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‘The Social Network’ and the Acceptance World

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zuckerberg 1
Be like Mark? (photo is one of Zuckerberg’s private facebook page shots that went public)

The Social Network is a portrait of financial success and social prestige as the ambitious young now understand it. Though its method is lightly-worked satire and scattershot comedy of manners, its effect is to palliate the wrongs that build up the career of its hero, and to justify his get-ahead offenses by the glamour of the payoff they deliver. Reviewers (in every case older reviewers) who thought they could detect in the movie a subtle satirical edge were only supplying their predigested reactions to the surface it showed. In life, as in the movie, the young react to that surface differently. The young bankers, lawyers, stockbrokers, and startup engineers who consult Facebook daily and can’t imagine life without it would not be sorry to make money just the way Zuckerberg did. The movie plays to that sympathy very cannily, while pretending to contemplate it from an impartial distance.

Part of what inhibits an accurate view of the film is a contrast of generations. For many people over 50, settled in more or less regular jobs, simply to behold a certain kind of greed and selfishness is to acquire a reason for detesting it [like this piece here yesterday]. But,to repeat, The Social Network is about younger people, and was constructed for a younger audience; and they don’t look at it that way. Many of them say: “How disgusting, cutthroat, relentless, yeah. But awesome too. And just look at those parties. A crappy way to climb to the top, but aren’t all the ways equally bad? And once you get there the top is a great place to be.”

David Fincher’s earlier cult movie Fight Club factored in the same double response, from its two possible audiences. Disturbed grownups would say: this movie shows how insanely out of control the kids have become; something must be done; and our whole steamy, messed-up, late-capitalist culture is responsible, too. Meanwhile the young cultists whom the screenplay and stars and editing targeted (and it sometimes seemed to include, in the decade just past, every boy between the age of 10 and 25) loved Fight Club and refused to “judge” the gang it depicted. The only recent movie to hold the same boyish audience with a similar seductive charm was GoodFellas.

This is a different generation. Many of the young are in despair and don’t know it. The proportion who find it inevitable that they work in the banks or in the money houses or in consulting firms is staggering. The largest effect of The Social Network may be to add a dimension of conscious cynicism to the Acceptance World which the ambitious young have resolved to embrace. Of course, many other cultural vehicles now perform a similar function. The wised-up self-love that comes with a salutary inoculation of cynicism accounts for much of the popularity of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The news-entertainment programs reinforce complacency by a style of criticism that squanders its force through the multiplicity of its targets, the thinness of its coverage, and the message of ultimate non-urgency that comes from agreeing not to dwell on any horror for too long.

David Bromwich

David Bromwich's latest book is "American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us." He teaches literature at Yale and is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and has written on politics and culture for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other magazines. He is editor of Edmund Burke's selected writings On Empire, Liberty, and Reform and co-editor of the Yale University Press edition of On Liberty.

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11 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther on December 18, 2011, 2:06 pm

    “This is a different generation. Many of the young are in despair and don’t know it. The proportion who find it inevitable that they work in the banks or in the money houses or in consulting firms is staggering.”

    Maybe the young at Yale. I grew up in a affluent college town, with many very “ambitious” kids – almost all were the children of well to do, well educated people. It seems as if the author is using “ambitious” to describe this particular class of the young. Unfortunate.

    As for the generational dynamic, its an interesting question. I would say the parents are still beholden to previous societal standards of civility – but only in their rhetoric. The practical application of the older generation’s beliefs are what the kids have seen – unchecked greed, individualism and anti-political discourse. The kids are just keeping it real and are willing to call a spade a spade. But class standing will win out in the end, like it always does. Im speaking of course, of who I think the author is speaking of – wealthy people and their children.

  2. Memphis on December 18, 2011, 2:38 pm

    What’s the obsession with this movie on the site right now? It wasn’t even good.

    • jewishgoyim on December 18, 2011, 6:36 pm

      Well it’s pretty simple. Philip Weiss watched this movie this week and decided to discuss it. Since this site is called Mondoweiss, it is kind of his prerogative. Try starting a blog, you’ll see you’ll be in control of what it is about.

  3. MichaelSmith on December 18, 2011, 3:49 pm

    Young people who are cynically rising up the system and young people who have become cynical about the system and reject it: are they the same people? Is it the same phenomenon? Are there two groups or one? Do young occupiers and young entrepreneurs feel some kinship to one another? Is one kind of cynicism likely to increase and the other to decline in the future?

    There may be some support for your argument in the response to Steve Jobs’s passing. Very different groups of people with very different values took him for a hero. But this undercuts the idea that today’s young are different. Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg were not so very different, were they?

    Also, what do you mean by “the acceptance world”? Yes, it’s a book title, but what does it mean and how are you using it?

  4. Charon on December 18, 2011, 4:23 pm

    Fight Club is a really difficult film to interpret. Think of the narrator character as one of the occupy protesters. The status quo is a hopeless situation to live in with nowhere to go getting worse as time goes on. The frustration is boiling to the surface.

    Though we seem to be better off than our parents, our parents had more opportunity available. For the most part our parent’s generation refuses to acknowledge this and is under the illusion that things our better. In some ways, like human rights, that’s true. But career wise, not really. Owning a home is far more difficult than ever before and owning a home is kinda a big deal.

    So the narrator, frustrated by going nowhere in a materialistic illusion creates Tyler Durden, this is akin to unleashing your inner beast. Your animal nature. Tyler Durden has excellent advice and is an excellent teacher, but he is out of control and rebellious. By the end of the book/film he has taken the majority of control over the narrator. When the narrator finally figures this out within himself, he ‘kills’ Tyler. He conquers it. He’s enlightened, never felt better. That’s what I got out of it at least.

  5. seafoid on December 18, 2011, 5:41 pm

    Very nice to see Mr Bromwich on Mondo. Ahlan wa sahlan.

    “The proportion who find it inevitable that they work in the banks or in the money houses or in consulting firms is staggering.”

    There was a piece that covered this in the Financial Times recently.
    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/3/02d3080a-20e7-11e1-8133-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1gvf901nk

    Student debt is a huge problem in the US. It’s linked to 30 years of Republican tax policy. The costs of university education are borne in huge part by students and who is going to pay off a 50K debt working, for example, in the public education system?

  6. gazacalling on December 18, 2011, 6:35 pm

    Jon Stewart’s popularity is explained by the “a salutary inoculation of cynicism” on the part of his audience.

    What a great phrase! I love it.

    And then the last sentence’s to die for: “The news-entertainment programs reinforce complacency by a style of criticism that squanders its force through the multiplicity of its targets, the thinness of its coverage, and the message of ultimate non-urgency that comes from agreeing not to dwell on any horror for too long.”

    Wow! Amazing prose.

    Can’t wait to buy and read his intellectual bio of Edmund Burke when it comes out…

  7. Justice Please on December 18, 2011, 7:26 pm

    “Many of them say: “How disgusting, cutthroat, relentless, yeah. But awesome too. And just look at those parties. A crappy way to climb to the top, but aren’t all the ways equally bad?””

    “The news-entertainment programs reinforce complacency by a style of criticism that squanders its force through the multiplicity of its targets, the thinness of its coverage, and the message of ultimate non-urgency that comes from agreeing not to dwell on any horror for too long.”

    Two very thoughtful observations, in my mind.

    • on December 19, 2011, 12:58 am

      “A crappy way to climb to the top” but so many arrive at the top so soon and so young, that by age 40 there is no space left to climb. Then what?

  8. DICKERSON3870 on December 18, 2011, 10:51 pm

    RE: “Wow! Amazing prose.” ~ gazacalling

    MY REPLY: Yes, a very nice piece of writing. And, incredibly insightful analysis, to boot.

    RE: “Many of them say: ‘How disgusting, cutthroat, relentless, yeah. But awesome too’…” ~ Bromwich

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    Hired by a business owner (Peter Gantzler) to portray a fictitious CEO, a washed-up actor (Jens Albinus) finds himself caught up in sleazy buyout negotiations and the shady side of big business in Lars von Trier’s dark comedy. In order to give a realistic performance as the nonexistent company figurehead, the actor must compromise his own scruples. Fridrik Thor Fridriksson and Benedikt Erlingsson co-star.
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  9. Alan Hunt on December 19, 2011, 3:55 am

    I saw a video clip on YouTube where the defense committee was discussing FBI Agent Zuckerberg’s project facebook requiring more intelligence funding.

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