Why Facebook should love 'The Social Network'

While the new Facebook movie has been criticized in the tech world for being an inaccurate fairy tale and a portrayal of a friendless freak, it shows Mark Zuckerberg being let down by friends--not the other way around.

Saturday lunchtime, I went to see that new movie about that heartless, friendless, power-crazed, semi-autistic weirdo. Or at least that's what I was hoping for.

Very clever people had told me it was inaccurate. They told me it was an "antigeek" movie. The really, really clever people told me that it was a movie about "a platform that makes democratic innovation possible." "Practically everyone watching it," this really, really clever person told me, "will miss this point.".

I desperately didn't want to miss the point. The point is something I really need to be on top of. That, and the fuss.

I wandered along to an obscure movie theater and sat with gray-haired couples and a few loud, possibly medicated housewives to view "The Social Network." What impression might they have gotten of the man who has captured their children's most personal information and feelings and turned them into a business?

As I shuffled out of this peculiar movie, I wondered why Facebook had wasted even a kilo-joule of concern about something that turns its founder into a wise-cracking Einstein, a genius savant.

A man who would love to be friended? CC Joli O'Dell/Flickr

I am sure that Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Zuckerberg makes the Facebook bigwig seem far more interesting than he is in real life. That is how it should be. Writer Aaron Sorkin gives him great lines and the cheerily awkward mannerisms you would expect of someone who really isn't quite as stupid as the rest of us.

He makes Zuckerberg funny. He gives him an unedited, contemptuous attitude that so many who study at snooty colleges and work in vast, lifeless corporate offices only wish they could muster. This is a guy who could have been played by Robin Williams, if only Williams hadn't put a few too many wrinkles on his face and tummy.

But many would have you believe that this is a movie of deep irony. Here is a boy desperate to be loved, or merely even liked, who, irony of ironies, creates a site about friendship while being entirely friendless himself.

This may or may not be true in real life. But as the movie portrays him, Zuckerberg is someone who made friends and committed himself to those friendships, only to have those friends let him down.

Firstly, Eduardo Saverin, the movie version, fails to share in any kind of vision for Facebook. Instead, the Facebook co-founder persists, despite Zuckerberg's protestations, in trying to find advertisers for the site. This is not only a betrayal of the progressive nature of the vision that Zuckerberg (again, the movie version) had outlined, it is also a betrayal of trust in his business partner.

Then there's Sean Parker. As the movie would have it, Zuckerberg would have personally pressed Parker's trousers with his tongue if it would have helped him be a little more like his supposed mentor. Zuckerberg didn't merely offer Parker friendship, he offered him the adulation of a first fan page member. Parker, for his part, is shown to be a frivolous bacchanalian who jeopardizes the company's image and future with the proclivities of his nose and then grovels unconvincingly to Zuckerberg by phone.

What kind of friends are these? Zuckerberg is an unequivocal presence in the movie. Committed to his work, committed to creation rather than either destruction or sell out, he watches as those around him sue him to get money, abuse him for his gaucheness and fail to listen--this last being surely the most fundamental part of friendship.

"The Social Network" reveals a Mark Zuckerberg who craves commitment from others at least as much as power. The real point of this movie is that he doesn't get that commitment. He is let down by his friends. And that is why he might seem to have none at all.

 

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