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.