Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fight This Generation

The Social Network(2010)
Directed By David Fincher
Overrated. I want you to know that from the bottom of my heart. "The Social Network" is overrated.
It was decent the first time, but the second time revealed its lack of staying power.
Perhaps the pasty nerd has been the standard underdog hero for so long, its feels obscene (or "revolutionary" as the ads say) to show one as unpleasant, insecure, shallow, and manipulative, at least outside of Noah Baumbach films.
Woody Allen and Luke Skywalker did their darnedest to pave the way for Scott Pilgrim (and pretty much every Cera flick) and Eisenberg is perhaps the evil half of the this golden-boy equation, Mega-Scott for the serious set.
The Social Network wreaks of self importance, it's jargon infused montage at the beginning designed to make "Facebook" seem like a visionary miracle, rather than just a drunken rip off of Myspace.
The innovation Facebook made (aside from the streamlined format) was exclusivity, as the site was initially for college students only.
Like an expensive club with a discerning bouncer or an Ivy League school, the line in the sand was class.
Can you afford to be here?
I'm not saying this drove everyone in those early days to come to the site, Myspace was degenerating into a wild west of spam, girls with web-cams and a hunger for credit card information, enough invites from terrible bands to make you swear off music for life, and eye searing gifs and glitter stricken pages that would crash your hard drive sooner than load a complete profile page, but it gave Facebook a safe and clean (white on white layout) feeling as if you were insulated from the commercial un-pleasantries and over-driven idiosyncrasies of a populace still wrestling with the concept of being constantly connected to each other all day everyday.
Even if facebook were not the most popular Internet site in the world (it might change by the time I finish writing these, things move so fast now), it would still be a defining cultural object of the noughties.
Facebook is the Coca-Cola of social networking. Coca-Cola did not invent soft-drinks or carbonated drinks, but they did capitalize on the marketing possibilities in ways no one had then thought possible (and if someone else did who knows where Coke buried them).
David Finchers direction is good (a step up for the God-awful Razzie worthy Benjie Button, though the cinematography there was one of the only watchable things about the film), Sorkinn's dialogue is also good, and the performances are decent, which make "The Social Network" a decent film. If every mainstream movie was this good I would go to the movies more, if this was the best movie of "our generation" or even 2010, I would stop watching movies.
"Facebook" is relevant today, because most of the people I know now use the site, and not just young people but nearly all of my aunts, uncles, and most adults Ive met have one. Even technophobic professors Ive known have started using the site.
It is still too early to tell whether the site will endure as an institution or fade into novelty (the American auto industry used to a be an institution as well) but just because something is popular does not mean it is fit material for cinema. Case in point Mr.Show With Bob And David's "Coupon: The Movie" sketch. Initially I was just going to post the trailer but the court-room drama of it all, for obvious reasons, demands to be scene in its entirety:
"Citizen Kane", "Wall Street", and "The Hudsucker Proxy" are gripping films about industrious men, their trails and tribulations, and"The Social Network" would round off this list, but wouldn't trump any of those above it. Then again none of them were snorting lines of coke off the breasts of 20 year old college girls, so I can why these films might seem quaint by modern standards.
The issue of intellectual copyright is an important one, though it seems a little redundant today, when most people download any media they want with ease. Inventors stealing each others work is nothing new historically, and 2010 also saw Iron Man 2 which pitted Tony Stark against a Russian Nemesis the Crimson Dynamo (at the time of the comics the Russian cold war foil, in modern terms the Russian plague of black market knock-off American tech products, especially online). Tony Stark like Mark Zuckerburg is also a clever egoist who creates a suit of armor around himself to cover a wound. For Stark the wound is physical shrapnel just an inch away from his heart, for Zuckerberg it's also a matter of the heart but in a literal sense, it's wounded pride.
When Zuckerberg gets shot down in the cafeteria, after the best lines of dialogue about the social networking phenomena are uttered "does everyone really need to hear every thought that passes through your head?", he immediately walks back to his business partner and says "we must expand!". Zuckerbergs shell is arrogance, and so is Starks, they are two tin men singing "If I only had a heart", in different pitches. I prefer the Iron Man treatment which understands that its squabbles over who built what first, who inspired who, and wear those lines end, are not Greek tragedy, just lucky nerds spazzing out over their need to be the center of attention. "Exit Through The Gift Shop" knows this too.
Zuckerberg's armor is asshole cool ("you just want everybody to think you are") which he emulates from the appropriately played Justin Timberlake, his own private Tyler Durden.
Timberlake's best role so far was in "Southland Tales" dancing to The Killers in a beer commercial pop-art hallucination sequence that visually told the story of the noughties, more succinctly than any film Ive seen since, but here he's equally effective, climaxing in his office emasculation (perhaps the greatest fear of the white collar worker after the spectre of unemployment), and the closest the film gets to real drama.
And speaking of real drama, the character in this film is not the Mark Zuckerberg and it's really surprising to read reviews that use a fictional character as a basis for commenting on a real person. You are not your profile page, and fictional people no matter how "based on true events" are still fictional people, so let's refrain from speculating about how the film convinced him to become a philanthropist.
Knowing information about someone (even intimate information) and actually knowing them are two different things, and though I am adamantly against the prevailing technophobia and it's many guises, this differentiation is something that does seem to be seriously eroding.
Which corner of media is most responsible I can't say (if its exclusively a media related issue at all), and though it would be easy and convenient (especially to my purposes in this review) to just say "Internet" or "social networking" are the culprits (grab your pitchforks and meet me in the town square), the problem is more complex than that, and more than a review of a David Fincher movie warrants. Meet me in the comments section below if you wish to argue, discuss this or any point further.
"The Social Network" is a decent film, a historical artifact that get's some of the zeitgeist of Internet life, the inadequacies, social anxiety, the fear of talking to people directly (be it through lawyers or any other third body) but passes up the opportunity to plumb these depths and their impact, instead focusing on a typical "the rise and the fall" of celebrity plot (a tired theme at this end point of the decade especially after seeing Sophia Coppola's "Somewhere" a truly cinematic treatment of the subject).
David Fincher has not made any true vibrant work to me since the much critically maligned "Fight Club" (the film its cool to hate, cus "everyone likes it") and though he makes the best of this material with a winning icy score, some compelling performance, well though out mis-en-scene, and crisp editing, but at its heart its all hollow.
I guess that's part of the point, the hollowness of it all. But if all there is to say about the social networking experience is that it's a hollow thing, built by hollow people, because machines and money are bad and that beloved catch-phrase "alienating", than it hasnt given us any new or "generation defining" information worth entertaining, even if its delivery on some levels is. Watch if you want, praise if the spirits move you, but try to remember there is or at least once was, a world outside of backstabbing, famous people, and computers. Now if you will excuse me, I'm off to post a link to this page on Facebook.

No comments: