Find Friends, Lose Friends

November 13, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Random thoughts on “The Social Network,” which I saw last night:

1. The central irony (which nobody could possibly miss): Facebook is hugely popular because it lets people create and maintain friendships of all sorts. Yet the person who created it, when it comes to personal relationships, is utterly inept. Compounding the irony is that the missing piece is “relationship status.” That isthe element  that, when Zuckerberg thinks of it and adds it to the template, finally allows him to put Facebook online.

2. Boys. The source of energy for most of what happens in the film is the adolescent boy mentality. What eventually becomes Facebook starts when Zuckerberg creates a tournament variant of Hot or Not but with pictures of Harvard female students.

Women are objects for boys to rate rather than people they might interact with as human beings. It’s what we might expect from stereotypical computer nerds, but they are not the only ones who prefer this version of male-female relationships. The hits so numerous that they crash the system come mostly from Harvard boys.  We see the same mentality at the Porcellian, the exclusive Harvard final club Zuckerberg can’t get into, where the upper-class boys bring in girls by the busload. No doubt, some of these rich boys were graduates of prep schools where a similar mentality reigned.  (See this earlier post on the Landon School.)

3. Sorkin. Nobody comes close to Aaron Sorkin in writing dialogue for really smart characters. He did it on the West Wing, and he does it here. In several places in the film, I had the feeling I was watching a chess match where one player was thinking three moves ahead of me, the other five moves ahead. As consolation, I prefer to imagine that each of those ten or twenty seconds of dialogue took Sorkin half a day to write.

4. Lonely at the top – something of a cliche in American films. At the end of “Godfather I,” Michael Corleone has defeated his enemies, he has climbed to the top. A door closes, with Michael on one side, his wife on the other. He is estranged from his family (those who are still alive). He has no friends, only courtiers bowing to him. He does not look happy.

At the end of “The Social Network,” Mark Zuckerberg has settled accounts with his enemies. On the soundtrack, the Beatles sing, “Baby, You’re a Rich Man.” Zuckerberg is at the top. But, like Michael Corleone, to get there he has made a pact with the devil (Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, shown in the inferno scene below), and he has screwed the person who had been his only friend. When Facebook logs its millionth subscriber, everyone else is celebrating, but Zuckerberg barely smiles.

5. Floor lamps? For your $45,000 a year at Harvard, you don’t get very good lighting in your room.

6. Capitalism. In the Wall Street Journal last June, Alex Tabarrok was muttering that “when it comes to the movies capitalism never seems to get a fair shake.” True, Hollywood does not turn out many pictures that show entrepreneurs creating, sustaining, and expanding a business.* And in most of these films, capitalists face moral dilemmas – if they didn’t, it wouldn’t be much of a story – and, like Zuckerberg in this film, they frequently make morally questionable choices in pursuit of business success.

As I noted at the time (here), I didn’t see why Tabarrok was puzzled, even dismayed, by this scenario.  Surely Tabarrok, an economist, would understand supply and demand.  Hollywood is supplying what the public is demanding. In seven weeks, “The Social Network” has grossed a very respectable $85 million – nowhere near “Jackass 3-D” of course, but several lengths ahead of “Secretariat.”

*For my money, the best movie about business is still “Save the Tiger” (1973), which presents the moral and financial dilemmas of capitalism on a much smaller but probably more realistic scale.


PCM said...
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PCM said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I can talk Ivy-League lighting.

I still remember the day in 1990 when they came for me. I was one of the last. Men in uniforms came to my dorm room to remove a perfectly decent overhead incandescent fixture and replace it with the world's worst, most dim, and poor-light giving fluorescent fixture.

The irony of this dumb "energy saving" light was because it was so bad all the students went and purchased fire-hazard watt-burning halogen floor lamps.

You'd think I would be over this, twenty years later....