Why write about The Social Network now? When advances occur it usually takes time to appropriately access the real nature of any advancement, so of course it should take the appropriate amount of time necessary before this analysis and comprehension. After giving Fincher’s latest masterwork the amount of time given internet-advancement, that with which I conclude is an unexpected sympathy for Fincher’s sculpting of Zuckerberg, or I should say Fincher’s sculpting of Marylin Delpy’s sympathy of Zuckerberg. Wait, who is Marylin? This question is part of the point, in time…
?While most have focused on the Citizen Kane aspect of the pseudo-biographic nature of the narrative (and appropriately so, despite Fincher’s denial of such) and have often overlooked the title’s allusion and thematic extensions of opportunism and the communication-industry’s pessimism in Lumet’s Network, Fincher’s work has decisively specific additions that go beyond a contemporary portrait of the “time” and provide a caveat of the “time’s” problematic future.
?While Zuckerberg is viewed through the eyes of an accessor, that of his attorney associate Marylin Delpy, she immediately links together the historical and factual elements that support a simplistic biographic rendering. What is unique about Marylin’s conveyance of Zuckerberg is her specific goal: to conclude the manners in which Zuckerberg may be viewed as slightly autistic, an opportunistic asshole, or simply obsessively reaching towards vengeance. Marylin’s drive to match historical moments with these tendencies are what structure the scenes of the narrative’s past: Zuckerberg being impersonal when relating to dorm mates about girls, his dismissive attitude towards Eduardo almost every other scene, his condescending demeanor in the company of businessmen or authority figures. If each one of these scenes were to be entered into evidence, they would imply and support any of the previous personality traits theories. This uniquely places Marylin in the position of editor/director, in which she guides the audience through time/space, allowing us to view through her evidence-glasses to convey the worst-case depiction of character.
What this structuring implies is a need to define and explain situations/facts to complete Marylin’s argument that “Zuckerberg is a terrible person, and here’s why.” What this simplistic rendering does not allow is identification with Zuckerberg, since Marylin’s approach is driven to combat the opposing attorney’s case and a sympathetic drafting would not win the lawsuit. Without the recognition of Marylin’s point of view the audience is left with a despicable character study that would alone imply a wrong and limited depiction of a real person; Zuckerberg becomes just an unsympathetic protagonist, or as “symbolic” for the limits of the contemporary male.
This is not to say that Fincher does not broach the subject of the contemporary male, but his representation comes as caveat. The modern young male is riddled with problematic condescension towards the opposite sex. While Eduardo Saverin is played off as a nice guy, his interactions with women are perhaps overly concerned with exclusivity as a means to get laid (just like the Winklevoss’ Harvard dating website). The moment we find Eduardo at the frat party, standing next to a Dustin Moskovitz whom mentions that he’s finding an algorithm to describe the reason behind Asian girl attraction to Jewish boys, Fincher places these “boys” within a visual reference to John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles.
While this reference allows a context for the film to be read as a coming-of- age picture, the reference then by extension also implies the resolute ending of responsibility acceptance and the eventual maturing of a heterosexual relationship. Instead, what results for these characters is anything but maturity or acceptance of responsibility.
Instead of mature heterosexual relationships, we find women are relegated to game-media in the same way they were once relegated within the kitchen. Within game play there is no responsibility for the decisions that are made via computer programming, coding, or marketing. The young women whom play the games within the film, are then placed into a context of non-integration into this male-dominated industry. Exclusivity returns as a theme that divides the sexes, as all those involved in the Zuckerberg business are male: male coders, male businessmen, and male representatives. Women, are instead allowed to drink a Sex-In-the-City appletini instead of adding to the discussion of business as a partner.
What Eduardo, Dustin, or even Sean Parker do not realize is their light-speed business development has allowed no progress in human relationships, much less any development on the heterosexual home-front that allows women a place like older and more traditional business modes: Gretchen, the older attorney that runs Eduardo’s case, or Marylin Delpy. While Zuckerberg bickers through his intellectual pissing match, revolutionary as it is, Erica Albright is developing into maturity without him. This realization does not occur for Zuckerberg until the moment he asks Marylin to dinner. Marylin’s refusal confirms a divide between two generations. Yet, what separates Marylin and Zuckerberg is not age, nor even success, but maturity. While Zuckerberg may be financially successful, he is reactionary and emotionally unstable to make important life decisions (also a problem for his placement as a CEO), or when confronted with the opposite sex. Marylin, despite being impressed by Zuckerberg, is established and on the verge of becoming a partner in her line of work, but not able to overlook his place as young. It’s no coincidence that Marylin shares a visual similarity to Erin, since it is this clue that provides for an audience mental recall, and perhaps initiates Zuckerberg’s moment of development and maturity at the end of the picture, which we’ll discuss in a moment. First, we must understand that what blocks Zuckerberg’s development is his unquestioned belief in the structure of the society he’s been led to believe is influential and important.
Marylin states that she can make us believe anything if she’s just given the power to suggest, and as mentioned earlier Fincher allows her this privilege, but so to does he convey those of an upper class (those “of means”) also maintain a stance of power merely through suggestion without any fear of confrontation nor refute.
“Don’t you ever apologize to anyone for losing a race like that,” Mr. Winklevoss states to his second-placed twin sons, which at first sounds as a means to comfort for having to not apologize. Yet the father’s decoded message reveals a context of status and class, implying that he is embarrassed and these young men can do their duty to not apologize (and further, not embarrass their family name) again when they no longer lose a race and they work hard enough to remain on top. The Winklevoss twins find themselves constantly reminded of their place in society, their statements and pleas are re- questioned or rephrased by those older, or of a higher class, not in an attempts for resolution, but instead as a means to reprimand. These arrogant rephrasings not only inherently dismiss any oppositional assertions that also remind the other one’s place, but they are continually coded within manners. Every phrase and action of courtesy becomes a potential home for social-threat and insult.
The film’s immediate references towards this arrogance is conveyed within a bar, an environment in which there should be no such class-status, yet Zuckerberg’s initial conversation with Erica Albright approaches this coded condescension accidentally.
Zuckerberg states that he will introduce her to people she’d “be meeting people you wouldn’t normally get to meet,” once he’s admitted into an exclusive fraternity. With the reaction of her offense, the audience takes note about the manner in which every male places themselves in a position of rank or power, be it consciously reinforced through the coded messages of Winklevoss society, or subconsciously as in this pre-break-up moment between Zuckerberg and Erica.
While this coded reinforcement of status is a clear theme throughout the film, the narrative thus utilizes this breakup as an emotionally insightful incident. What takes Zuckerberg the rest of the film to comprehend, Erica states quite flatly when she’s accused of duplicitous statements: I didn’t mean to be cryptic. What is important here is that Erica consciously recognizes that she has hidden pain and offense within sarcasm to briefly hurt and offend Zuckerberg. Erica momentarily plays the game of codes through sarcasm, placing herself above Zuckerberg before she realizes that she’s hurt his feelings and apologizes. Her apology is what allows this moment to hold no further weight upon her shoulders, and allows her the ability to transcend all other characters. No other characters, with the exception of Zuckerberg, come to the conclusion of apology.
So where is the concept that Zuckerberg transcends this moment as immature asshole to convey the recognition of his mistakes? To understand this, we must realize the Zuckerberg communicates most effectively through codes, himself. While this is brilliantly conveyed through the symbolic nature of Zuckerberg’s technical mastery at computer coding, the film also reveals characters comprehending a message from Zuckerberg sent to them via forms of communication other than traditional modes of conversation. Through the coded messages of internet hacking, newspaper coverage, or website creation, the Winklevoss’s comprehend Zuckerberg is giving them the proverbial/virtual finger, so what better mode to apologize for his subconsciously coded arrogance than through the mode that best expresses his attempts to prove he’s sorry and create a website that revolutionarily overthrows class assertions of power and status. His attempts to rectify are thus rendered in an internet power-play. The intention of this plan can be read as assertion to those “of means” that they don’t have the hold upon society in the manner in which they believe to be most true, and the ability to overthrow their influence through the gift of exclusivity to all via a webpage eventually open to everyone. Exclusivity becomes antiquated. This coded message also calls out as apologetic recognition of Zuckerberg for allowing this society’s subconscious influence to over take him momentarily in the bar, and the actions to overthrow this exclusive mentality then becomes his mode of apology to Erica.
This character intention holds the key to understanding Zuckerberg in a way that Marylin’s observations do not. It is critical to understand the human element here, despite the strongly fictionalized addition of Erica or Marylin by Sorkin, since Erica’s response to this statement is offense and breakup results in emotion: panic and sorrow on the part of Zuckerberg. “You would do that for me?” Erica states before she declares he is an asshole, and leaves. Zuckerberg, left to say he’s sorry in monotone that audibly sounds deceptive. Later paralleled with Erica, when Zuckerberg is offered possibilities of inclusion by the elite Winklevoss twins in their plans for their Harvard dating website, Zuckerberg repeats Erica’s words “You would do that for me?” While this moment is most likely the hatching of this previously mentioned revolutionary plan, it also suggests that Zuckerberg is not completely ignorant of Erica’s offended reaction, and he further becomes humanistic through his empathy.
The moments that lie outside Marylin’s evidence-seeking structuring are the attorney negotiations, the few moments in which this real multi-dimensional, emotional, and perhaps more sympathetic Zuckerberg resides. In fact the real motivated emotional outbursts of Zuckerberg come at these moments, such as his threatened and reactionary monologue toward the Winklevoss’ attorney about their taking his “the minimum amount” of attention. While this moment is the heart an aggressive attitude that Marylin’s narrative fully supports, what she doesn’t really convey are the possible emotional ranges Zuckerberg feels that are more in common with those not managing a multi-billion dollar company: human feelings of love, connection, companionship.
Thus we return to the end of the narrative, at a moment in which Marylin no longer has control over the structuring of information, a moment that is amazingly and poignantly captured when Zuckerberg interacts with Facebook in a manner that we’re all familiar: the profile page, rather than any series of Zuckerberg’s pages of coding. This moment is crucial to both a humanist drafting of Zuckerberg’s identity as well as solidifying the unrequited potential for his unrecognized apology.
The sadness of this final closing moment is not that Zuckerberg is autistic, nor an asshole, nor obsessive, but that he has allowed the success of business to fade this retaliation against elitism into the background, and with it the initial impulse for apology. And thus with every click, we await the confirmation of Zuckerberg’s atonement by the fictional Erin, in hopes of the confirming that Marylin’s fractured Zuckerberg portrait is nothing but fiction. Not the negative portrait of a “Kane”-like figure as we initially thought two months ago (years in internet time, I’m sure).