Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network
We've had a Netflicks DVD of The Social Network hanging around the house for months. My wife watched it ages ago, by herself, but because I'm so dependent, I've been pressing her to watch it again, with me. Last night I almost got her to do it, till she frowned and said she found the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg "anti-Semitic." Well then I was bound and determined to see the movie. I took it over to a friend's house, and watched it there.
My wife is on to something. The portrait of Zuckerberg in the movie is repulsive, and it ends up being generic, a portrait of the new striving American Jewish meritocratic billionaire. Given that this portrait was brought to us by a production team that included Jews-- writer Aaron Sorkin and mega-producer Scott Rudin among others--I relate it to my own disaffection with the new Jewish establishment. Watching the film, I remembered that I'm not the only one who goes around counting my people in the news, and not the only one ashamed of what the winners look like. Am I self-hater? No. Just a little disgusted.
It's really hard to believe that Zuckerberg is as bad as he's made out to be. He's a soulless anti-Gatsby, clamoring for inclusion, and clamoring for hedonism, but without any affection. The joyless Jewish Harvard social milieu from which Zuckerberg springs are a crude caricature in this film-- and certainly misrepresent Harvard in 2003. I don't think Zuckerberg really cared about getting into a WASPy club; besides, those clubs weren't even WASPy anymore. But the social divide the film captures was certainly true of Sorkin and my generation: we felt ourselves to be confined to a grind community built around law and guilt, and wondered about how much wild fun those goyim were having with girls and drugs. We wanted a part of that; and the desire to be at the fun party is what drives Zuckerberg in this movie. The movie uses Phillips Exeter, the fancy private school Zuckerberg went to, as a rapier against him: he's continually shown wearing PE t-shirts.
Yes, all the WASPs are caricatured here. The Winkelvosses are a vicious joke about gentile privilege. But I'm not interested in the WASP caricatures, I'm interested in what my wife gleaned in the Zuckerberg portrayal. The character played by Jesse Eisenberg only cares about elites and the big score. He has no friends, because he fucks everyone over, beginning with the first scene when he disses the girl who just dumped him on a blog by talking about her bra size. He screws the Winkelvosses and the math whiz on whom he depends for a crucial algorithm to build his website, Eduardo Saverin. And yes Saverin is Jewish, from Brazil, but he doesn't really relieve the picture of Jewish piggitude. That picture is filled out by Harvard President Larry Summers, who looks like a pig (as played by Douglas Urbanski) and crudely tells the Winkelvoss twins that they are wrong to be demanding relief from Harvard for the fact that Zuckerberg stole an idea from them.
The Winkelvosses are a WASP joke because they are following an entitled American code of honor in pursuing Zuckerberg through the Harvard hierarchy, but if they're a joke-- their lawyer is called Hotchkiss-- Zuckerberg and Summers are the new ugly breed of success. I spent a lot of time with Scott Rudin once and know he has a great sociological mind; I can just see him and Sorkin sitting around laughing about how Jews have taken over the Establishment, the same thing I often write about here. And let's show the world how they're doing it-- ugly.
Is the Zuckerberg picture anti-Semitic? Well it comes close. I started thinking about Zuckerberg's recent facebook pictures, including the one below, and thinking, well
Zuckerberg and girlfriend Priscilla Chan
he can't be that much of a dick. Still, this movie strikes me as a landmark in a great tradition, the Jewish literary hatred of money. From I.L. Peretz's short stories about the Polish ghetto to Philip Roth's viciousness toward the Patimkins in Goodbye, Columbus, there is a Jewish tradition of afflicting the reverence of wealth in our community.
Kafka put it best in his undelivered letter to his father of 1919, upbraiding him for the Jewish "materials" he had tried to give him:
This was the religious material that was handed on to me, to which may be added at most the outstretched hand pointing to "the sons of the millionaire Fuchs," who attended the synagogue with their father on the High Holy Days. How one could do anything better with that material than get rid of it as fast as possible, I could not understand; precisely the getting rid of it seemed to me to be the devoted action.
I remember that outstretched hand of reverence in my life. I remember being told to worship the Blaustein family in Baltimore (he of Standard Oil and the famous dialogue with Ben-Gurion about, we ain't moving to Israel) and bridling. And I put this film in that category: hatred of the millionaire Fuchs. A fine tradition, but it made this film hard to watch.