Lacking "honesty" and "a human quality": Sorkin and the Anti-Social Network

Curator's Note

As often occurs with mass-interview publicity tours for high-profile films, in promoting The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin became quite repetitive, insisting upon two particular points with respect to the film and its (presumed) subject matter, i.e. Facebook: first, that "the Facebook movie" is, in fact, an old-fashioned tale of greed and betrayal (Sorkin and others consistently liken it to Greek or Shakespearean tragedy), and second, that the disconnect depicted in the film between the two main characters (Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, and Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield) is indicative of the alienation and dehumanization of all social media participants. The first two to three minutes of the provided clip exemplify this second point, with Sorkin doling out what he terms an unsophisticated opinion of social media, deeming it "insincere," dishonest, inhuman and disruptive to sociality and community.

Sorkin’s comments (admittedly not those of an Internet/social media user) are representative of a more widespread tendency in assessments of, and broader arguments against, "social media" (proposed by, for example, Malcolm Gladwell and, in a piece responding to The Social Network itself, Zadie Smith), whereby these media are characterized as disingenuous spaces, lacking a rather vaguely delineated "humanity." At stake in this argument for Sorkin, perhaps, is a need to defend his more "traditional" art form, resulting in "a movie about 2.0 people made by 1.0 people" (Smith). That new guard Zuckerberg and Facebook could possibly represent the end of old guard Sorkin and Columbia Pictures is perhaps among the chief oppositions at the heart of the film.

The Social Network and Sorkin’s extratextual commentary around it (in interviews, DVD special features, award acceptance speeches, etc.) joins the lament of the social-media naysayers (whom Adam Gopnik wittily refers to as the "Better-Nevers") over an apparently novel lost humanity, as if ignorant of the comparable mournings of a hollow modernism or pastiched postmodernism, for starters. This unclear, untenable humanist framework adopted by Sorkin and Better-Never critics is an idealistic crutch, a tired, recycled critique of "man" and "technology," instead of an in-depth consideration of the specifics. In The Social Network, Facebook becomes merely the story’s macguffin. To paraphrase his own Zuckerberg iteration, if Sorkin had wanted to make a movie about Facebook, he would have made a movie about Facebook. Instead he has created a "classic" film about "humanity" for a generation he contends is losing theirs.

Comments

Kelli Marshall's picture

Sorkin, Mind-Reader?

You think Sorkin knew your column was in the works? See last week’s "The Social Network Writer Aaron Sorkin Quits Facebook." =)  I didn’t realize Sorkin was such "a grumpy old man!" Enjoyed your analysis, Pamela. Thanks!

David Castillo's picture

Aaron Sorkin and Nicholas Carr

Excellent piece. This was the problem I had with the Social Network, not as a film (which was great for its medium), but as a thinly veiled critique. In focusing so much on a hyper-stylized version of the drama surrounding the characters, Sorkin missed the spirit of the facebook project: Zuckerberg is painted with the broad strokes of a classic villain, containing a Machiavellian penchant, rather than with the more counter cultural sentiment displayed in Zuckerberg’s real life attitude. Still a great film, but a "modern" mind, might have been more interested in these elements.

I sort of side with Sorkin on the Better-Never frontlines, however. Gopnik’s piece in the New Yorker was a fine introduction to the debate popularized by Nicholas Carr, for example, but Gopnik, in his critique, misses a crucial point on internet influence, in ignoring how young minds, in particular, are "at risk" in this technological takeover. Jeff Jarvis, Andrew Sullivan, and Tina Brown have a great conversation on this topic at Fora.tv. Nonetheless, good article.  

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