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Worst of Friends

Aaron Sorkin doesn’t comprehend Facebook, among other things.

Nov 1, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 07 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
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The Social Network

Worst of Friends

Directed by David Fincher

The acclaimed new movie The Social Network is a two-hour exploration of a single question: Is Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, an assh—? It begins with a conversation between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend in which she asserts he is an assh—, and it concludes with a conversation between Zuckerberg and another woman in which she tells him he isn’t an assh— but that he seems to be trying very hard to be one.

What the makers of The Social Network fail to understand is this: Whether Mark Zuckerberg is or is not an assh— may be the least interesting and most trivial question to ask about him. So while the extraordinarily well-made movie that revolves around it has all the trappings of a searing investigation into the character of the world’s youngest billionaire, it is finally as meaningful as a Facebook posting about what your wife’s third cousin had for lunch.

It is the theory of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher that Zuckerberg’s anger over having been dumped by his girlfriend during his sophomore year at Harvard in 2003 Explains Everything. Drunk and hurt, Mark—all of 19 years old—takes to his personal blog to insult the girl. And in the course of his rant, he writes that the Internet should be used as a means of comparing women to each other and to farm animals.

What happens as a result of that stray thought is a website he slaps together to rate the women of Harvard—and the overwhelming response to it is the key indicator that the time of the personal network has come. And how does The Social Network treat this eureka moment? With the spirit represented by the following comment from Sorkin: “Facebook was born during a night of incredible misogyny. .  .  . It was a revenge stunt. .  .  . I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people.” 

The extraordinary banality of this observation about a phenomenon that has captured the attention and imagination of one-twelfth of the world’s population is of a piece with the alarmist tone of The Social Network. The movie reduces the creation and expansion of this extraordinary venture to the crippling social and personal neuroses of Mark Zuckerberg—neuroses it only theorizes Zuckerberg has, since Sorkin doesn’t actually know him and adapted his script from a book by Ben Mezrich, who never met Zuckerberg, either, and told his story entirely from the point of view of disgruntled former friends and associates.

The Mark Zuckerberg we see in The Social Network is a very smart and very bitter misfit who would have difficulty changing a flat tire; his passions appear to be entirely negative. There is no hint here that he is a present-day combination of Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers, a visionary engineer whose creation has fulfilled his medium’s promise. Maybe the real Mark Zuckerberg resembles the unpleasant person we see here, and maybe he doesn’t; but why on earth does that matter? Facebook has, in a fashion entirely without precedent, obliterated the effects of distance and personal isolation on relationships just as Ford and the Wrights obliterated the restrictions on human movement. 

You may find it almost entirely benign, as I do, or you may find it ominous, as Sorkin does. (Sorkin has told interviewers he thinks Facebook is pointless, and he just “doesn’t get the Internet,” especially since people on it were nasty about his last television show, Studio 60 Live from the Sunset Strip—a program you would have had to have been Sorkin’s mother to have said a kind word about.) Either way, Facebook is something extraordinarily meaningful, and it is a calumny in about a hundred different ways to suggest it has its origins in Zuckerberg’s post-adolescent growing pains with women—or even more appallingly, in an arriviste Jewish hunger for acceptance among more dignified WASPs at Harvard. The movie suggests Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from three people, one of them his best friend, and that he decided to trick his friend out of the spoils because that friend got into a Harvard club when he was excluded.

Could it really be that Zuckerberg, so self-possessed and inwardly directed even as a high schooler that he turned down a Microsoft offer to buy a piece of software he instead distributed free over the Internet, really have cared so much about being tapped by the Phoenix? I suppose it’s possible, but if so, I’m sure he grew out of it very quickly. And anyway, the Zuckerberg of Aaron Sorkin’s imaginings is so full of contempt for other people and their intellectual impairments that it makes little sense that those inferiors would be capable of doing him injury.  

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