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Will You Friend Me? “The Social Network”

by Borderstan.com October 20, 2010 at 12:15 am 0

Mary Burgan Borderstan Movie Fan

Mary Burgan is the Borderstan Movie Fan.

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan’s column on movies runs every two weeks. Mary Burgan is a retired professor of English and association executive. Her previous reviews are listed at the end of this post.

I am a latecomer to Facebook. I joined three years ago when my son told me that being on Facebook was the main way to get to see pictures of my grandchildren. I have now been friended by 47 people, and six are waiting, partly because I don’t know who they are.

I am not friends with two of my teenage grandchildren, for they informed me with subtle charm, that “Grandma, I reserved Facebook for my friends from school. You can e-mail me, and I’ll answer right back.” I wrote back that “I understand.” But I still worried about what they were sharing with all the world except me on their Walls.

Having seen The Social Network I’m still worried, for the story of the invention of Facebook is so full of sex, lies, and You Tube, that I fear for my grandchildren’s reputations and/or sanity.

I do recommend The Social Network, as a fascinating movie, though I doubt that those who are not on Facebook will get the thrill of recognition that comes when the film reveals the origin, say, of the category on the subscriber’s “Wall” that tells whether you are single and what your romantic preferences are. In addition, the film has very clever dialogue and a fantastic piece of acting by Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, the putative inventor of Facebook.

Since Zukerberg was sued by two sets of college friends who were there at the beginning, the film’s narrative consists of testimony that keeps the audience in suspense The adroit editing switches back and forth in time between the legal discovery processes, the events, and the settlement of the various claims from Zuckerberg’s Harvard contemporaries who claimed to have been central in the amazing startup of Facebook.

Of course, no film could make the kind of excitement that flows through The Social Network if it were all algorithms and conversation about programming. For the sake of narrative drama, the film has to pump up conflict, and it does that by assigning to Zuckerberg feelings of otherness because he is both a nerd and a Jew at Harvard.

His main Harvard nemeses are depicted as a blond and entitled pair of WASP twins who befriend him only because of his programming talent. A fair amount of the film is spent crowing about their defeat at rowing in England. There are some easy laughs at the Winklevoss twins, but the more I thought about it, the more they seemed like straw men to me.

And so I did what any viewer of a drama based on “fact” is apt to do, I Googled the movie and its background to judge what was true and what was drama. And that is the problem with movies like The Social Network, which purport to tell the truth about contemporary history — or any kind of history, for that matter. The viewer who begins to think about it eventually goes to Wikipedia, or even to the library, to find out what really happened.

And so it turns out that the Winklevoss brothers were not really blond Aryan types as depicted in the movie, but two guys with dark hair who were serious students and, yes, rowers. And they didn’t stage their first meeting with Zuckerberg in the anteroom of their exclusive club, but in their dorm’s dining hall.

The other part of The Social Network that seemed especially “unrealistic” to me was its depiction of Harvard and Stanford University coeds as, on the whole, party girls always looking for eligible dates and parties with drugs and alcohol. I’ve been university teacher, and I just don’t think that stereotype holds, especially in the last decade when young college women have been just as driven, and just as smart (even in computer science) as aspiring young men.

There are very few friends in the story of The Social Network, and indeed despite its many laughs, it ends up as a tale of many betrayals. Are they true to life or false? This sophisticated film ends up leaving this an open question. For in a movie that is supposed to represent reality everyone wants to compare its details to the “facts.”

As if to illustrate this point, President Obama’s economic advisor Larry Summers, depicted in a small role in the film from when he was Harvard’s president, attended the movie this weekend in D.C., and The Washington Post reported that he commented afterwards about the actor who portrayed him, he “didn’t look anything like me.”

Other Reviews by The Borderstan Movie Fan

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