I just saw The Social Network and I must admit I’m a little perplexed by some of the reactions to it. I found Zuckerberg to be a sympathetic character in the film. Supposedly, so did most other people my age:
“When you talk to people afterward, it was as if they were seeing two different films,” said Scott Rudin, one of the producers. “The older audiences see Zuckerberg as a tragic figure who comes out of the film with less of himself than when he went in, while young people see him as completely enhanced, a rock star, who did what he needed to do to protect the thing that he had created.”
I saw the character as sympathetic, human. He wrote some mean things about his ex-girlfriend online (who said some mean stuff to his face)- while he was drunk, heart broken, angry and 18 years old. He also had to make some hard decisions, and lost a friend in the process. He comes out on top, beating the rich assholes and naysayers who stood in his way – but at a cost. I didn’t see him as completely tragic or as a rock star. Just as a guy living his life. Most of us don’t run companies valued at $25 billion, but I think we’ve all made bad decisions, hurt people we cared about and had to cut someone out of our lives, even if it hurt us. (Or maybe I’m just weird.)
Jose Antonio Vargas (the journalist that Zuckerberg confessed writing compromising IMs to), who self-identifies as a millennial, doesn’t fall in line with our generation either. He, having interviewed Zuckerberg several times, was bothered by how the film potrayed Zuckerberg. That he wasn’t close to the real life Zuckerberg may be true – but I didn’t see him as an “exoticized” other like Vargas and Anil Dash saw him. I saw him as a complex human being.
Vargas was also disappointed that the movie didn’t offer “any real insight about our evolving online reality.” Which is missing the point entirely.
Vargas quotes Jeff Jarvis as saying “This is all about snobbery, about dismissing all this Internet stuff. The filmmakers didn’t give any value to what Zuckerberg made.” This is dead wrong – the movie isn’t dismissive of the Internet. It just isn’t about the Internet, nor was it under any obligation to be.
If you’re hoping to learn anything revelatory about on the Internet or social networking is shaping our lives, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Ultimately, this is more of a coming of age movie than a technology movie.
Lawrence Lessig’s take on the film is equally bizarre:
And indeed, the lawyers are the only truly respectable or honorable characters in the film. When they’re ridiculed or insulted by Zuckerberg, their responses are more mature, and better, than Zuckerberg’s.
I must have seen a different film than Lessig. Because in the movie I saw, the Zuckerberg character completely eviscerates the lawyers several times, arrogantly but certainly not humorlessly – and they often deserve it.
So yeah, I liked it. And I think, if anything, it may have been too sympathetic to Zuckerberg. For example, that now infamous IM conversation about Facebook users’ privacy never comes up. But as a portrait of the trials and tribulations of balancing friendships with career, and of growing up in general, it stands up.