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.
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.
THE CHARACTER OF A GENERATION
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.
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.
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.