Not too long ago, we watched The Social Network for the first time, and I was very impressed with it.
My interest in the movie going into it was twofold: on a personal level, as an enthusiastic facebook user who nevertheless maintains heavy skepticism about the ultimate healthiness of social networking; and also on a professional level, as a writing teacher who more and more has been bringing issues surrounding digital culture into the classroom. I had my rhet/comp classes this semester read Time Magazine's writeup of Mark Zuckerberg, and in the process of breaking down the article my interest in how facebook came to be was much heightened.
One interesting thing about the movie, on a rhetorical level, is the irony of the title. Very little time is devoted to facebook, facebook use, or the exploding phenomenon of social networking. The "social network" of the movie, rather, explores the (pretty ruthless) tendrils emanating from Zuckerberg and his activities, both on the Harvard campus and then later, by virtue of Napster co-found Sean Parker, Zuckerberg's "arrival" in silicon valley.
As many have noticed, the Zuckerberg charcter that this movie gives us comes across as quite socially incompetent--if not actually sociopathic. That is, Zuckerberg is represented in the movie as someone who is a genius but who seems to lack the capacity to even imagine the impact of his actions on others, let alone truly care about others. Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Zuckeberg in this regard was quite good, as were most all of the supporting cast--especially Justin Timberlake's portrayal of Parker, which I believe deserved every bit of hype it got--really, his performance may have even been underrated.
However. For me, the movie's overt representation of Zuckerberg as a quasi-sociopath raises, I think, very serious questions about the ethics of making movies about public figures in their own time. The Time Magazine writeup pretty much demolished a key premise of the film: more specifically, that Zuckerberg's rise was triggered by having lost, and wanting to impress, a girl that, for all the millions he made, he could never get back (this motif was rendered even more heavy-handed by the fact that the movie explains Sean Parker's Napster achievment on the same terms. Parker has gone on record saying that the movie's portryal of him is almost wholly fictitious). But in truth, as Time's writers made clear, Zuckerberg already had the girl when he started Facebook, and he is still with her today. Further, the magazine writeup went out of its way to demonstrate that Zuckerberg is actually quite socially adept--unless he feels like someone is wasting his time, at which point he tunes them out.
Time's worries about Zuckerberg were mostly aimed at his cavalier posture towards Privacy and Privacy Rights. But that's perhaps another topic, for another post.
What I am interested in asking here is this: How serious of an ethics problem is it, when a movie projects a highly stylized, and for that matter very unflattering, interpretation onto a person--public figure or not--in their own lifetime? The last line of the movie features one of the legal team saying to Zuckerberg, before walking out the door: "You're not an asshole, Mark. You're just trying so hard to be."