‘The Social Network’ Reflects A Generation, If Not Defines It

Published 5 years ago by , Updated October 30th, 2012 at 7:50 am,

The Social Network2 The Social Network Reflects A Generation, If Not Defines It

When I first saw the trailer for The Social Network the first thing that struck me was how well constructed it was, and how much I love that A cappella version of Radiohead’s “Creep”. The second thing that struck me was a deep sense of irony. This felt like a somewhat odd story to tell given our “current economic crisis.” For The Social Network is, among other things, a tale of privilege, wealth, and to some degree, fiscal excess.

In an article in The New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and subject of the film, compared The Social Network to  Less Than Zero, the quintessential 1980s poor little rich kid movie. According to the article Facebook and Zuckerberg hoped audiences would largely ignore The Social Network, recognizing that:

“The Social Network” will be another failed attempt to bottle a generation, like “Less Than Zero”, and not culturally defining, as it aspires to be, in the way of “Wall Street” or “The Big Chill”.

The mention of Less Than Zero inspires an interesting comparison, though not necessarily in the vein that Zuckerberg or Facebook intended. In terms of artistic merits, Less Than Zero is far outmatched by The Social Network. David Fincher is a masterfully skilled director, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created a haunting score and Jessie Eisenberg and his fellow cast members delivered believable and compelling performances. The film is good.

the twit network The Social Network Reflects A Generation, If Not Defines It

Putting aside the abilities of the artists involved in the creation of this film; many felt like the premise of the movie was just plain silly, and a plethora of parodies were unleashed on the Internet almost immediately after the trailer became available. As mentioned, the trailer is exceedingly well put together, so the question becomes: why was it so mock-worthy?

I contend that we laughed because the trailer indicated a deep sense of weight about what is essentially a fun and silly socializing tool. The reason we found it silly was in large part the reason I found the film so fascinating. In a sense, it doesn’t have anything to do with what most of us consider “real life” concerns.



downey less than zero  The Social Network Reflects A Generation, If Not Defines It

This brings us back to the comparison of The Social Network to Less Than Zero. We look at that latter film now and think how reflective it is of the excess of the 1980s. The truth is that for most people the ’80s included corporate buyouts, layoffs and recession. Less Than Zero did not represent the excess of the ’80s, as much as the idea of excess in the ’80s. Excess that, for the vast majority of people, would always remain a fantasy.

The Social Network seems to represent the same sense of disconnect that Less Than Zero did. How many of us can really relate to the trials (literal and figurative) of a Harvard boy who convinced equally privileged young entrepreneurs to invest millions of dollars into his made up company? For a “true” reflection of the times, one could look at Up In The Air for the view from the ground, or Wall Street 2 for a Birdseye view of the investment banking eagles who were busy pooing upon everyone on the ground. Upon reflection, however, it occurred to me that The Social Network has everything to do with our present cultural consciousness.

wall street 2 douglas labeouf The Social Network Reflects A Generation, If Not Defines It

Not only is Facebook one of the biggest representatives of our current form of communication, but it also represents a new model for commerce in the online community. The idea is to create a service, offer it for free, and build demand to the point where advertisers are coming to you. It addresses a way to make money when almost everything can be gotten for “free.”

The portion of the film that deals with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and Napster, also addresses the collapse of traditional media platforms and the onset of the “everything is free” media model. Of course, the Internet follows a model similar to that of television and radio – the difference is that in the realm of the Internet, the quantity, quality and type of content is nearly unlimited.

The story of the creation of Facebook and the fates of its creators is indicative of a general mindset in the United States as well as certain characteristics of a generation. Characteristics which, in their most toxic form, helped to bring this nation to the crisis point we now find ourselves in.

the social network review The Social Network Reflects A Generation, If Not Defines It

This is not an article on how Facebook ruined the world. This is an article that looks at how the movie, The Social Network, and its fictional depiction of the myth of Facebook represents a mindset that, while in many ways positive, when taken to its extreme is undesirable at best and damaging at worst. The dominant aspects of that mindset are: entitlement, a focus on the superficial in lieu of the substantive, a disregard for the sanctity of relationships and the welfare of others, greed, and the willingness to invest real money into what is essentially a fantasy.

Continue to the notion of entitlement…

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  1. I have to quibble with your depiction of Napster versus the Music Business. The music business was engaging in predatory practices with its “talent” since the early 80′s.

    In the late 90′s when the CD format had matured, rather than investing and taking a chance in risky talent, the business had staked its growth on easily digestible new artists and increasing high record sales upwards of $18 for a single CD in order to make a profit. After all, most artists at the time were lucky to make $.50-$1.00 per CD at that wildly inflated retail price for something that could be manufactured for $.25.

    The plan was backfiring. CD sales were slipping before Napster. Napster was just a technological expansion of cassette swapping with friends on a more global scale.

    The music business could have fought back successfully by pricing their wares at a better perceived value, but refused. They could have also developed more artists that were riskier and explored niche tastes more, but they refused to let artists develop over time.

    Instead, they made criminals of those who would most likely buy their music. The business also made paupers of those artists that would sign with labels, but instead of riches, most artists were left with huge debts for inflated marketing & production costs.

    • Absolutely – its not so much that the music industry was in the right, not at all. It’s been predatory for years and the artists are the least protected in almost any creative field. The change was positive in many respects. And I believe its best to go with change as much as possible. I am really talking about his attitude (as depicted in the film, I don’t know him personally). There seemed to be no awareness of how his actions affect other people, or care – and I see that as a general trend. No where near as bad as the investment bankers who has NO care for their actions and who they impacted, and definitely knew better. But still, reflective of a general attitude.

      Also, it is somewhat predatory to the artists to take their work without paying anything for it. It costs money to live, and it costs money to make anything creatively – music, books, films – what have you. If artists are choosing to give samples for free, that is one thing, and in many cases it is the best thing to do in our current structure. But, what I was talking about was a pervading sense of entitlement. One of the way’s that comes out is in this generations disregard for the work and effort it takes to make something and the belief that we are entitled to take without giving. That we are owed something for nothing. I’m not saying I am not guilty of the very same thing. Cause I am.

      • Hi Roth,

        There is a problem with the music industry paradigm. An artist does not make money on their work until they pay off their debt. Basically the artist takes an “advance” on royalties paid, this is supposed to be for the artist to live and create the art that the company will market. In addition to that, music business charges them for the following things: audio production costs, pressing costs, video production costs, touring production costs, and publicity/marketing costs. All that rolls into “the bill” that artist must pay off via royalty before an artist sees one penny. The music business does not assume any of that risk per se for those costs, just the costs for distribution and corporate overhead.

        Now if the artist’s work is not released or if there is little marketing effort to get the work noticed, the artist is still on the hook for these costs. Additionally, the music business has some very creative accounting to look at downloads, radio airplay, media use, and units sold versus units damaged/returned, so getting a clear understanding of the royalty situation can be very difficult. Hence, why some popular artists end up declaring bankruptcy.

        So from that perspective, the amount of financial damage that a service like Napster did to artists is minimal compared to the financial damage done by the music business itself to those artists. If anything, Napster helped expose artists to a wider audience and helped sell more units of music that a particular audience thought was good.

        Think of it this way, would a major media corporation produce a film where Sean Parker would deliver this message about how the music business exploits artists and how he viewed himself as Robin Hood? I think not. No media corporation would want to open that Pandora’s Box.

        Artists produce art, whether they are paid for it or not. The music industry just exploits musicians in a certain way due to that fact. Thanks to Napster and the internet, more artists see now that they can get their music out to an audience without the intermediary of a music label. Any independent artist will tell you that they make more money that way in the long run versus being involved with a label, unless you are a really huge artist that the label needs to financially succeed.

        So to call the advent of Napster – a generation’s disregard for the value of art is a very flawed argument. They still pay for the art, just in different ways and after trying before buying.

  2. Well written article..cery well written but do you think you could have made it a little longer? :)

    • Lol – I’ll give it a shot for next time ;)



      • I hope youre being sarcastic LOL!

        • I am ;)

  3. This is a very observant article and a good read. I have not seen the social network yet but I do plan to. To your opinion I would say that most of it is spot on. Our generation is plagued by entitlement largely because of the media (imo). I say this because most images in modern media suggest that “man” should be stylish, affluent and aggressive. Sports cars used to market fast food, prime time slots filled with shows about greed (lone star recently cancelled on fox) Murder (take your pick csi to criminal minds and middle class inadequacies (the office, community etc.).

    If we are to take responsibility for this more rewards should be given to those who achieve socially responsible greatness. There is no reason why intangible entities such as facebook and myspace should have more worth than green mountain energy. As long as the elite run the media and commerce we will continue to stray down this path. Intrinsic value sums social networking up for me. I feel as though you should have to have face to face conversations not along for the sake of quality interaction but also to develop empathy. Speaking from my own experiences most techies I know are social inadequate people who for one reason or another just don’t mix well with human beings. The lack of skills seem to bleed over to their real world where spells are casts to kill other wizards or you can make 500 million “friends” should we really take generation defining communication tips from these folks?

    I am for all claims a late 70′s baby. I played in outside and made my friends. I also have facebook and a myspace but not an obsession with either. It’s because of this I feel at times that I don’t belong with the majority of air breathers these days. I just can’t relate.

    My 2cents pardon any typos thanks if you bothered to read.

    • Thanks!

      I agree that our media and collective images have a lot to do with it. It becomes cyclical, because if we watch or buy into certain things then they will continue.

      I have a facebook account and think that it is really fun, but yeah, its so important to keep things in perspective. Some things seem to talk on a value that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the bigger picture. Thanks for your comments! Good to read.


  4. Very good read. And not only do I completely agree with your point about people having a misguided sense of entitlement in this day and age, I can relate to it.

    Years ago, some friends and I made a series of original animated shorts akin to Homestar Runner cartoons and shared them with our friends, family and anyone who wanted to watch. We weren’t looking for fame or fortune, it was all done off-the-cuff, in our spare time and for the purpose of flexing our creative and artistic muscles. It was fun.

    So when youtube was unleashed on the world we saw it as an opportunity to share our work with more people. So we threw them on the site, gained some fans and that was that. But then we began to notice other users were getting more views and more praise than us with videos we thought were extremely poor. We were bit by the jealousy bug. Why them and not us? Sure, we weren’t Pixar, but certainly what we were making was better than some guy crying into his webcam.

    What we eventually realized was we were still caught in our pre-youtube way of thinking. A few years ago it was a huge deal for someone to create original content online, but nowadays anyone and everyone can do it. It’s wrong to think success, true success, comes easy or is overnight. Exceptions happen, and they’ve happened before the internet, too. But it’s not guaranteed, and the chances of it happening to you are 1 in a billion. Best to enjoy what you have, not envy what you don’t.

    • Hey LL,

      Thanks, and yes I can relate to it as well. It feels like something that is so deeply ingrained that I must really be consciously aware of when it it coming up and why. And then try and see what is valid and what isn’t, it just sort of seems like it is everywhere in out culture to some degree. Thanks for your comments!


  5. Enough Facebook/The Social Network talk. Please. It seems like half the articles here are about that.

    • @Alex

      Well you don’t have to read them all, bud :-) .

      And BTW: We only had 4 Social Network articles for the ENTIRE MONTH of Sept(including our review). Considering it was the big marketing window for the movie, that’s limited coverage, to say the least. :-)

      • That’s it? Just four? It feels like 50. ;) Maybe because, living in Los Angeles, I hear about it EVERYWHERE and I’m just sick of it. Probably one of the reasons I don’t wanna watch it. If I see that “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies” poster one more time I’m gonna… gah! :)

        • Hey! you can’t say that stuff on ScreenFace…uh, FaceRant…um, well, maybe you have a point. Not particularly regarding this site’s coverage, but yeah, it’s been pretty overwhelming here in So. Cal, but ScreenRant always does a great job of reviewing and analyzing movie related “hot topics” so cut em some slack. Let’s you and I go out and put “why so serious?” stickers on those posters, yeah? ;)

          • Ahh, that eases my anger. I think I’ll watch The Dark Knight tonight and get my face paint ready. ;)
            And I agree on ScreenRant’s coverage. I love their reviews and up-to-date topics. It’s just this movie that strikes a thin cord with me. I don’t want to see Eisenberg’s face anymore nor hear how the rich Facebook people are getting richer.

            • Actually – that sentiment is a lot of what the article is about in a lot of ways.



              • Hmm, excellent point. I didn’t see it that way. Article now accepted. :)

                • Lol :D Well, thank you :D! Being accepted does feel good :D


          • I live here too and yeah, I sort of talk about how funny it is that the movie is taking something that should just be fun so seriously. But when you look at the dollars involved – it starts to seem kinda paradoxically serious. Thanks for your comments, I do know how ya feel – but I feel like that about most movie advertising here. It makes sense but one of the first things I noticed when I moved here was how many ads there were for movies — eeeevvverrrwhere. :)


  6. Roth youre so cool! You comment back i love that!!! 8-)

    • Why thank you :D!

      • No problem :D !

  7. Roth,
    Over all an excellent article with some salient points. Especially early on when you point out that this movie is about the myth of the creation of Facebook. But later you say :
    “It is impossible to say if any of the characterizations of the real-life people involved in the founding of Facebook are “real” or “true.””
    No it isn’t impossible to say. In fact there have been several stories on NPR on just that topic featuring persons who personally know that the real life Mark Zuckerberg and have said the character in the movie doesn’t even resemble him. That the story has been dramatized is no surprise in a Hollywood movie but it surprising how literal at least some people are taking it. It isn’t a documentary.
    That said, this was a very enjoyable read and you’ve almost convinced me to go see this movie. Beyond that you’ve covered some important issues that the movie highlights. Particularly money and our (this contry’s) weird sense of perspective when it comes to spending it. We often hear arguments about how we can’t afford it (universal health care, unemployment benefits, space exploration, alternative energy, environmental protection…) but we rarely hear the comparisons to the trivial things we do spend our money on as a very rich and privileged country. For example did you know that American women spent more money on makeup from 1960-1969 than NASA spend on the entire space program?
    As always, you are awesome, so keep writing and I’ll keep reading!

    • Hey Elizabeth!

      Thanks! Well I suppose it is impossible for ME to say, because I wasn’t there and I do not know those people. Anything I hear is second hand, be it from the people who know him who are speaking on NPR or from any other source. We are complex beings. If you were to ask three different people about my character, that knew me from three different areas of my life – you would get three very different responses. Everything is context and perspective.

      Also, there is a bit of a PR campaign to combat the film. I don’t know him so I can’t say…and even if I did – it would still just be my perspective. People are mysteries, even people we have known for years and intimately are still ultimately mysteries to us…Part of the nature of being human, in my experience anyway.

      And several times I say I am not talking about Zuckerberg the person, but the archetype as depicted in this film. And it is a really good film :)

      That is interesting about NASA and makeup :). Yeah, I think I was just more interested in how the movie relates to us a society and where we are right now in general. And less interested in who was “right: or “wrong” at the inception of FB. It’s actually pretty gray in the film and I don’t think he comes off as a bad guy. Just very young, and very brilliant, and very, very driven – which, I mean, it seems like he is…yes? But not a saint. Who is though?



  8. I enjoyed reading this article. The comparisons between “The Social Network” and “Less Than Zero” especially peaked my interest. Then again in regards to “The Big Chill.” How a generation truly is versus what they actually do.

    I’m 23 and I’ve had my own personal conversations about my sense of entitlement. I want what I want when I want it. I felt like I had to be somebody by the age of 23. Why aren’t my goals for my life just falling into my lap? Everything I want I should get. It’s a hard cycle to break.

    I really enjoyed this article. Its nice to know that other people are seeing this happen and are recognizing entitlement as a flaw. Although it could be a flaw with potential if people started thinking that instead of being entitled to free media they are entitled to clean air and renewable resources.

    • Thank you Jessie! I can really relate to how you feel, because I have the same questions and feelings and find myself needing to sort of “talk myself down”, and it is a really hard cycle to break. I think it’s pretty amazing that you are so self-aware and I really commend you. I was telling a friend tonight about how cool these comments have been. I absolutely loved reading your comments, I found them really inspiring and honest – so thank you.

      All The Best!


  9. Interesting how noone sees fit to mention the racist miscasting in thei movie of Divya Narendra and yet Shyamalan was virtually lynched over it? Hmm, makes you think doesn’t it? I wonder how many more examples of this will continue to come up. Maybe Sacha Baron Cohen as Freddie Mercury (who was Parsi Indian). Or Vincent Gallo as an Afghan. They just keep coming don’t they?

    Why Shyamalan and not these guys? Stinks a little – of what I’m not sure…

    • Hi,

      Well, a couple of things – I can tell that this is something that bothers you in a general way, because you mentioned a couple of examples. That makes sense and I can understand that and I mean this legitimately when I say – if you see a lack of coverage – you should write something. I mean that seriously, and then you can get it out there for a discussion.

      For me, I was already taking on a complex and lengthy discussion, that part of the filmmaking would have just felt out of place in the flow of my piece – it just wasn’t what I was talking about.

      I really wasn’t really talking about the merits of the film – though I do think it is a good one.

      Some people are talking about how women were portrayed in the film, that could be a whole article on its own.

      I think perhaps one reason you are not seeing MUCH coverage on what you are talking about is because he was such a relatively minor role in the film. That might work better in a larger piece with some of the other examples you were talking about.

      With M. Knight – I think the reason it got so much coverage is because A) They were the leads in the film and B) It was such a glaring divergence from the source material. I mean it was an entire village of Inuits and three random (very) Caucasian people, who happened to be the stars of the film. It was a really obvious choice. Though I personally did not write about it – I did notice it when saw the film. Also that film was getting a lot of criticism in general and perhaps a floodgate was opened to more.

      In any case, I really do encourage you to write something about it if you see a disturbing trend.

      Many Thanks!


  10. Well this seems insulting.

    • Hey,

      Not sure I understand what you mean – insulting to who?



      • Sorry didn’t mean to be rude. Just the idea that this is a reflection of my generation is sad to me. It’s a little heart breaking that this is how my generation is viewed. Especially since pretty much all the people in this film are pretty much low lifes.

    • Daniel, what are you talking about?