Mark Zuckerberg is Maybe an Asshole: a review of The Social Network
The Social Network employs no new gimmicks to establish interest and compel the viewer. It sticks with, among other tricks, dark electronic techno music scored entirely by Trent Reznor, college girls in bras playing strip poker and “grinding” in slow motion at fraternity parties, and flippant “look-at-this-fucking-college-kid” joke inserts.
But the film is well-made. The ‘mainstream’ tactics it uses are “mainstream” for a reason, and director David Fincher uses them effectively, maybe in an effort to expand the film’s demographic beyond the enormous number of people who have Facebook accounts. Perhaps the only somewhat unique tool for driving the film’s plot forward is that characters talk really fast, which, combined with quick-cut scenes and transitions that take a second to understand, effectively drives us through the experience.
The film’s success rests on the spectacle of controversy and the innate human compulsion to seek and find in powerful figures grave faults in an effort to mitigate our own feelings of inferiority. And so, discussion about The Social Network will mostly regard whether or not Mark Zuckerberg is an asshole.
And this is exactly what The Social Network is about. In its opening scene, we see a young, attractive, angry ex-girlfriend tell the Zuckerberg character that, as he gets older, women will reject him. Not because he’s a nerd, but because he’s an asshole.
The sequence is repeated in the film’s final scene. But this time it’s a different young, attractive, respectable female telling the Zuckerberg character that she doesn’t think he’s an asshole, but that he’s only trying to be one.
The Social Network riffs on this theme consistently. It shows Zuckerberg as not-an-asshole: surprising us with acts of loyalty to his best friend and defending his best friend to the character portrayed as “definitely an asshole.” The definitely-an-asshole character is Napster founder Shawn Fanning. Also, despite his mega-scaling of the status ladder, Zuckerberg pines over the ex-girlfriend introduced in the first scene.
And The Social Network shows Zuckerberg as an asshole: talking shit on his ex-girlfriend on LiveJournal, betraying his best friend, stealing a billion-dollar idea. And the film wants us to understand—or at least speculate—that Zuckerberg does these things without question or doubt or remorse.
The question that emerges as the basic premise of the film is “Why did the youngest billionaire in history fuck a bunch of people over to get to where he is today?” The film gives us two answers to choose from: “Because Mark Zuckerberg is a remorseless asshole,” or “Because Mark Zuckerberg is butt-hurt that he was a nerd in college that couldn’t get on the rowing team, couldn’t get into relevant fraternities, could never achieve a certain status level, and assumed the role of asshole to justify his feelings of inferiority.”
The question of whether Zuckerberg actually did fuck anyone over in reality isn’t explored by The Social Network at all. But this isn’t surprising. The movie was based off a book written from the perspectives of those that saw themselves as “fucked over” by Zuckerberg. These perspectives are pretty questionable—see this Gawker article.
In the bleak ending of The Social Network, we’re asked a final time if we think Mark Zuckerberg is an asshole. No clear answer comes forward, and instead we watch the character that plays Mark Zuckerberg with a vaguely disturbed facial expression, refreshing Facebook repeatedly, hoping for a response to the friend request he sent to his college ex-girlfriend only minutes before.
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