Go with a smile!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Social Network

I had 4 free movies after blowing $150 on cheap CDs at the gramophone at Cathay building. I spent them on “Inception”, “Heartbreaker” and now, the “Social Network”. (So I have 1 more). Good movies, all of them. Hope that something worth watching comes up. The movie tickets expire in April but I better watch 1 more movie by the end of the year because I think that 2011 will be quite busy for me.

Now since I'm going to be discussing the stuff that goes on in the movie you should treat this whole post as a spoiler.

1. Harvard
I didn’t go to Harvard, but one of my best friends did. I went to visit him 2 or 3 times. So when they filmed Harvard square, and Harvard yard, it looked veery familiar. Just as well I went to school in a place that will almost never be the setting for a feature movie.

A lot of the people I see there look very familiar to me, except that Harvard people are snootier than those at my college. No, I have never been behind those closed doors. But I can imagine.

What did I go to my college for? It was probably for the ivy, the intellectual atmosphere, the incredible stuff I could and did learn there. Probably also because I was vaguely familiar that it was a good thing to have on your CV. But the idea that you were among people who are movers and shakers, who are about to change the world - a lot of this escaped me.

Now that I see the excitement of a scene where everybody starts to realise that they're about to change the world, I think a little bit about what might have been. Instead, what a lot of my college life was like was realising that there was probably one or two things that I could have otherwise done on my own volition, that, even if it didn't change the world, would have amounted to a minor impact. Instead, I tried hard not to think too much about it, because after all I had to go back to Singapore and serve a bond that I didn't know whether or not I was going to enjoy.

2. Mark Zuckerberg
A lot has been made of how Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as an asshole in this film. The film begins with someone saying to him, "you are an asshole" and ends with someone else saying to him, "you are only pretending to be an asshole".

He comes off badly in this film but I can't help but wonder: who doesn't? The Winklevoss twins, who didn't do much of the work, but instead only had the idea of a social network, who understood the social implications well enough to tell Zuckerberg the only aspect of the facebook idea he couldn't have figured it out himself. Saverin, I'll talk about him later. The two asian sluts who threw themselves at Zuckerberg and Saverin don't come across well. Sean Parker doesn't come across well. There are almost no heroes in the story.

Except Mark Zuckerberg. Because, no matter how much mud is thrown at Zuckerberg, in the end there was still no taking away from the fact that Zuckerberg is Facebook and vice versa. It was he who had the talent, drive and acumen to make Facebook what it is today (Or at least, he was much of Facebook up till the point it had 1 million users.)

Now, it could have been true that the genesis of Facebook had much to do with Zuckerberg being a nerd on a campus where social status meant hell of a lot. But once he got the Facebook thing going, he did a lot of things right. He realised very early on that he could fob off the Winklevoss twins. He realised that between Saverin's vision of advertising on the site and Sean Parker's vision of holding out for the big payoff, the latter made more sense. And I read an interview with Zuckerberg before I watched the show. Zuckerberg was not the first to come up with a social networking site. Before him, there was Friendster and MySpace. An associate of his was quoted as saying, "execution is everything". That is true.

Google was at least 5 years late into the search engine race. It became big only after the great dotcom bust. Before it, there was lycos, yahoo, altavista and excite. What made it special? Execution. Similarly, Facebook is Facebook because Mark Zuckerberg made it better than MySpace or Friendster.

The Winklevosses are also portrayed as snide and cocky members of the upper class. Except this time, they were the losers. As Eisenberg says with that curled upper lip, "They're not suing for the money, they're suing because for the first time in their lives, things didn't go their way." A little harsh but true. Just ask yourself the question - what would they have done if facebook didn't take off like it did? Would they have sued him? Imagine some motorcyclist stole your purse and then drove into a wall. You'd have cocked your eyebrow, then taken that purse back and walk on as though nothing happened.

It makes good press, and a good soundbite to portray Zuckerberg as a jerk. I don't think he's exceptionally bad as a CEO. Anybody who has climbed that far up is a jerk. I felt that for the second half of the movie, he was less immoral than amoral. He just didn't let anybody get in the way of making Facebook really big.

However, in letting his restless ambition get the better of him, he did lose his one good friend. Other than that he didn't lose a lot of friends, because he never had any in the first place. He started out as a bit of a loser, albeit a talented one, and he ended up as the king of Facebook. Is that a tragedy?

The most jarring scene about him is that a lawyer did show some human interest in him, and he started stalking her on facebook. I was thinking: you're a billionaire, and you have to do something like that? What happened to all the chicks that are throwing themselves at you?

3. Eduardo Saverin
Now he's the really problematic character here. He was the only friend Zuckerberg had in the beginning, and he gave Zuckerberg the support. But he started to split off with Zuckerberg in the middle due to his differing points of view about the business. You had to feel for him, because he was a big loser in all this. But he wasn't a hero either.

First, he was a decent guy who was out of his depth. If he had pushed through his idea to generate revenue on Facebook through advertising, it would have been a disaster. Second, it was his choice to stay behind in New York and court investors: he had inadvertently cut himself out of the loop. Third, now you couldn't feel that sorry for somebody who gets to bang Brenda Song all the time, but he made a fairly unfortunate choice of a girlfriend.

Brenda Song = Sibeh Song

Saverin was the sacrificial lamb in this. He was a tragic victim, but a tragic victim is not the same thing as a hero. And even tragic victim is relative: what's so tragic about becoming a billionaire in the end? And did he stick it out because of the loyalty, or was it because he had a super-big stake in this? Was it that he just couldn't bail out, because he would never live it down for the rest of his life, that it did?

I heard that he's living in Singapore sometimes. Probably the guy has a soft spot of Asian girls throwing themselves at him.

4. Facebook
It probably gets a bad rap for all this. Does it depersonalise a lot of our social contact? Possibly. But then so did the telephone and every other telecommunication media that was ever invented. Yet at the same time it did reduce the distance between people: people wouldn't normally come into real life contact with the underprivileged, gay people or black people. Seeing them on TV would sorda personalise them wouldn't it?

It gets attacked a lot in this movie, primarily due to its genesis as the ultimate stalking tool for social misfits. This movie shows that its appeal is not that the girls on facebook are hotter than average, but that these are the people you actually know in real life. The way that facebook is a lot about assess to social networks, about how everybody was running their own final club, is something perceptive. But other than that, the most perceptive point was that Zuckerberg didn't really know what kind of a monster Facebook was growing into. Facebook may have changed the world because MySpace and Friendster failed to, but it changed the world. And we're still coming to grips with the implications.

People would dispute that Facebook is worth billions of dollars. So how and why would it generate revenue? What did it mean, that it had so much private data about everybody? Artificial intelligence hasn't been invented yet, so at the moment it's still a little hard to make sense of all the data. So what happens when that changes?

So the movie's good at how it started, why it caught fire, but not that much on how it eventually changed the world. But the latter question is not that relevant to our story.

There are glimpses of what the facebook culture really is like. You had plenty of computer wizards being hothoused in the same place. You had them zoning out when coding, driving themselves to a state of such intense concentration that the whole world gets shut out. You had them pulling stunts to audition for a place in Facebook: you had to do some hacking while drinking a shot for every 10 lines of code. That was badass, and some kind of symbol of massive intent that you had to have nothing but the best. If there was anything that symbolised the kind of ruthlessness that Zuckerberg was capable of, I guess that would be it.

Ultimately the “Social Network” is a good movie because it is a paradox: it was a movie that was made about a 21st century phenomenon, but it succeeds because it was made in the tradition of good 20th century movies: great plot and characterisation. Nothing flashy, nothing totally wacky or melodramatic. Human beings behaving the way that human beings behave.



Anonymous Nat said...

Dissing on Harvard, Hmm... Wasn't the fact that ----- taught at ----- for a while a motivation to go there? I wonder :D

12:50 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Thought I might have been clearer. I thought that some people at my school were snooty, but the people in the film at Harvard were snootier.

I went to that school because its liberal arts departments were as good as its engineering ones. Funny that it was my second choice school but I can't imagine not going there now!

The chicks there, though - while there were a handful of hot ones, I think the ones in NUS are, if not figuratively hotter, wear fewe clothes.

10:09 AM


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