Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Social Network

Today has mostly been a succession of feeling stiff/achy/headachy/unwell, though I did begin by singing in a liturgy, and that was productive.

Last night I watched The Social Network, which is about the origins of Facebook, and then, back to back, Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars, an animated feature about a potentially world-destroying crisis that takes place in a global social network. I hadn't had the least interest in seeing The Social Network, but I've been hearing enough about it to be curious now that it's up for a Best Picture Oscar; and it seemed that the two films would be interesting companions.

That was a correct instinct. But sometimes I can review films at great length, and I'm not inclined to with either of these. TSN was extremely well-acted, well-directed, and well-organized, but left me unsettled, I think because I tend to avoid watching two hour films in which male privilege is the dominant storyline and impetus, and women are just sex objects. This morning, I found out that Aaron Sorkin had adjusted aspects of the history in order to make his narrative tight. At first I was supremely unimpressed, and then, chewing my lip, acknowledged that it was a very meta thing to do, to put tiny fragments of people's meetings together and make them into a story, which is driven in part by the way that other people perceive those fragments.

But more than one film review called the film "expressively Shakespearean" or a classical drama of betrayal and ambition, and that, I don't understand. Surely being about ambition, or containing a betrayal, does not thereby make a film Shakespearean? Nor does it make it classical drama. In fact, the film is largely driven by the jumping between time periods, and I know that Shakespeare doesn't hold to Aristotelean unities (except in The Tempest), but I also don't think he tells stories in pastiche mode, or even stories that work well, as pastiches of moments!

Defending it on Facebook, a friend of a friend identified it as one of the movies perfectly capturing the way we live now, and I suppose that's true for a lot of people. It didn't feel that way to me. I could tell you about BonC, which I joined as a freshman in college, while Mark Zuckerberg was just getting started programming. or the excellent Murrys v. Austins Alternate Superbowl post over at Phantom Scribbler's (comments, alas, gone due to Haloscan's disappearance). The latter took place before I joined Facebook, at the urging of a particularly bright class of composition students -- after which my account languished until the women I knew from blogging suddenly migrated.

Then, there were several months of throwing sheep, cows, leprechauns, and Helen Vendler, via the custom poking applications. I had no idea who Mark Zuckerberg was, or what "poking," as defined by a single button on people's profile page, was, and certainly no use for Facebook as a tool for dating or casual sex.

Facebook might have made social networking easier for many people to understand and take part in. But to see it as The Social Network is to erase the development that was taking place on blogs, on Livejournal; and which wasn't engineered strictly through the actions of the young teenagers looking for sex. I think that's what makes the film hard to accept/enjoy for me. To appreciate it as epic, I have to buy into several conventional views about programming as a male thing, and about the internet as a tool in which the young are the most innovative/creative. I can understand how those conventional views came to be held, but it feels bizarre to see them enshrined again in this film. Even though I can't deny the importance of Zuckerberg's creation, it feels inaccurate to watch the lives of Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg, and Sean Parker magnified to this scale, given the definitive article: The Social Network. Instead, it's a film that one watches with the feverish intensity with which one reads a particularly incendiary comment thread. And as huge as it seems, in terms of the development of social networks, I think it's just as insignificant. It's very well made, but it shouldn't be watched by itself.

I'll write about Summer Wars, which I think is excellently paired, tomorrow evening.


  1. Your reading is pretty much my reading. I am still pretty sad that facebook and twitter effectively decimated the blogosphere (at least for me). I'm one of those "longing for the good old days when not EVERYONE was on the internet spewing random thoughts" people, which is, I realize completely hypocritical on some level. It also irks me when any tale of betrayal, or doomed love, or lots of people dying in the end is labeled "Shakespearian."

  2. Oh, man, thank you for not making me the only person with a chip on my shoulder about Shakespearean.

    I think that my blogosphere was already fading into silence when FB and Twitter showed up, but they certainly didn't help matters any.

    I don't mind seeing what everyone has to say so much, but I miss reading longer iterations of thought than Twitter makes possible, and than Facebook encourages.

  3. I hate Twitter. It's just the straw, for me, the one thing too many to keep up with. Because you can never really "catch up", right? It never ends.

    I miss those early innocent FB days, though, where we were all throwing pies at each other. I really miss the old message boards at Sequential Tart, where a large community of people used to talk comics at great and passionate length. First blogs, then FB and Twitter, lured everyone away.