Social Network: Celebrating the New Digitized, Democratized American Dream

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I’ve seen The Social Network, and I think it’s the real deal: A near-flawless, groundbreaking, intoxicating vision of the time span during which a whole new world order defined itself. And I’ve found myself a little perplexed by all the critiques out there that have called into question the shallowness or flimsiness of the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg character. That’s the issue that initially inspired me to sit down and pen this little rant about one of the most fascinating entrepreneurs I’ve ever seen in a film; there is some plot summary and detailed analysis below, but for a thorough review, you will have to look to other reviews, like this one.

David Fincher clearly loves a challenge.

After the uber-brutal Fight Club, the claustrophobic one-set Panic Room, the anti-aging (and seriously underappreciated) Curious Case of Benjamin Button, now here comes The Social Network. No, not the “Facebook Movie,” as so many have said, but a film about the dawn of a new era, about the great tectonic shift of the communication/economic paradigm and the Mad Hatter who grabbed his surf board and suddenly found himself riding one of the biggest societal waves the world has ever seen. For most moviegoers, the film’s appeal is going to be the behind-the-scenes look at the inventor (or is it inventors) of Facebook; but for others, like me, the movie will register less as a tech movie than a business profile and societal case study. Strip away the web site, and The Social Network is a pulsating immersion in the moment when the business world suddenly changed course and a select few recognized the correction as it was taking place beneath their feet – an up-close view of how the old value systems of success, class status, technology, communication and entrepreneur spirit came crashing down almost overnight. (More on Techland: Facebook and Skype Are Beginning a Beautiful Friendship)

Given the way Fincher approaches the tale, I’m almost certain his interest in the subject matter stems from the enigmatic, at times confounding Mark Zuckerberg – surely the least likely zero-to-Zeus movie hero imaginable. He’s not charismatic or ominous, not suave or explosive; he’s a nerdy dude who exudes misanthropy, who can’t get a girlfriend and feels more at home writing code than partying with his peers. Plenty of ink has been spilt in recent days debating the motivations and intentions behind Zuckerman, questioning whether this renegade brings enough to the table to fuel an entire motion picture. Why does he do anything that he does, the critics ask. And I would venture to say: Because he can. Because this outcast introvert is sick of looking at a system that denies him entry, and decides to create an entirely new system instead. In the first scene of the movie, Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg as a furtive, rapid-fire genius with an ever-present scowl) is on a date, obsessing over getting accepted into one of Harvard’s esteemed societies, aware it could make the difference to his future career trajectory. But as his roommate (a sincere and satisfying Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-Man) is slowly embraced and indoctrinated into Harvard’s secret back halls, Zuckerberg is all but ignored. Then he stops caring. Shifting his energies away from the Harvard establishment, Zuckerberg instead loses himself in 20-hour computer coding shifts, setting out to create something all his own – the coolest party on campus, hosted by the outcast, open to everybody.

Late one weekend night, while the elite societies party, Zuckerberg launches a shoddy web game in which the nerds and nobodies back in their dorm rooms can openly mock their campus celebrities. Harvard’s network crashes. The balance of power shifts.

There’s some evidence (in the film at least) that Zuckerberg creates this first misogynistic viral web campaign to exact revenge against the girl who dumped him. But gradually that exercise spawns “The Facebook,” an online network that takes shape as something far more ambitious. He sees, in the drunken hazy hours of a single night, the power that something viral can have – the way users/customers themselves can spread the word, and bring him all the most important eyeballs on campus.

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