Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Being Social About The Social Network

 I had a really good conversation about film last night, and thought I’d write a bit about it this morning as I’m still thinking about it. Post-Oscars there’s been a lot of wonder about why The Social Network didn’t come out on top (at least among the “younger” generation). After talking through the film with a colleague, I realized that at the core of this is probably the fact that most people just don’t get (or don’t WANT to get) David Fincher.

My colleague enjoyed the film, but questioned the rowing scene’s inclusion as he felt it had nothing to do with the storyline. I thought the scene made the film. Here’s why: it equated the struggle of intellectual labor to physical competition, illustrating how several people can be working at the same goal/problem but inches, days, hours, weeks can make the difference between who wins and loses. At any given point in time, a lot of smart people think very similar things – it never pans out to be the person who was thinking of something the same time as someone else who actually capitalizes on it first. It’s part of why academia has become even more paranoid about ideas and intellectual capital. I can’t even tell you the number of people who’ve told me I probably shouldn’t be writing this blog. Using crew as a metaphor, even from early on in the film, was one of the best parts of its construction – because at the end of the day, your average individual does NOT equate intellectual labor with physical labor, though it can be equally exhausting and requires similar training and discipline.

We also discussed at length our fairly different views of Jesse Eisenberg’s performance. Part of why I think the film gets mixed reviews is that David Fincher seems to specialize in characters (almost always male) that are narcissistic and highly unsympathetic. At moments in his work, you start to feel a bit for these ego-involved men, and at the end of the day, no one really likes to feel like they identify with that type of character. Audiences (particularly American audiences) like to identify with the underdog – the self-made individual who overcomes adversity. This is part of why Colin Firth’s role in The King’s Speech was so lauded, while Jesse Eisenberg’s role met with mixed reviews. And while I feel like he did a pretty good job playing Zuckerberg, I did feel myself wanting more from it. Perhaps I’m just annoyed that if this role were written for a woman, NO ONE would have seen this film. Smart men can be as pompous and narcissistic as they want, and their image conveys strength, determination, and vision. You can be an asshole and have redemption through intellectual labor. As an aside, I was surprisingly impressed by Justin Timberlake’s performance.

On another note, with all the talk of this film representing a “younger generation,” I don’t think it really captured the ambiguity of emerging adulthood. The film makes references to “not knowing” what they have going on throughout – the idea that any intellectual (particularly a young intellectual) doesn’t exactly know where an idea or a concept is going to take them. Yet, the direction of the film was so confident and self-assured it rarely allowed those moments of insecurity that every intellectual has – granted, most DO cover up those insecurities with the type of bravado and cockiness depicted in the film, but as a viewer, I need to see those insecurities more clearly to feel even remotely interested in your character. So, I think it works – I could point to a number of intellectuals who really are that unlikeable – but I guess I don’t see that kind of poise and self-assurance in the 18-21 demographic I work with every day. There’s a lot of faking it, but not actualizing it. I would have liked to see more contrast between the Harvard 2003 Zuckerberg and the post-Facebook Zuckerberg.

At any rate, it was nice to have a solid, intellectual conversation about film. I certainly don’t follow it as much as I follow TV (keep your eye out for my yearly first American Idol post – probably tomorrow after the results tonight…though I guess maybe I should make some predictions before that…okay, maybe I’ll be back later today).

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