Monday, February 28, 2011

The Social Performance

You know that feeling you get when a story just gets flipped upside down on you? Maybe a key member of the supporting cast becomes the villain? And it throws you for a loop? That was my feeling after going on the internet to read more about the film The Social Network. Apologies in advance if you haven't seen the film. Perhaps you could bookmark this entry & just come back to it after you've gotten a chance to watch it.

As a stand-alone movie, The Social Network is very, very good. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, who has earned critical acclaim (and, less exciting, but also my own personal admiration) for previous works like A Few Good Men, The American President, and The West Wing, and he won an Academy Award last night for his work. The drama develops and climaxes in a such a way that captures & holds your attention, the dialogue is snippy in a pleasing way, and there's even a story within a story that leaves those who appreciate depth satisfied.

Just a Zuck & his laptop
Just a Zuck and his Laptop
Which leaves me all the more curious now about the product in general. Because if the product of a master craftsman showcases so many of his fingerprints, is that product more of a reflection of its subject or of its creator?

As I said earlier, the excellence of the movie itself drove me to learn more. And what I learned changed my perspective on the movie as a chronicle of real events. For one thing, Sorkin's manuscript wasn't original material. It was inspired by & based upon the book written by Ben Mezrich called The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal. Mezrich's main source for his book? Eduardo Saverin: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's former best friend & the guy who funded the first $18,000 that allowed Facebook to launch all the way back in 2004. Ben Mezrich also wrote Bringing Down the House, a book about Asian-American kids from MIT that won hundreds of thousands of dollars playing Blackjack. You may be familiar with that story as well if you've seen the movie "21." Only they casted the film mainly with Caucasian actors and, according to Jeff Ma, sexed/partied up the story. Kinda like what Zuckerberg says happened in Mezrich's book about him.

To make a long story short, The Social Network isn't what it appears to be. What it is at it's heart is an act of cold-blooded revenge by a jilted former best friend. The motive that brought the story to prominence was as dark-hearted as Harvey Updyke's scheme to poison a cluster of trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, AL. His aim was to one-up himself in the eyes of the world in the same way that Justin Timberlake did to Britney Spears with "Cry Me a River." This is the grouping that The Social Network belongs in: with a legacy of having carried out revenge in a devastating & public way.

But back to Sorkin. Because even if his manuscript is slanted by his interesting observation of a social network being developed by a socially-awkward creator, his observations are still smart & interesting. Take his comments at the end of his interview on The Colbert Report, starting around the 5:45 mark:

"Social networking is to socializing as reality television is to reality."

I was one of those gasping at how profound I considered the statement. (g) Because it is a performance. You have full control to edit what you project to the world. And so does everyone else. Meaning that what you see on someone's profile page or Twitter feed is only what they want you to see. So that we all have the ability to shape our "virtual realities," or the story about ourselves that we project to the world outside ourselves. And we can shape that in a way that flatters ourselves, boosts our pride, or any number of other selfish motives. Kind of like how Aaron Sorkin & Ben Mezrich shaped their respective stories to make them more engaging for the silver screen and the hardback.

Which makes me wonder about the following questions. I don't have firm answers yet, and if anyone wants to begin a dialogue, I think it'd be a fruitful conversation to have. Tell me what you think about the following...

- How can we do social networking in a way that doesn't serve our own conceit?

- How can we do social networking in a way that doesn't make us anti-social?

...and finally...

- How can we do social networking in a way that reflects the story of God & brings more glory to Him?