I saw The Social Network last night and it’s only fitting that I use my blog to write about a movie about Facebook, the company that Mark Zuckerberg supposedly started while he was at home, drunk and blogging.
The movie only hauled in $23 million in its opening weekend which suggests the Oscar buzz didn’t significantly enhance the box office success of the film, but I think the slightly-lower-than-expectations opening has more to do with the fact that when good movies go up against good sports, sports win. This past weekend saw the Yankees and Rays in a tight AL East race while the Braves, Giants and Padres battled it out for the final two playoff spots in the NL. Also, Texas and Oklahoma played (sorry, I didn’t forget), as did Florida-Alabama and Stanford-Oregon. Oh, and Donovan McNabb’s Redskins played in Philadelphia. In other words, it was a big week for sports.
Regardless of the opening numbers, The Social Network is a really good movie. It will likely remain strong in the theatres because the writing and directing were top notch, the music was by Trent Reznor and the casting was pretty much spot-on, even with the Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker (Napster founder) selection. Oh, and Facebook has half a billion users if that’s good for anything.
So what is it that I’m here to say about the film? Well, I should first put out the SPOILER ALERT. Secondly, I’ll tell you that the things that stood out for me weren’t so much what I learned from the movie that I didn’t already know or what I think about Mark Zuckerberg after seeing it. What really resonated with me were the questions I left Alamo thinking about as I walked out:
What does it say about the structure of exclusivity within the private school system if Mark Zuckerberg, a kid who scored a 1600 on his SATs and attended the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, feels like an outsider at Harvard?
I am a huge public school advocate. I grew up going to poorly-ranked public schools with oversized class sizes and too few capable teachers, but that didn’t stop me from becoming the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college. When I was 12, I decided I wanted to go to either UT or UNC and never deviated from that plan largely because private schools, with their tokenism and privileged black students, didn’t interest me. This is part of the reason why, to this day, I wrote Real Role Models and why I spend so much of my time speaking to AISD students and Teach for America classes all over the country; these students – and not the ones at Phillips Exeter – need my help.
Sure, the argument is that if you could afford to go to or send your kids to a private school you would do it, but I don’t agree. I think there are important social lessons that can only be learned in public schools. If you’ve read anything and watched The Social Network, regardless of how much you believe is true, you realize that Zuckerberg isn’t exactly a social butterfly and I bet transferring to Phillips Exeter and later attending Harvard did more to hinder his social abilities than if he had continued in public institutions. You may suggest that Facebook never would have been created without the exclusivity rampant at those establishments, which is true, but if you consider the societal costs our country (and eventually the world) is paying because of what that exclusivity encouraged Zuckerberg to create, I’d argue that Zuckerberg would have been better off creating something that served the conscious public like Sean Parker’s Napster or Craig Newmark’s Craigslist, rather than our subconscious egos and need for acceptance like what Facebook does.
The largely-fictitious theory that writer Aaron Sorkin worked with in making the screenplay for The Social Network is that Zuckerberg’s desire for notoriety and acceptance (in finals clubs) pushed him to extract just enough from other people (ideas, money) in order to push his original idea (facemash.com) to the next level (Facebook). This is fine and dandy, but the truth is that we all have our reasons for doing what we do. I’m sure someone could tie much of my ambition and accomplishments, as minute as they may be, to not having grown up with my father. They’d probably be half accurate. But, to me, that’s going directly to the effect and complicating or possibly skipping the cause. The cause may be rooted in the basic structure of private schools. While private schools think they create more focused, enhanced environments for learning, they also breed fiercely over-competitive and cliquish environments socially (note: the Winkelvoss twins played this role perfectly).
Which leads me to my second and final question: What does The Social Network say about our generation? I know movies are works of fiction more often than not, but that doesn’t mean they’re not rooted in society. I just saw Wall Street 2 and it was basically a regurgitation of the 2008 economic crisis with Lehman Brothers (and their bankruptcy just over two years ago) and Goldman Sachs being the two featured firms. That said, what does this film say about our society and the role Facebook plays in it. I’m not just talking about the breakups I’m sure Facebook is responsible for or the decreased value of friendships with various people who you never really intended to keep in touch with, I’m talking about our age with the creative class and the powers that be.
Did Zuckerberg break intellectual property law by using parts of different ideas to improve his own or is that just where we’re headed with easier ways to communicate and share technology? Is Zuckerberg doing the right thing to be the CEO instead of letting some grey-hair take over as Sean Parker tells him in the movie? Is Zuckerberg one of us – the creative class – or is he just a new type of businessman? Now that Zuckerberg has “made it”, will he be in the catbird’s seat like former Harvard president, US Treasurer and recently-former National Economic Council director Larry Summers and be as dismissive and unable to see the potential in some young kids’ ideas?
Is that the goal today? To be in the position to help people up as Sean Parker did or is it to be able to reject people as Larry Summers did rather than being rejected as Zuckerberg was made to feel by the finals clubs? I guess we’ll never quite know the social ramifications of The Social Network, but I think it’s good to wonder.