Thursday, October 07, 2010

John Hagel - Reviewing "The Social Network" - Constructing Grand Narrative

At his Edge Perspectives blog, John Hagel takes a look at the new Aaron Sorkin/ David Fincher (they are among my favorite writers/directors) movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the birth of Facebook. Hagel believes the film has a social agenda in its narrative more than the desire to tell Zuckerberg's story:
Here is Peter Travers: “Fincher and Sorkin . . . define the dark irony of the past decade. The final image of solitary Mark at his computer has to resonate for a generation of users (the drug term seems apt) sitting in front of a glowing screen pretending not to be alone.” A key part of the grand narrative is to explain the large and growing following of social networks in terms of addiction. In fact, one of the characters in the movie, observing the rapid adoption of Facebook exclaims: "1,000 people overnight? If I was a drug dealer I couldn't give away drugs to that many people!"

Or, here is David Denby: “ After all, Facebook, like Zuckerberg, is a paradox: a Web site that celebrates the aura of intimacy while providing the relief of distance, substituting bodiless sharing and the thrills of self-created celebrityhood for close encounters of the first kind.”

An historical tragedy of epic proportions

This is the image many people have social network users and programmers - isolated, socially inept, and pathetic. With a half a billion users on Facebook now, as well as the proliferation of so many other social networking sites, this image is no longer as accurate as it was in the late 80s and 1990s.

In my experience (and certainly there are exceptions), social networking sites are technological extensions of our "meat space" lives into a global community. I have "friends" all over the world who I would not know if not for the internet and global cafes like Facebook.

All of which is to say that I (not having yet seen the film) agree with Hagel.

Reviewing "The Social Network" - Constructing Grand Narrative

The debate has begun. Many who know Mark Zuckerberg and his company are upset about the inaccuracies in The Social Network. Movie critics on the other hand love the movie. Few, though, are reflecting on what these two sets of reactions tell us about the moment we are living in.

We live in the midst of a social revolution and this movie represents the effort of mass media to make sense of the changes going on around them. Facts are not important. It is about symbols, metaphors and mythologies. It is about constructing grand narratives to shape our understanding of why things are happening.

And in this corner of the ring . . .

Let’s start by addressing at face value the two sides. The Social Network is full of inaccuracies according to those who are close to the personalities and the companies. David Kirkpatrick, author of the now definitive book on Zuckerberg’s company, does a great job of summarizing the major inaccuracies that underlie the entire film in his commentary here.

The response of the movie creators is that this is not a documentary and not meant to be accurate in all dimensions. Entertainment must be served first and foremost. This strikes me as a bit disingenuous, although all too common of Hollywood, given that the movie purports to be about real people and real historical events, down to the final trailers telling us what happened to each of the major characters. In fact, none of the key players in the making of this film has ever met Mark Zuckerberg, the subject of the movie. And neither the Director nor the scriptwriter has ever participated in his online social network. As we will see, though, the core inaccuracy of the film is key to supporting the mainstream media view of what is going on.

On the other side of the fence, we have the movie reviewers in the mainstream media who have, almost without exception, been ecstatic about the movie. In fact, the website Metacritic indicates that the movie now has a metascore of 97, based on 40 movie reviewers, the highest score of any movie currently showing. In fact, this metascore puts it into the top 20 of movies of all time, along with The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia.

Roger Ebert calls it “the film of the far” and gives an ecstatic review here. David Denby calls it “brilliantly entertaining.” Peter Travers gushes “The Social Network lights up a dim movie sky with flares of startling brilliance” and “it gets you drunk on movies again.”

Now, admittedly, this is a very good movie. It is well acted, the dialogue is wonderful and fast-paced, visually it captures and holds the attention, the music score reinforces the dramatic arc – all in all, it is well constructed and deeply entertaining. Everyone should see the movie as a compelling and beautiful example of story- telling. But is it really up there with The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia?

Who's got status?

Read the whole post.

1 comment:

teeny yogini said...

The movie is flawed but to say that it is intended to portray social networks as superficial or programmers as pathetic, I think is a fairly extreme simplification. The movie is about a few KIDS, not even remotely grown ups, who invented something that they could never have known was going to make such an incredible impact on the world, both good and bad. I don't read the movie so much as a critique on the social network -- I think it's fairly agnostic on that point, even if does suggest a certain hollowness that I think ALL people feel at a certain level of ambition or success -- but more as a critique of our society right now, where new technologies can elevate young men (and it HAS mostly been men, which needs to be emphasized since in that sense little has changed in the world) into Gods and create new social landscapes over night. It's not "The Godfather" for sure, but it's certainly a subject worthy of exploration, and one of the first mainstream films to dive in the deep end of it.