Well, hi there!
How did you come across little ol’ me? Did you randomly find this flicking through the blogs? Did a friend say, ‘Ignore this twat’, but your curiosity overcame you? Or, by far the most likely, did you see the ‘link’ on ‘you-know-whAAAaaat’!?!
The Social Network: a David Fincher film. Fincher’s known for his dark and embittered view of the world: ‘Alien 3’; ‘Se7en’; ‘Fight Club’; ‘Zodiac’; all are films imbued with misanthropy, and shot in a kind of stricken light, with the palette of an ageing bruise. His last one, ‘…Benjamin Button’ (widely rumoured to be a set-up for a Pitt Oscar run), proved too saccharine for some. Well, all that can be said with his latest is: Davie, welcome home!
And what a home it is. Harvard in the early millennium. A campus that, in its grandiosity, would make Versailles blush and turn away. Versailles is an apt comparison because the social network here, amongst the elite of the elite, is ( the computer-nerds out there would dig it) entirely, and viciously, hierarchical.
Mark Zuckerberg, our anti-hero, is a nobody. He’s smart, of course, but he’s not old money, and therefore he may as well be sweeping the floors as attending class; and he knows it.
After being unceremoniously, and superlatively, dumped by a girlfriend after a tedious diatribe about how to forward yourself in this feudal milieu (if anyone comes away from this film still holding America to be the model of the classless society they didn’t see the film I did) he lashes out in the only way he knows how: technologically and, so he initially thinks, anonymously (this is of course ironic, considering he develops into the foremost destructor of anonymity in our times).
The development of his rudimentary site, ‘Facesmash’, gets him in trouble but lends him the notoriety which catches the attention of the twin princes of this Kingdom: the Winkelvosses (Winkelvossi!). They charge him with developing a website which would exchange the personal details and activities of the Harvard elite. He gets to work but, like a true American entrepreneur, not for them.
We no doubt know how the rest of the story pans out. The beer-sodden programming marathons, the breathtaking expansion of ‘The Facebook’ (Justin Timberlake, in his scene-stealing role as internet-guru-Napster-developing-playboy, Sean Parker, recommends dropping ‘The’), the acrimonious legal battles, and the exploding figures – going from hundreds, to thousands, to millions – both in members and dollars.
What to make of it all. There’s something celebratory in Fincher’s direction. Like he’s saying: look at them, these titans of industry in the internet age, re-engineering society, one program at a time.
But of course, underneath it all, the concern, and doubt, and dread, are building (or is that running? Or downloading?). What Brave New World is being devised here? And in a world in which changes, paradigm shifts, ‘updates’, are a click of the button away – how long will it take for us to realise what has been irretrievably lost in the frenzy for more, newer, latest?
Throughout, Zuckerberg treats the claimants of the various law-suits which intersperse the film with the casual disdain of the triumphantly revenged. What’s $65 million here or there when he could buy up entire buildings of the Harvard campus without a second thought?
It really is a triumphant revenge: but in what sense? Is it because he’s the world’s youngest billionaire, richer by an order of magnitude more than those WASPs who used to patronise him? Or is it because he’s succeeded in making the world like him? The type of place where you can make ‘friends’ without ever having to meet in person? A world in which people can be collected and dropped with the click of a button?
When looked at objectively, you could consider Facebook, in a fundamental sense, to be the masterwerk of a man who not only doesn’t have friends, but doesn’t like people. A ‘community’ predicated on the pathologies of the sociopath.
And yet the doubt remains: In the last scene of the film, Zuckerberg is abandoned in the clinical folds of a lawyer film, hesitating over, and then clicking on, the ‘friend invite’ button for the girlfriend who dumped him at the start.
In the preceding two hours millions of dollars have accumulated with breathtaking speed, ‘friends’ made and lost over the minutiae of profit shares, all with barely a shrug.
This film, a major work, I think, of our digital age, leaves us with this: How many billions would he be willing to sacrifice for this girl to click ‘Yes’?