We recently watched The Social Network. I thought it was interesting and well-done but also unsettling and somewhat troubling. As a piece of art, it’s well-crafted. The acting is superb.
I’m not on Facebook myself. To me, Facebook has a lot of the cons of blogging (creates a community that feels real but that isn’t necessarily, by nature is narcissistic, and has the potential to be somewhat addictive and a huge time-suck) without the pros (allows for more introspection, when done well requires a certain level of skill , has more potential to be about something else rather than just self). Without going into a whole “not that there’s anything wrong with that” disclaimer I will say that H. is on Facebook and does it well. He’s had fun with it but he doesn’t really use it much. So maybe my choice not to be on Facebook has more to do with my knowledge of my own shortcomings rather than real issues with Facebook. The bottom line for me may really be that I’m just not of the Facebook generation, a point that was made clear to me in watching this movie.
I think the thing I found most disturbing about the movie was not the storyline but the movie itself. The movie is a fictionalized tale of the events surrounding the founding of Facebook interposed with the story of two lawsuits that were filed against the founder Mark Zuckerburg related to those events. It alternates with scenes from depositions for those lawsuits and flashbacks to when Zuckerburg was in college and came up with the idea for Facebook.
Alan Sorkin, the screenwriter, has been very open that his accounts is fiction and not fact. This disturbed me in the same way that the book The Commoner disturbed me. It’s one thing to write historical fiction about someone who is dead; it’s another thing to write it about someone who is still living. It’s still another to write a fictionalized account of real events that is made into a very popular and critically acclaimed movie that paints a real person in a very unflattering light, particularly when that person is only 27 years old.
It’s partially that I feel sorry for Zuckerburg. Maybe he’s as much of a jerk as the movie makes him out to be, maybe not. Maybe being the youngest billionaire in the world, he doesn’t really care what the movie said about him. Maybe he’s deeply troubled by it. But no matter what, Zuckerburg is only 27. At the end of the movie I was left with the feeling that he ending hasn’t happened yet. There is no chance for redemption or even reflection. Only the chance for a soundbite of a story.
Sorkin has been quoted as saying, “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.” and “What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?” Sorkin didn’t just change things to make the story better but he seems to have purposely blinded himself to finding out any kind of truth.
He contacted Zuckerburg before making the movie but Zuckerburg and Facebook refused to cooperate. Sorkin’s comment on that was,“I completely understand…And more than understand it, I’ll be honest—I’m grateful. We wanted to be able to say we tried really hard, and we did. But we did not want Mark participating, because we did not want to give the sense that this was a Facebook-endorsed movie, a puff piece of some kind.” And even more interestingly, “I feel like, had I met Mark, I would have felt a certain obligation to make the character sound like Mark, walk like Mark, all of those things. And frankly, I probably would have had an affection for him that I wouldn’t have wanted to betray.”
I find these quotes full of irony as it seems to be exactly what Facebook is all about. Anyone can create whatever version of their life they want online. You can be whoever you want. Even more ironically, in an interview with New York magazine, Sorkin goes off on a semi-rant about how much he hates the Internet because it spreads mis-information. Specifically, he mentions the birthers who believe that Barack Obama is not a US citizen. So it’s ok to make up stuff about Mark Zuckerburg but not about Obama? Ok if it’s “art”? Ok if you are Aaron Sorkin?
Why let the true be the enemy of the good? I’d argue that the truth is never the enemy of the good. The Social Network is a good movie but it would be even better if it could have been a great movie and a truthful one.
If you are interested in reading more about the making of The Social Network and Aaron Sorkin, I’d recommend the article, Inventing Facebook by Mark Harris from the Sept 17, 2010 New York Magazine.