Friday, February 25, 2011

Some Thoughts on The Social Network, and a Question of the Day

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."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Enter the Miscarriage Police

The triumphant return of the famous Assy McGee Award®. The Award possibilities these days are endless. But wow. You really cannot, cannot, cannot make this stuff up. In addition to the usual attempt to overthrow Roe v Wade:

Franklin wants to create a Uterus Police to investigate miscarriages, and requires that any time a miscarriage occurs, whether in a hospital or without medical assistance, it must be reported and a fetal death certificate issued. If the cause of death is unknown, it must be investigated. If the woman can't tell how it happened, than those Uterus Police can ask family members and friends how it happened. Hospitals are required to keep records of anyone who has a spontaneous abortion and report it.

This country is losing its fucking mind. The fact that someone, even one person can attain political power with such an agenda, suggests that the nation in which that it a possibility might well be a hellhole. Combine that with the fact that there is nothing extreme about Rep. Bobby Franklin in the context of the party to which he belongs. Combine that with the fact that there is only the barest legitimate opposition to this bad craziness in the US political system, and you've pretty much got a good probability that this country is a hellhole.

Scott Walker and Women

Here's an interesting writeup on Scott Walker's "crusade" against women's rights.

Before linking to Mother Jones, Charles Johnson pithily notes:
Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker is not only trying to destroy public employees’ unions. For years, he’s also been working hard to force women back into the Dark Ages


Wisconsin: Not a Last Gasp, but a Homage

Why has the situation in Madison, Wisconsin, emerged as such a galvanizing issue for liberals nationwide? While the specific dispute over the collective bargaining rights of workers would seem to be enough, I have a feeling that there is something deeper to this that has, hitherto, gone mostly unexplored--namely, the presense of a widespread sense that what we are witnessing is a last gasp, of sorts, for liberalism in the United States.

On a policy level, it is hard to imagine the dispute in Madison ending in any way other than with a victory for Governor Walker. All they have to do is wait for the protests to quiet down, the media cameras to roam elsewhere, and the Democratic legislators to return. And I think that at bottom, the protestors and those of us who sympathize with them, know this. But still there is something to the fact that they are playing out the string. That is the nature of a last gasp. That is, on all except a few red meat social issues like abortion and gay rights, I believe that we are in the early stages of a broadcloth surrender of American liberalism as we know it.

Even in the paralytic days of 2002, as the US solidified sweeping tax cuts, passed the Patriot Act, and careened into initiating a second war, liberals did not show signs of entirely giving up. But now we look at the political landscape in its totality, the cost of the last eleven years, and all we see is wreckage. Consider:
  • The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue unabated. Where are the protests? Where is the opposition? (It is fashionable now to speak of "war fatigue," and that economic concerns have emerged as primary. Perhaps there is something to this; although it's too bad that the deaths and the billions spent are not thereby rendered any less real.) I think that the anti-war protestors saw there was absolutely no way to stop US military adventurism, and so gave up. Look for very little hue and cry when the next one starts.
  • Debate over government's role in the economy has been overtaken by quibbles over how much spending to cut, and where to cut it. The possibility of making meaningful changes to our tax code has been eviscerated and liberals know it.
  • Relatedly, liberals have surrendered the idea that corporate power could be checked by governmental regulations.
  • Um, it goes without saying that liberals have surrendered on health care as well.

Never in my lifetime have I seen such lethargy, such absence of liberal narrative or vision as we have known it in this country. Workers rights, poverty, education, the environment--all have been rendered less than afterthoughts in our national conversation. The words "Liberal," "Progressive," &c. will not go away however--they are simply shifting to mean different things, different priorities. Perhaps it will mean things like battling the repeal of child labor laws and opposing conscription.

In context, those will certainly be worthy battles, and they may even be winnable.

I think that, knowing something like this in their gut, liberals turn their eyes to Wisconsin and feel something stir. Maybe it is less a last gasp than a homage.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Happy Musical Tribute.


 Like Harrogate, it has been a long time since I blogged here.  Typically I blog at Pieces of M, as my blogging has been focused on my job search, my work and teaching, and my mothering.  However, the things going on in the U.S. are really pissing me off.  Sure I get that the U.S. is in serious debt.  I get that.  I also get that the budget needs to be cut, or my great-great-grandchildren will also be in debt. That said, I don't think the way to go about it is by cutting programs that benefit/provide services for individuals without insurance or who can't afford insurance.  I mean seriously, cutting Planned Parenthood and PBS?  Reproductive rights and the arts?  Seriously Republicans?  Could you be a little creative at least?  Like, I don't know, taking a pay cut or increasing taxes on individuals who make over $200,000 a year?