‘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 Network movie1 The Social Network Reflects A Generation, If Not Defines It

The irony is that a site that’s entire purpose is the development and maintenance of relationships was founded by those with such profoundly limited relationship skills. Zuckerberg was not necessarily wrong to move forward with his project sans what he considered “dead weight,” but there were a multitude of ways he could have handled the development of Facebook that may have avoided two costly lawsuits – and most certainly would have saved his relationship with the man he had once considered his best friend (Saverin).

Along with a sense of entitlement, the film depicts a longing for a sense of excellence, as defined by external accolades and markers of “success.”  The opening of the film depicts a Zuckerberg more focused on entry into an exclusive club than the actual relationship at hand. Of course, that tendency to focus on “proving himself” to some unseen audience plays throughout the film. The desire to impress is inherent in the structure of Facebook. How many of us know someone, or one’s, who somehow feel that the number of “friends” they have on Facebook is an acceptable barometer of their worth and value?

Facebook Friends List The Social Network Reflects A Generation, If Not Defines It

The film not-so-subtly points out the irony that the character of Mark Zuckerberg has 500 million virtual friends, but the man himself has few to none in reality. I say “character” because there is no way to know the status of the actual Mark Zuckerberg’s relationships. 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.” Most likely there is a bit of truth and a lot of conjecture. In any event, Zuckerberg acts as an archetype in the film in many ways – an archetype who highlights a general tendency to focus on the superficial rather than the substantive; a tenancy reflected in the focus on what we believe should be an achievable lifestyle, rather than what is real for us at the time.


For many, our basic life needs being met is no longer good enough. Some people dream of extravagance, some of being famous for fame’s sake, other dream of Harvard-style clubs because “they’re exclusive, and fun, and lead to a better life.”

The angst of the song “Creep” in the trailer represents this notion perfectly, lamenting: “I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul.” The song is saying those words with irony, but for a couple of generations, the assumption has been that some outrageous idea of what is essentially impossible (like having both a perfect body and soul) is not only possible, but to be expected.


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

In many ways, we are in a maturation process as a nation, mired in a time when we must look at our desires and see what is realistically achievable as goals within those desires. We must redefine and solidify our values. In some ways, The Social Network tells the story of a time just before we were collectively forced to confront our dangerously irresponsible relationship with money, and in a sense represents a corrupted and out of touch value system. Not in the blatant way that Wall Street 2 does, but rather in the film’s thematic undertones, character depictions, and in the almost comical nature of the source material.

Because Facebook is a really strange service when you think about it: it doesn’t really fill a need, just a very recent social desire. It speaks to the idea presented in the film of “inventing a job” rather than finding one – a silly notion, perhaps, but millions of investment dollars later, that notion starts to seem as serious as a heart attack. More money was invested in Facebook and MySpace than was discussed as an appropriate investment in alternative energy companies in Wall Street 2. It’s true that this is fiction vs. reality, but the frightening part is that the reality is far more bizarre. Over a span of five years, well over a billion dollars was invested in 2 websites where friends can post pictures of their Saturday night vs. what was a huge venture capital investment of 1.9 billion invested in 180 different clean energy companies in 2010.

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

Clearly that is a grossly oversimplified snapshot. Still, it is somewhat safe to say that social networking is cleaning up. Green technology has not yet necessarily shown a large return on investment, then again, neither have most Internet ventures. The question is, where is our focus as a culture? What is it that we value and why? Short term pleasure infusion, or long term, sustainable results. In business, something has value if we collectively agree that it does. Do we care about other people, or do we care what other people think of us?

One “real” point that Wall Street 2 brought up is how few Americans are actually making anything at their job – creating products, inventing and engineering, what have you. We have an economy based on ephemeral “goods and services.” We have seen a total collapse of our ability to compete in industries where we were once the global leaders. Things are so rapidly changing and so often perplexing; one cannot tell if we are witnessing the digital version of the industrial revolution or (if you’ll forgive the foray into hyperbole) the total collapse of life as we imagined we knew it. If we are in a revolution, then it needs to be tempered with reason, and more than just the Harvard kids need to get up to speed and onboard.

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

In terms of Facebook, what was once a desire is now felt as a “need,” and it does not seem like the website or the company is going anywhere…at least for the moment. Whether Facebook is around for another ten months, or the next ten years, the success of Facebook and the lives depicted in The Social Network are, again, the exception; the fantasy that many imagine as a likely reality. Whereas, conversely, the attitudes, values and characteristics of the people depicted in the film are in many ways, the rule.

The Social Network may not be a generation-defining film, but it certainly does accurately reflect several defining aspects of our generation.

Be sure to read our review of The Social Network and we encourage you to leave a comment below.

Sources: The New York Times and Princeton University Press

Follow me on twitter @jrothc and Screen Rant @screenrant

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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.

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



      • I hope youre being sarcastic LOL!

        • I am 😉

  2. 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.


  3. 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!


  4. 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 😀 Well, thank you :D! Being accepted does feel good 😀


          • 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. :)


  5. Roth youre so cool! You comment back i love that!!! 😎

    • Why thank you :D!

      • No problem 😀 !

  6. 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?



  7. 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!


  8. 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!


  9. 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?