04 February 2011
Vive La Meritocracy!
We've all seen them, growing up, in college, around town. They've been blessed with everything: personality, physique, and most vital to the equation, rich wealthy parents. They win all the races, they get all the girls. The hottest girl of them all, Lady Luck, is always on their side. Individually, they are the embodiment of Shakespeare's Man of All Hues. And then comes along an unassuming computer nerd, a son of a Jewish dentist, from Dobbs Ferry, New York. A scrawny kid with kinky hair, he's a bit of an asshole. He also happens to be a once-in-a-century super-genius. The nerd invents Facebook. And for the first time in his life, Hue, or in the case of David Fincher's The Social Network, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, comes in second, a very very distant second. This is not the way it's supposed to happen.
The Social Network is not -- as so many will have you believe -- about the lawsuits, the partying, the girls, the envy, the backstabbing, the money, all of which are indeed part of the Facebook foundation myth. No, those are just the MacGuffins, the narrative tools employed by highly-skilled writer Aaron Sorkin to hook his audience. This is about our wonderful, all-equalizing, supreme meritocracy. This is about how a computer-geek with slight anti-social tendencies revolutionized interpersonal relationships in the 21st century. The underdog not only won, he pulverized those standing in his way with such ferocity that their only recourse was to litigate, and as Mark Zuckerberg (played with menacing authority by Jesse Eisenberg) sneers to his attorney, "They aren't suing me for intellectual property theft. They're suing me because for the first time in their lives, things didn't go exactly the way they were supposed to for them." Even Daddy's millions can't get their pleas to not fall on deaf ears when they go whining to the Harvard President.
It's a credit to Fincher, director of other such explorations of masculinity as Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac, for keeping the tension maddeningly taut throughout the film even though almost everyone already knows the story. There was a massive piece on Zuckberberg in the New Yorker which outlines the entire story, and with greater detail. We all know how this tale ends, or rather, where it stands today, and yet we're still kept on the edge of our seats. Frequent Fincher collaborator, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, along with seasoned English music producer Atticus Ross, ratchet up the immediacy of the action with a score that can only be described as militantly ambient. The aggression in the music and direction mirror the intellectual and creative aggression onscreen. Zuckerberg is a wunderkind tour-de-force. He's not just the smartest kid in the room, he's the smartest guy in any room, even all the elite rooms in Harvard.
The reviews and commentary surrounding The Social Network focus on how unflattering and unseemly Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is depicted. This is simply a ruse to stir up controversy. The portrayal is honest and unrelenting. People are rarely kind and loving and fair and nurturing, especially when those same people are inventing billion dollar enterprises. Is he insecure? Sure, but since when is insecurity a character flaw? If anything, insecurity is pitiable. Did he box out possible early cohorts? Of course, but since when is an abstract formative idea patentable?
Come to think of it, with the exception of Zuckerberg's condescension to his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) in the opening scene, and the marginalization of his best friend, and initial financier (Andrew Garfield), when Facebook begins to legitimately explode, there is little that points to Zuckerberg being anything other than the guy who is 100 times smarter and talented than everyone else around him, with an uncanny ability to continually innovate and drive his creative vision to new heights.
Success stories like Mark Zuckerberg, and many others, show that in the face of true genius, the entitled class will cling to their last, and only, vestige of retribution, they'll sue.