Tuesday, October 12, 2010

KILL YOUR GODS! and more on THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Yep, it's more FIGHT CLUB wackiness!


Various and sundry thought after a second viewing of The Social Network, a brilliant film that continues to burrow its way into my thoughts:

*To my beloved doubters out there in the extended blogosphere, who questioned my Fight Club comparison in the previous entry, I point you to the scene in which Mark sets up a Facebook page to effectively cheat on his art final.  The camera opens with a wide shot of he and Eduardo talking, with the assigned paintings featured in an on screen panel in the background.  After a beat of dialogue, cut to a close-up of the screen.  The words on the top left corner of the picture panel?  “Tyler Durden’s Photos”.  HA!

*Okay, so I still haven’t convinced you.  Howzabout these apples:
-Tyler Durden is, essentially, homeless, squatting in the Paper Street house.  Sean Parker is, essentially, homeless, squatting in the homes of friends and ultimately Mark’s rental pad.
-Speaking of that rental house, much is made of the Facebook programmers being plugged into their system, hypnotically ensconced in the project’s hivelike atmosphere.  In Fight Club, much is made of the hivelike atmosphere of the Paper Street house once Tyler initiates Project Mayhem, an endeavor which demands its disciples to be figuratively plugged in to their work at all times.
-Social Network begins with the Mark/Erica Albright confrontation, which sets Mark on the path to his revolution.  One of the first lines in Fight Club is “Suddenly, I realized that all of this, the gun, the bombs, the revolution, had something to do with a girl named Marla Singer”.
-When Sean pushed Mark into pranking Sequoia Capital’s bigwigs (by attending their pitch meeting and saying “Sean Parker says ‘Fuck You’ “ to an old enemy), Mark is dressed in a bathrobe and pajamas…much like Edward Norton is dressed in a bathrobe and boxers at the climax of Fight Club.

Okay, okay, so that last point might be stretching things a bit.  So here are some other musings on various themes and subjects.

*If you do buy into at least some of the Fight Club comparisons, it’s intriguing to think about how the endings of these two films serve as summations of the national traumas of their respective times.  Fight Club’s final image (of the credit card towers collapsing) eerily prefigured the 9/11 attacks, in film that was about the rise of a guerilla terrorist organization.  The final trauma of Social Network (Mark’s betrayal of Eduardo) is far more intimate and personal, a corporate screw job that fits in perfectly with the massive chicanery of the 2008 financial crisis.

*The early cross cutting between Mark’s creation of Face Mash and the Phoenix Final Club party is a nice touch, as Mark is rising from his self-imposed ashes for the first of several times in the film, in this case from his epic flameout with Erica.

*I love how when Sean begs for Mark’s help over the police station phone (after he’s busted at the climactic frat party) he has to use his inhaler, that stereotypical nerd accessory.  For all of his pomp and bombast, Sean is still a computer geek at heart, and just as Mark figuratively assimilates and destroys Sean, so too does the film knock him off his godly perch. 

Seeing this section again, I was struck by Mark’s earlier comments about Facebook being an ever evolving project with no set end point.  If Sean’s downfall symbolizes Mark killing his (at least short term) god, it would figure that an endeavor stuck in constant beta-mode would be one which constantly sets up new gods, only to destroy each of them along the way.  Perhaps this is waxing too grandiloquently (or perhaps I’ve been watching Zardoz too much lately), but Facebook is, quite possibly, the leading propagator of the short attention span theatre that is our modern life. 

To wit, five months ago (after breaking down and establishing a FB page), I decided to create a story in which I had written an (obviously fake) book and was about to go on my promotional tour, only to have Facebook and a mysterious enemy jinx my deal with the publisher.  I posted this tale of woe on my profile, stating that in protest against this injustice I had decided to abandon my native language and speak (and write) only in German.  After just three posts en deutsch, I began to have friends post questions about why I was doing this, even though a two second scan through my posts would have told them why.  The Facebook wall is constantly setting up mini-gods in its posts, only to quickly kill them off, feeding the imperative of creating new content.  After all, how many times have you scanned several pages back on your friends’ walls?

*On a similar note, in Mark Harris’s New York Magazine profile of the film, he theorizes that Aaron Sorkin’s script might have created “a remarkable rarity in contemporary studio filmmaking: a movie that could recapture for Hollywood some claim to the national cultural conversation that has, in the last decade, been virtually co-opted by television.”  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  After all, so much of Facebook’s role is not to establish a lasting conversation, but to scatter it into soundbites, video links and picture tags.  Even a masterfully made film such as Social Network might have a tough time commanding the national conversation (at least on a short term basis) when its focus is that which debilitates national conversations. 

A better example of a film that has captured the national conversation is Christopher Nolan’s Inception.  Part of that film’s command probably lies in its less than illustrious company; after all, in a summer of increasingly banal fare, its attempt at challenging the audience even a bit made it look like a Russian novel by comparison.  But part of that film’s successful infiltration of the collective cultural consciousness can also be chalked up to the fantastical, abstract nature of its subject.  Mark Zuckerberg dreams of reinventing himself and striking back at his perceived enemies, but all the audience sees are the literal actions that he undertakes to do so.  Even though much of Inception’s action is based in action film parlance, its crew of dream pirates exist in an ever-changing world where reality is literally unstable.  Zuckerberg is haunted by Erica Albright, but Dom Cobb can’t escape the phantasmagoric image of his dead wife as he plunges again and again into her Inferno-like lair (and as she continually cameos in his dream missions).  In a modern society where mystery is stuck in its prolonged death throes, where Google and Facebook make answers that once required pondering available at the click of a mouse, our subconscious is still the Wild West, a seemingly infinite space and subject for discussion.

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