We Don't Want To Be Friends With The Social Network

Ever since The Social Network was conceived, our main question — besides who green-lighted that "Genius. Punk. Billionaire." tagline — has been, when is some Harvard person gonna come forward with a fellow-undergrad perspective? Well, here's the answer.

What's ludicrous about the Social Network preview is the tangible air of self-mythologizing; an a cappella "Creep" plays over a montage of Ivory Tower signifiers and the breaching of said tower's walls. Like the posters, it's all meant to be very portentious. Jesse Eisenberg, per usual, is furtive and intense. There's an ass in a pair of Harvard panties and various Master of the Universe types in crimson jackets. And it's all rather embarrassing. Facebook, after all, is the stuff of drunk pictures and grandmother's wall updates, of ex-stalking and unasked-for political statements. It's engaging because it plays to narcissism: it involves all of us, and because it's wrapped up in the trivia of our lives. Sometimes it's the motor for something important...but this is still more a fringe benefit than not. It's also by definition dynamic; the film's previews and posters already feel dated, somehow, and inappropriate to the medium — the film's treatment seems antithetical to what it is that's made Facebook successful. It's a bit like attempting molecular gastronomy in Julia Child's kitchen — counterintuitive.

As a real-life Harvard classmate, Rebecca Davis O'Brien takes issue with Zuckerberg's la-la land portrayal too. But for different reasons: Harvard-y reasons. Writes she,

Back before he was a household name, before thefacebook.com, Mark Zuckerberg was a dorm room name, especially in Kirkland House, where he and I lived as sophomores. I often saw Mark and his friends sitting around a table in the dining hall, lingering over plates of popcorn chicken and cups of soda....There are always a handful of kids at Harvard who are notorious before arriving on campus, and Mark was among them.

She says that contrary to the film's portrayal, Zuckerberg was, while irreverent, not particularly at odds with the school's culture — he was even a member of a frat. The piece is pretty inside-baseball to anyone not seriously concerned with the film's accuracy (and is "Harvard" as character still workable — or did With Honors signal its death knell?) , but O'Brien makes a very salient point.

Should we care if Mark Zuckerberg is a genius entrepreneur or creepy opportunist? Is it fair to criticize his character? Does it matter if the CEO of a company founded on a platform of privacy and information sharing has a cavalier attitude toward (some might say a blatant disregard for) rules and personal data?

Well, there's caring on a personal level (she does), an ethical level (we should) and on a fictional level, in which case the answer's no — but more out of disinterest than moral lassitude. Do we care about "the social network" to the extent that we're not in it? Does the picture, pre-us, interest us? Or, without a tangible link in our personal networks, does interest wane? Box-office will tell, but narrowing the story seems to fail to take any lessons from its actual subject.


My Classmate Mark Zuckerberg
[Daily Beast]