The Social Network, by Albert W. Vogt III

How many people who have had world changing ideas have been nice men or women?  I believe it has become a stereotype, at least in the United States, that in order to be successful you have to be obsessive about whatever it is you are pursuing.  It is as if “obsession” has become a virtue.  One could look at this blog in that way, I suppose.  I like to think of it as dedication, or better yet, a calling.  I review movies in order to help others, but one could also argue that I have an inordinate sense of purpose with my pursuits.  You could look at me watching a movie every night (or day) and writing two reviews a day as obsessive as well.  I would argue instead that I have a balanced life, varied interests, if nothing too exciting.  I also earnestly hope that, as I continue with The Legionnaire, the blog will continue to grow and will bring me some success.  At the same time, I am no Mark Zuckerberg, and hopefully this review of The Social Network (2010) will explain why.

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is having a night out with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) as The Social Network begins.  Their conversation soon devolves into an argument, where Mark’s arrogance comes through and Erica ends the night by breaking up with him.  When he returns to his dorm room (I know that is technically not the correct term here) on the campus of Harvard University he takes to his computer.  Specifically, he blogs about his anger with getting dumped, using misogynistic terms for her, while simultaneously hacking into the school’s database of student profile pictures to create a website for rating his female classmates’ hotness.  The key aspect of this latter undertaking is an algorithm created by his roommate and friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).  It quickly spreads around campus, exciting immature college boys and insulting the girls.  This brings Mark notoriety, some of which is wanted, but also of the unwanted variety.  This last earned him an appearance before an academic hearing to explain what he had done.  The student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, covers Marks’ actions, and attracts the notice of the Winklevoss twins (Cameron and Tyler, who are both played by Armie Hammer).  They have their own idea for what is their own social network, and they see in Mark the programmer they need to make it a reality.  When they meet with Mark, he immediately agrees to help.  Yet, this encounter gives him the inspiration for what will eventually become Facebook.  Soon, Mark has the funding he needs from Eduardo, who is a business major and has connections with his entrance into the elite Phoenix Club, and is dodging the Winklevoss twins who are expecting updates on their project.  The nexus of what is originally called “The Facebook” is exclusivity, particularly since it spreads by friends inviting friends to get on it.  It is also confined to a few schools around Harvard, but shortly expands to other institutions.  This is where one Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) enters the tale, the person responsible for the free music downloading site known as Napster.  While waking up after a night with an undergrad at Stanford University, he uses her computer and notices that it is open on something called The Facebook.  He immediately sees potential and arranges to meet Mark and Eduardo in order to discuss their new invention’s potential.  Mark is thrilled by this prospect as he sees in Sean somebody who also desires to thumb his nose at the powers-that-be.  Eduardo is less eager, and instead wants to attract advertisers so that their social media site can generate revenue.  When Sean tells Mark that having banners for products all over their webpages is not cool, it is the beginning of a rift between Mark and Eduardo.  It is Sean that convinces Mark to move to California, while Eduardo, despite being their growing company’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), stays behind and continues to try to find other sources of funding.  Once in California, Sean begins to take Mark around to confer with major investors who see dollar signs with the newly renamed Facebook.  Before Eduardo could have any input, they receive a major investment and, really, the rest is history.

That is not the whole story of The Social Network, and it is difficult describing it in a straight forward fashion.  I am a pretty linear dude, though I can also stick with plots that follow a different tact as does this one.  What I left out of the plot synopsis above is how, interspersed in the story of Facebook’s rise to fame and fortune, are scenes of Mark dealing with two different lawsuits from those suing him for millions of dollars.  One of these is brought by the Winklevoss twins, who have a legitimate argument for how Mark essentially stole their idea.  Just before the credits roll, it is explained that they settled for a few million dollars, chump change for Facebook.  They also agree to acknowledge Mark as Facebook’s inventor and signing nondisclosure agreements.  The other court proceeding is initiated by Mark’s former friend and partner, Eduardo.  Note the use of the word “former.”  When Eduardo first arrives in California, he is dismayed to find Mark so much under Sean’s sway that he decides to cancel the bank account on which Facebook initially drew to keep its servers running and the site functioning.  This would have been the attention getting move Eduardo hoped if it did not come right before the angel investment the company receives, firming up its foundations for the foreseeable future.  Eduardo then hastily signs the re-incorporation papers without going over them, a move that ends up all but pushing him out of the network he helped found.  When Eduardo angrily confronts Mark, the latter flippantly accuses the former of making a bad business deal with his own company.  Ouch.  Hence, the lawsuit, through which he is also awarded millions and has his name restored to Facebook’s masthead as co-founder.

As the court proceedings wind down towards the end of The Social Network, one of Mark’s counsels, Marilyn Delpy (Rashida Jones), has a moment with her client.  The gist of her questions is why does Mark try so hard to be, and please forgive my language here, “an asshole,” when he supposedly is not one in real life.  Much of this has to do with bitterness that he feels, which the Catholic in me would call woundedness.  It primarily stems, according to the movie, from Erica breaking up with him.  Lord knows I can attest to this fact, but there is often a period of self-doubt that comes when any relationship ends, particularly when you are on the receiving end of it.  What did I do that earned this person’s scorn?  Why can I not just be accepted?  Acceptance is what drives the founding of Facebook.  As Mark points out when its popularity begins to spread rapidly, they are the presidents of the new cool kid’s club, and they have the keys for getting into it.  This is power, to be able digitize the college experience with its myriad cliques, etc.  And who does not want to stay in college forever?  Mark assumes, because of his experiences, that once you arrive it gives you the caché to treat others like dirt.  Instead, it alienates him further, particularly from those he once called friends.  I am not trying to rail against Mark Zuckerberg specifically (and there is much dramatization in the film), or social media more generally.  While the creator of Facebook certainly tapped into something widely felt, perhaps he should have left well enough alone.  Increasingly, it seems that social media is ruining lives, and I do not think that is entirely hyperbole.  I say this as somebody who utilizes Facebook and Twitter daily, though on a limited basis.  Instead, I wish people would seek acceptance first from God, who accepts every one of us in the hopes of calling us into a deeper relationship with Him.  If that is too obscure a concept, then find a parish community.  They are supposed to model as much as is possible Heaven on Earth.  There is a lot of wisdom in the word “community.”  At Mass, Catholics take Communion, the Living Host of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Like community, Communion is an opportunity to be a part of something bigger.

I look at The Social Network as a cautionary tale.  It has some adult themes in it like drug use and foul language, so I would not show it to younger audiences.  However, I also see it as an important movie to watch.  I am not advocating that you delete your Facebook page after viewing it.  If you feel Mark Zuckerberg is a monster, then by all means get off social media.  He very well could be, too, and he has certainly done some things in real life with which I do not agree.  Instead, I will leave you with how I view social media.  It is not life, or a simulation thereof.  It is a platform for my blog and other endeavors, a way of staying up-to-date with friends (particularly their birthdays), and that is about it.  The film will make you think about these things, and that is always good in my book.

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