“The Social Network”

I watched “The Social Network” last Sunday. I saw there is some controversy on the intarwebs regarding the accuracy of the historical representation, and wondered why I was not that bothered by the accuracy.

Then I understood — the movie is not history, the movie is a creation myth. “Myth” is a word that’s orthogonal to “accurate” — it does not mean “untrue”. A myth is a shared story, through which one reaffirms one’s cultural heritage. This movie is the Harvardian Facebook creation myth, much like the Genesis story is the Jewish world creation myth.

Then I realized who I am. I am the Romans, the ones who read the Hebrew creation story and could not understand the cultural assumptions embedded there. The facebook creation story revolves around Zuckerberg being the bad guy. But I, together with my fellow Romans in Downtown San Mateo (where I watched it), half-way between San Francisco and Palo Alto, did not understand why he was supposed to be the bad guy of the pieces.

WARNING: TSN spoilers below this line

A pivotal scene is the one where Mark, despite everyone, decides to move the company to Palo Alto. I guess this makes him a bad guy in Boston. Here, you could actually feel the theater cheering for him “move, move”. Another pivotal scene is where Edwardo comes to the Palo Alto from NYC, and realizes Mark didn’t really register that he quit his internship and tried to get advertisers for Facebook. But once again, the theater reacted with “meh, he was busy coding” sigh, and got on.

Zuckerberg was supposed to be an asshole because he preferred building tools to being social online rather than being social himself (online or offline). Here in the Bay Area, that’s a preference most of us can relate to.

Like every creation myth, it teaches more about the cultural heritage rather than about the creation itself. This movie taught me a lot about Harvard and its values. Connections, money and social status — somehow, all the “heroes” of the piece had all of those. All (the mythical) Zuckerberg had was irreverence for authority and coding skill, which clearly does not compare.

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2 Responses to “The Social Network”

  1. Jonathan says:

    Just for the record. I was at Harvard during the years of this story. And I can assure you that the portrayal of “connections, money and social status” are nothing more than a previous myth. Boston Brahmins make up a very small percentage of the student body, and Final Clubs are generally seen as a joke. These are perhaps a useful story telling device. And though Harvard certainly does have vestiges of these, I never encountered them in the way the movie portrayed them.

    I too did not understand why the media felt that Zuckerberg was in any way a “villain”. The only real villain I could identify in the movie was Sean Parker, which I felt was portrayed as the stereotypical “sell his mother for a buck” self-styled businessman.

  2. I haven’t seen the movie but I certainly understand why Zuckerberg is portrayed as the villain. He got to where he is by lying to people and stealing their information in any way he could. I could elaborate, but hopefully Wikipedia’s comprehensive history of the site is more illuminating than the creation myth :).

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