'The Social Network' reveals Facebook's dark beginnings

By Tatiana Craine

Nothing more aptly reflects the age we live in than, “Private behavior is a relic of a time gone by,” so astutely intimated in the latest masterpiece from director David Fincher, “The Social Network.” Already hailed as a tour de force, the film has garnered attention as the most talked about, most Tweeted, most blogged, most Facebook status updated film of the season. And understandably so since the film, popularly known across campuses and websites alike as “The Facebook Movie,” revolves entirely around one of the most revolutionary social phenomena of the decade. Over a relatively short period of time, the term social networking has evolved from a word describing preteen shenanigans on MySpace to a concept with which people have built entire careers. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job growth for public relations specialists (now just a fancy way to say “social networking gurus”) will hit a monumental 24% by 2018-quite converse to journalism’s fated moderate decline. Social media encompasses a huge span of avenues not limited to blogs, dating sites, sharing communities and, of course, autobiographic profile websites. As of late, it’s expanded tenfold since the advent of the smart phone and the ability (desire? need? compulsion?) to broadcast information about yourself with the touch of a button from your mobile device with a text, Tweet or status update. Obviously this information isn’t new, but sometimes it’s difficult to remember that what’s-his-face-from-kindergarten didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing the photos from your wild night at Senor Frog’s with technology as it was just fifteen years ago.

The first thing you need to know about The Facebook movie is that the trailer for “The Social Network” doesn’t do the film much justice. If you’ve seen a movie recently, it’s likely you’ve seen the preview featuring an inauspicious cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” by Scala and Kolacny Brothers cooing against a background of “Like” buttons and profile pictures teamed with the most melodramatic scenes from the film. None of it made a whole lot of sense to me, but as a regular Facebook user, I thought it was intriguing as hell.

Old timers will tell you that great masterpieces stem from heartbreak, and there the film begins-with a breakup in a bar. Within five minutes, it’s established that Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is an excessively pretentious asshole with no social skills whatsoever. His girlfriend splits up with him with plenty of reasons in her back pocket-not the least of which is the air of his Harvard superiority in comparison to her Boston University education. And there Mark sits alone.

Mark then does what any slighted boy would do-he gets drunk. But he veers off the beaten breakup path when he starts viciously blogging about the girl and then decides to make a website called FaceMash that allows students to compare the ladies at Harvard against one another. The endeavor serves as an obvious indication that Mark is destined for great things if he can create a site that crashes the university’s network in a few hours with massive site traffic.

From then, it’s just a matter of time until the school’s administration traces the incident back to Mark and reprimands him. Afterwards, he becomes somewhat of an underground go-to guy for idea pitches about websites, and several of Mark’s peers contact him about helping them start a website that would connect all of Harvard in one consolidated database.

“The Social Network,” like Facebook’s popularity, rocket launches and speeds along at a dizzying pace. As Mark is supposed to help other students create the Harvard site, he launches Facebook with his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). They realize the draw of what was then called “The Facebook,” is its exclusivity, and thus they make it available only to Harvard students. Soon, they branch out to the other Ivy League schools and eventually to Stanford University in efforts to get the attention of one Sean Parker, founder of the notorious music downloading site Napster.

Needless to say, Facebook becomes an overnight hit, and suddenly Mark and Eduardo have a booming business on their hands. With help from Sean, they decide to relocate from Massachusetts to Palo Alto. Soon a rift forms between Mark and Eduardo over their popularity at Harvard, financial decisions concerning Facebook and the new Napster addition to their team. Sean poses a threat to Eduardo’s straight-laced businessman persona and a glorious example to Mark of what he could one day aspire to. Before long, everyone wants a bit of the Facebook pie, and Mark faces lawsuits left and right.

Eisenberg subtly metamorphoses Zuckerberg from an asshole antihero into a tragic hero by the end of the film, turning in a calculating performance with heart hidden beneath a stonyfaced exterior.

The filmic bildungsroman shows the hazy maturation of a standoffish college kid who suddenly finds billions of dollars resting in his hands and a troupe of angry colleagues at his throat. It’s not a situation many of us find ourselves in; and really, none of us quite know the feeling since Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire on the planet. However, the story is certainly a relatable one-especially with the generations that hit puberty at or after 2000. When pop artist and icon Andy Warhol famously quipped “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes,” I doubt he truly understood the way that message would resonate with the hordes raised by the internet. These days, everything is a competition for notoriety and public esteem. What’s the point of a status update or a Tweet? To let people you know (and often complete strangers) see your thoughts, whereabouts or totallyawesomecool personal exploits. Belonging to any sort of music, art, film, journal, video or photo sharing communities requires members to have a cooler-than-thou mentality whenever they post their latest work in efforts to get noticed, get comments, get famous and get rich.

Maybe this is all about the age-old fear of being forgotten by posterity. It’s why people have kids and pass on their name, stories and whatever else they can. These days, society’s rampant athazagoraphobia (you guessed it, fear of being forgotten) appears akin to the infantile desire for parental attention during childhood, and billions of people have spent countless hours securing their place in the history books by posting their lives, hearts and souls on the internet.

My major point of contention about the film was that “The Social Network” is essentially a boys club of a movie, with only a few female characters in the supporting roles. Rooney Mara plays the small, but extremely pivotal, role as the girl that dumps Mark. Brenda Song brings the crazy to Eduardo’s steadily growing psychotic girlfriend. Rashida Jones, of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” acts as the impartial voice of reason through Marilyn Delpy, one of Mark’s lawyers. And there you have all the film’s memorable women. Sure, “The Social Network” isn’t a study in gender politics and equality and in the end, it’s still about a boy pining after a girl. However, women hang around on the periphery of this great expedition into unchartered territory-unless, that is, they sleep with Sean Parker or their peers on Harvard’s peer-to-peer network judge their hotness.

The film is based loosely off of “The Accidental Billionaires,” a nonfiction novel by Ben Mezrich. First, a nonfiction novel sounds like an oxymoron. Second, Mezrich consulted only Saverin during the writing process. Not only does that cast a biased light on the book, but all the characters depicted in the film had no part in the movie’s production. Zuckerberg has publicly expressed his displeasure concerning “The Social Network,” and the other parties involved in the Facebook lawsuits didn’t have a say in the writing or filming process. But truth be told, the film was remarkable enough that I thought, “So what if the fi
lm’s legitimacy is compromised?” This isn’t the first time biographies have been told with a sprinkle of pot-stirring dramatization without the subjects’ consent, and it won’t be the last. What’s at stake is a good story, and “The Social Network” delivers several good stories whether they’re founded in truth or not. The film doesn’t pretend to be a documentary and shouldn’t be viewed like one. In an article from The New Yorker, Zuckerberg mentioned his interest in classical stories, and the film congruously presents a digital age tragicomic odyssey in which heroes are built up and torn down in a sensational fashion.

Despite the film’s faults and scandals surrounding the release, “The Social Network” paints a vivid and riveting portrait of young and ambitious individuals dealing with matters far beyond the realm of normal.