The Social Network: Believing the Truth in a False Story—I Like
November 7, 2010 at 11:14 am, by Jonah Rank
Two Thursday nights ago (October 28), I finally got around to seeing The Social Network. I thought it was an unbelievable film—fantastically told, and a story that I could hardly believe—and I loved it.
While watching the film, I couldn’t believe how anyone could be as brilliant as that Mark Zuckerberg who was presented in the film. I could believe however that anyone as brilliant as this depiction of Mark Zuckerberg would be a jerk: people-smarts and science-smarts require different parts of the brain. The connection between Facebook and Sean Parker was something that I had totally missed until seeing the film, and that any Internet fad could grow as fast as Facebook and Zuckerberg’s other projects just blew me away. (I write this by the way as somebody who has toyed with creating Internet sensations: before the film of Mamma Mia! was released, I released “Genetic Test [The Missing ABBA Song],” that—at the time of this writing—still hasn’t reached quite even 5000 views. 3500 of them might have been me, come to think of it.)
After seeing the film, I felt guilty for giving in to Facebook. By being a regular user of Facebook, I had submitted myself to what seemed to be the fruitful product of a post-breakup drunken stupor of some pretentious Harvard kid who lacked social skills yet held great social cravings. I asked myself why I would let that weirdo hold all of the information that I post on Facebook, why I would let him control who my “friends” are, and why I should trust this guy for anything at all. So, what did I do? Quit Facebook? Nah. I just tweeted onto Facebook about how awkward I felt after the film (and then a few friends and I discussed my Status further).
Upon reading one friend’s Reply to this Thread, it occurred to me that the film I had just seen—which I thought looked extremely realistic—might not have told a historically accurate story. Like any other good early 20-something with both too much time on one’s hands (and still not enough of it), I figured I’d get down to the bottom of the matter and read the Wikipedia entries about The Social Network and The Accidental Billionaires (the book on which the film was based). As it turned out, the film had some errors in it: most notably, the events were over-dramatized, and Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t appear to be that much of a jerk (or at least I don’t think so: check out this bit at http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2010/10/watch-mark-zuckerberg-respond-to-his-portrayal-in.html ).
So, it turned out that an incredible film is actually the beautiful narrative of some tall tales. That being said, there was still something very powerful about the film that just utterly resonated with my understanding of the world around me (and I like to think that my perspective of the world is based on reality). So, what do I make of it? It seems that this is a question that I face a lot in life, and probably many—if not all—of us do face this: how can we love things that never happened? It seems as if stories like these always contain kernels of truth.
As an observant Jew, I am someone who spends a lot of time reading texts that tell stories that don’t sound realistic to me (like Rabbi Akiva reciting the Shema while burning to death) or stories that, historical evidence says, might not ever have happened (like the walls of Jericho may never have fallen in the time of a guy named “Joshua”). But these stories don’t resonate with me because they’re historically accurate or because they’re even physically possible or conceivable. These stories affect me because they contain some message that ultimately serves to inspire me or open my eyes to view the world differently. I doubt that anybody—no matter how pious she or he is—could really have the strength to recite and meditate on a Biblical verse while being fatally tortured, but I do believe that that tale of Rabbi Akiva can inspire us to understand the importance of Jewish tenets of faith to the founders of Rabbinic Judaism—that we live and die with our beliefs and convictions. Similarly, I have little reason to believe that those mythic walls came tumbling down when Joshua fought the battle in Jericho, but I may find the fact that my tradition tells this story gives me reason to believe that my ancestors felt Godliness was on their side when they entered the the land of Canaan after several centuries of absence; it teaches me that, life in the land of Canaan was so important to my ancestors that they were willing to take down the strongest of fortified cities and try to build their own civilization there anew.
So, Facebook? Run by jerks? Not really. But, that is not to say that any random Facebook user is not run by base inclinations—greed for popularity, craving to find a medium for defaming others, or simply laziness. Why are we attracted to the dangers of a social network? There’s something very attractive about this potentially dangerous recreational tool, and the story of The Social Network does not tell us how that came to be, but it does describe to us why it is. The Social Network isn’t the story of how Facebook happened—just the story of how Facebook could have happened. Aaron Sorkin’s storytelling in The Social Network exposes us for about 2 hours to confront some of our legitimate concerns about the safety and ulterior motives of Facebook and all the members of that social network.
The Social Network is like the Bible, Midrash, and like any other narrative that isn’t told 100% right (and that’s almost every story). It doesn’t always tell us how it is, but it reminds us how it feels. And very few things can be truer than that.