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Links and comment from Scott Rosenberg
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OCTOBER 4, 2010 2:03PM

Hey Zuck! Hollywood just hacked your profile

Rate: 11 Flag

You know those Facebook phishing hacks — the ones where someone gets control of your account and sends phony messages to your friends? “I’m stuck in London! Send money quick!”

I kept thinking of that phenomenon as I watched The Social Network this weekend. Because what filmmakers Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher have done to their protagonist, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, is the moral equivalent of this sort of identity theft.

They have appropriated Zuckerberg’s life story and, under the banner of fidelity to “storytelling” rather than simple documentary accuracy, twisted it into something mirroring their own obsessions rather than the truth. They transform Mark Zuckerberg’s biography from the messy tale of a dorm-room startup’s phenomenal success into a dark vision of a lonely geek’s descent into treachery.

The Social Network takes the labyrinthine and unique origins of Facebook at Harvard and turns them into a routine finger-wagger about how the road to the top is paved with bodies. Sorkin apparently isn’t interested in what makes his programmer-entrepreneur antihero tick, so he drops in cliches about class resentment and nerd estrangement.

In order to make it big, Sorkin’s Zuckerberg has to betray his business-partner friend (Eduardo Saverin). Why is he hungry for success? Sorkin has him wounded by two primal rejections — one by a girlfriend, the other by Harvard’s old-money “final clubs.” The programming whiz-kid doesn’t know how to navigate the real-world “social network” — get it? — so he plots his revenge.

Many thoughtful pieces have already discussed the movie, and I don’t want to rehash them. I agree more with my friend David Edelstein’s take on the film’s cold triviality than with the enthusiastic raves from other quarters. Go read Lawrence Lessig and Jeff Jarvis for definitive critiques of the film’s failure to take even the most cursory measure of the real-world phenomenon it’s ostensibly about. Here’s Lessig: “This is like a film about the atomic bomb which never even introduces the idea that an explosion produced through atomic fission is importantly different from an explosion produced by dynamite.” Over in Slate, Zuckerberg’s classmate Nathan Heller outlines how far off the mark Sorkin wanders in his portrait of the Harvard social milieu. (Obsessive, brainy Jewish kids had stopped caring about whether they were excluded from Harvard’s almost comically uncool final clubs long before my own time there, and that was quite a long time ago by now.)

It’s Hollywood that remains clubby and status-conscious, far more dependent on a closed social network to get its work done than any Web company today. The movie diagrams the familiar and routine dynamic of a startup business, where founders’ stakes get diluted as money pours in to grow the company, as some sort of moral crime. (That may explain why — as David Carr lays it out — startup-friendly youngsters watch the film and don’t see the problem with Zuckerberg’s behavior, while their elders tut-tut.) Again, this is a Hollywood native’s critique of Silicon Valley; movie finance works in a more static way.

It’s strange to say this, since I am not a fan of Facebook itself — I prefer a more open Web ecology — but The Social Network made me feel sorry for the real Zuckerberg, notwithstanding the billionaire thing. He’s still a young guy with most of his life ahead of him, yet a version of his own life story that has plainly been shaped by the recollections of people who sued him is now being imprinted on the public imagination.

At least Orson Welles had the courtesy to rename William Randolph Hearst as “Charles Foster Kane.” This isn’t a legal issue (John Schwartz details why in today’s Times). But, for a movie that sets itself up as a graduate course in business ethics, it is most certainly a giant lapse of fairness.

In New York, Mark Harris described the film as “a well-aimed spitball thrown at new media by old media,” but I think it’s more than that — it’s a big lunging swat of the old-media dinosaur tail. The Web, of which Facebook is the latest popular manifestation, has begun to move us from a world in which you must rely on reporters and screenwriters and broadcasters to tell your story to one where you get to present your story yourself. (And everybody else gets to tell their own stories, and yours too, but on a reasonably equal footing.) The Social Network says to Zuckerberg, and by proxy, the rest of us who are exploring the new-media landscape: “Foolish little Net people, you only think you’re in control. We will define you forever — and you will have no say!”

In other words, The Social Network embodies the workings of the waning old order it is so thoroughly invested in. It can’t be bothered with aiming to tell the truth about Zuckerberg — yet it uses his real name and goes out of its way to affect documentary trappings, down to the concluding “where are they now?” text crawl.

The movie’s demolition job on the reputation of a living human being is far more ruthless than any prank Zuckerberg ever plotted from his dorm room. For what purpose? When a moviemaker says he owes his allegiance to “storytelling,” usually what he means is, he’s trying to sell the most tickets. I guess that to get where they wanted to go, Sorkin and Fincher just had to step on a few necks themselves.

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Now if only we could get Hollywood to make a film about the douche over at NBC who forced out Conan. Oh, that's right, he's getting forced out, too.


If Hollywood somehow had an indigenous name, one of those that is a descriptive, like Little Hills or Beijing, it would be Status Conscious.

A better, and possibly more accurate, certainly more fun, plot, would be the Young Zuck plotting his rise to the top via role model Bill G, the first cutthroat Ivy League software mogul ... what more ruthless example is there? I suspect this is what happened.

Great Critique
It's reads like this that always make me glad I kept my sawbuck in my pocket and thankful that I have the patience to wait it out for On Demand or DVD release. Thanks Scott!
it may well be, but you dont really show why the portrayal is totally inaccurate, only assert that is the case. seems like thats a job for someone who's read the book its based on, "accidental billionaires" ... which presumably you have not.
I didn't see it as quite so negative about Zuckerberg as you do Scott. To me he seemed obsessive in trying to develop the program and his obsessiveness accounts in large part for his treatment of others. What some interpretations treat as bad behavior is as much obliviousness as anything else. And knowing that it's "based on a true story" means that I took everything with a grain of salt.We'll see soon enough if Zuckerberg is viewed as negatively as you perhaps think. I don't think that will happen. Good on you in any case for sticking up for him.
Rated as an excellent review. Zuck's success was sure to incite envy. Usually this manifests itself among underachievers who resent persons and organization that attain excellence in the free market. It's disappointing that the producers of the film are falling in with that lot.
Hey, Rose! You just committed what they call in literary theory circles "the intentional falacy."

You wrote: "[Fincher and Sorkin] have appropriated Zuckerberg’s life story and, under the banner of fidelity to “storytelling” rather than simple documentary accuracy, twisted it into something mirroring their own obsessions rather than the truth. " You're making an assertion about two dudes' motivations - about which you've not the foggiest bit of actual information to back up.

How do you know that they're obsessed with whatever it is you presume they are obsessed with? If that's the case, the same could well be said of what you are doing in making that assertion.

David Fincher is one of the most - if not becoming THE most - important American filmmakers ever and Aaron Sorkin, too, is a national treasure. Your limp assessment of how they do business - and about which things they supposedly obsess - is perhaps a bit more telling about your own issues than any that you allege them to have.
The more I read about this movie, the less I want to see it. You see, I don't care about Facebook. Sure, I use it, but I don't care about any of the people involved. I don't care about Internet geeks that became billionaires. As rich as they've become, they're still not interesting to me, and no amount of money that they snort off of the bodies of naked co-eds is going to make me interested in them. But for some reason, Hollywood wants me to be interested. THEY want me to be interested. But I'm not.

Yet, it keeps getting thrown in my face. Sure, I could avoid it, a lot like I could avoid other cars on the road if I didn't mind getting into car crashes every ten seconds, but that's really not much of an option, is it?

So, all I can do is ignore their movie and give absolutely no money to them whatsoever. It's the least I can do.
Put simply, Zuckerberg is an ass. And his recent attempts to redress his own image are less than credible. You know, I wasn't an ass at nineteen years old, and I'm not an ass now. (Outspoken and blunt, but not an ass.) Zuckerberg was an ass at nineteen, and I have trouble believing he's anything more at this point that the same ass trying to salvage him image now that he's famous and rich.

*Please* go read some of the (multitudinous) Zuckerberg criticism on the web before you give him such an easy pass. Forget the movie - movies are *rarely* a fair or accurate representation of anything, let alone this. But regardless, once you become acquainted with a wider sampling of what Zuckerberg has both said and done, you'll have no sympathy for the fucker, I'll wager.

And OH. MY. GOD. - the idiot is DEFINITELY NOT a "programming whiz-kid". Believe him less of an ass if you'd like, but *please* don't believe him a whiz-kid of any sort, especially a programming one. The sophistication of the Facebook you see today was built long after Zuckerberg took his incompetent little fingers off the keyboard...
The film is brilliant. The writing is genius. It looked fantastic. Fincher painted a moving dynamic story, the actors blew it off the screen. What else is there to say. Yes, it's Gatsby in a hoodie. And yes, it's the voice of it's generation. 'nuff said.