The Social Network (you know, the facebook movie!) sprinted through its story with enough dramatic acceleration and high-voltage quipping to keep us pretty much rapt for its entirety. But it sure ain’t the defining film of our generation, and not a responsible one at that, and here’s why:
1. That’s a stupid thing to say about a movie in general and a really weird thing to say about this movie since ambitious young nerds have been innovating, fighting, and reaching for power since time immorial and their stories have also been told for about that long. It’s just that this is about the internet. The same old arc applied to a new pixelated interface is the same old arc! People seem to think that just because this is about facebook it’s “emblematic of its time and place” but the creation story is a familiar one and the way facebook has changed our relationships to one another goes relatively unexplored. Those larger questions hover in the backdrop of dueling nerds but the repeated shock and awe at facebook’s success doesn’t get at the real social transformations of the current age. This movie could say something interesting about the social complexities of the facebook age but it’s kinda just about Harvard boys sparring and high-fiving over a good idea.
2. And we also really hope that The Social Network isn’t emblematic of our time because, if that’s true, there’s really no place for us here. Because we’re smart girls. Apparently smart girls’ only role in this world is to spur entitled boys on to greatness with a sharp tongue lashing or, when they’re at the top and feeling down, reassure them of their humanity. Every other female character in the movie is a twittering, bong-hitting bimbo with no ideas, hardly any words, and if she has a personality, it’s an inexplicably crazed one. So don’t call this our movie or a movie belonging to anyone on our social-scape because all the girls we know have ideas of their own right along side their male peers…not below them on their knees in a bathroom.
3. Further, Harvard in 2003 looked a lot more like our smart-girl world than the crudely misogynistic old boys’ world depicted here. Many have pointed out how far the movie departs from reality—from the invention of Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend and the elimination of real influential female relationships in his life; to the fact that the initial project, facemash, had women and men and didn’t seem to be an act of breakup-revenge; to the invention of Zuckerberg’s final-club obsession. That Sorkin and Fincher felt the need to make this story more male-dominated and the world in which they exist more sexist—that these misogynistic elements are necessary ingredients for successful drama—is perhaps most indicative of our current culture’s expectations. While the film is being praised for its contemporary insight, its most revealing commentary on the facebook age is an inadvertent one—the assumption that the we, the audience, want to see this particular story of age-old gender stereotypes and tired narratives.
4. So okay, this film doesn’t tell our stories or even particularly truthfully reflect the world it’s purporting to describe, but we’ll hold that against it only through point #3. We love tons of all-boys narratives and totally believe in their right to exist and, furthermore, often think they have good things to say about the cultures they reflect, but this is not one of those movies. The Social Network casts a critical eye on a lot of the contemptible traits of its world: the elitism of Harvard, the ambition of the start-up company game, the immaturity of emotionally-stunted computer geeks, even the superficiality of social ties in the facebook age. But the misogyny of its world somehow escapes the critical gaze. Aside from the two women who bookend the film and “drive the action only from the sidelines,” the film is populated with out-of-focus, muted, anonymous, often under-age girls whose only purpose is to embody the sex, fame, and power that all the men in the film are ultimately reaching for. What a fucked up gender dynamic. If the film had wanted to critique this dynamic in any way, as it does the rest of this world’s debaucheries, well then it could have:
Let the camera linger in the girls’ bathroom after Zuckerberg and his co-founder receive their blowjobs, instead of instantly cutting outside to the boys’ smirks. Who knows if we would have found something less bubbly and excited than the rest of the film’s images of femininity.
Bring the stoned teenage blondes into focus when Justin Timberlake tells them, as they dizzily loll and giggle, that it’s time for another bong hit. What if they shared a half-worried look about how the night was shaping up?
Give us 6 more lines where boys trip up on their own sexist assumptions—like when one boy has to ask another, in so many words, if he means ‘students’ when he says ‘chicks’ or when Zuckerberg asks his arch enemies, the Winklevi twins, what their girlfriends thought about facemash and they reply, “I don’t know; we should probly ask them.”
Give us any kind of reason a girlfriend would hatefully burn a gift. Her being a bitch is not a reason.
We’re not asking for The Social Network to be The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants with a little Waiting to Exhale thrown in; we’re asking for any kind of third dimension in the wall of giggles and boobs that composes the film’s background.
When Stephen Colbert asked Aaron Sorkin why there are so few women of any substance in the film, Sorkin’s response was startling direct: “The women are prizes.” First, let’s take a moment to appreciate how absurd it is that this qualifies as an answer. Oooooh I see! The women are the prizes and everyone knows prizes are, as Colbert says, “high or drunk or bleeping guys in the bathroom!” Frankly, that much was already clear. But it doesn’t answer the key question: Either the filmmakers are so totally A-okay with a world where women are considered nothing more than prizes, or they were attempting to critique that culture. If they were, they needed to do something (like any of the helpful suggestions above) to show that the women, even when serving as prizes in a male-centric film, are also human beings. And ultimately they failed to do that.