Film & TV

The Unheeded Threat of The Social Network

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. (Sony Pictures)
The Mark Zuckerberg hagiography predicted Big Tech fascism.

Looking back to 2010’s The Social Network, we can see the beginning of mainstream media’s collusion with Big Tech, the source of the current communications purge. Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin concocted this hagiography of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in true hipster style. Not just a story about “the world’s youngest billionaire,” as its epigraph announces, it’s a sympathetic portrait of the period’s new sleek smartasses, celebrating Harvard University chic where Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is introduced. This budding oligarch, representative of the academic savvy then embodied in the new Obama administration, was film culture’s first evidence of the ruling class selfishness and cruelty when the worm turns and the school bully projects himself into today’s politics.

The Social Network won prizes over such films as Vincere, Wild Grass, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but awards from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics went beyond artistic approval; it is now apparent that the film-critic establishment was justifying the advancement of wealth, power, and the cultural dominance of the new technology. Their acquiescence now seems scarily ahead of its time.

Something awful snuck into the culture, reflecting the hostile new social media that Zuckerberg hosted and over which he would eventually prevail. The very first scene establishes Zuckerberg’s predisposition when he declares, “Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?” Silicon Valley’s collusion with the Chinese Communist Party is right there.

Production on The Social Network began well into Obama’s first term, when the media was enjoying its sense of elite enlightenment, offering Hollywood’s newest evocation of Harvard (Obama’s alma mater) since Soul Man and The Paper Chase. The film has Sorkin’s favorite scenario — a trial. In this we see a dispute over Zuckerberg’s ownership of the intellectual property of Facebook, and the scene in imbued with Fincher’s signature sinister tone, the exploration of brainiac gamesmanship. Fincher and Sorkin update a rags-to-riches saga, idealizing Zuckerberg as a Horatio Alger Obama.

These are not deep filmmakers, but even their dime-store Freudian characterization reveals a scared, secretive, vengeful, envious personality and the megalomania at the roots of tech censorship.

Young Zuck developed prevarication tactics that not even several pointless congressional hearings could penetrate. The Social Network’s most memorable scene is the inquest that showcases Zuckerberg’s imperiousness. When his founding partner’s lawyer (played by David Selby) asks the distracted genius, “Do you think I deserve your full attention?” Zuckerberg responds with a bratty soliloquy:

I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don’t wanna perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say “no.” I think if your clients wanna sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have a right to give it a try, but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie.

But lying has become the currency of the political and journalistic era — thus the lie on Gawker about my chairing the NYFCC’s Social Network event, from colleagues who loved the film’s deceit. Zuck continues:

You have part of my attention. You have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

That self-congratulatory, bravura screenwriter’s fantasy foretold those pointless Capitol Hill hearings in which every tech giant breezes past naïve questions. This portrayal makes Zuckerberg the smartest guy in the room rather than the sheepish-looking, alien-eyed dissembler we would eventually see address Congress. Here’s where Fincher and Sorkin betray their obsequiousness and #resistance cynicism. Both are habitually infatuated by the manipulations of the arrogant and famous, as also seen in Mank and The Trial of the Chicago Seven.

It’s almost Ayn Randian, but, notably, only Zack Snyder understood this when he cast Eisenberg as the villainous Lex Luthor in 2013’s Batman v Superman. That’s where Eisenberg’s fast-talking genius not only made patsies of the Senate but literally obliterated it. Snyder’s sense of myth spotted a demiurge, while The Social Network made excuses: “You’re not an asshole, Mark,” concludes a flirty law clerk played by Rashida Jones. “You’re just trying so hard to be.”

Sure, Fincher and Sorkin admire high-rollers and brash young entrepreneurs. They whirl viewers through a new La Dolce Vita with special guest-star portrayals of Sean Parker, Peter Thiel, the Waspy Winklevoss twins, even Larry Summers (Harvard’s president and the secretary of the Treasury and future head of Obama’s Economic Council) to glamorize it. If this is how Hollywood whitewashes a buttoned-up figure like Zuckerberg, one shudders at how it would apotheosize Jack Dorsey. (Perhaps replace Trent Reznor’s surprisingly neoclassical Social Network music score with Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails tune “Head Like a Hole,” for its Democratic Socialists’ fascist lyrics: “Head like a hole / Black as your soul / I’d rather die than give you control / Bow down before the one you serve.”)

Fincher and Sorkin’s boot-licking view of celebrity history is not only ethically irresponsible it is casually antipathetic. Just like their heroes who practice authoritarian control, they really worship power and the political domination it asserts.

The Social Network should have been a dire warning. It was not heeded. And here we are.

Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles. His new book, Make Spielberg Great Again: The Steven Spielberg Chronicles, is available at Amazon.

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