follow you back. For example, I follow Roger Ebert on Twitter. He has 445,816 followers and doesn’t know that I exist. You can follow anybody on Twitter as long as you’re not too creepy and they don’t block you (I’m sorry, Rosario! How many times does a guy have to apologize?). What kills me is when people follow me, then after a few days if I don’t follow them back, they unfollow me. Get a life losers! Either my little 140 character tweet bombs are interesting or they’re not.
Of course I’m on Facebook as myself and have 337 friends. My fan page as “A Misplaced Boy” has 28 people who “like” it. They used to be called fans, now they’re likers, whatever. I’m on Twitter as MisplacedBoy and exactly 300 people are following me at this moment. I’m still on MySpace too, because there are some people who I cherish who are only on MySpace.
In the movie, somebody tells Mark Zuckerberg that he will never have any friends. Not exactly true, but unlike the rest of us, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page doesn’t say how many friends he has. There are a couple of fan pages for him though, one of them has 4,137,765 people “liking” him. I’m not one of them, not yet. I still don’t feel like I know him well enough yet.