Exclusion, Inclusion and Identity in The Social Network

An insightful piece by A.O. Scott over at The NY Times that touches on identity, […]

David Zahl / 10.4.10

An insightful piece by A.O. Scott over at The NY Times that touches on identity, self-worth and the failure of “works” to assuage the accusing voice of the Law – in this case, the inner critic/persecutor –  as seen through the lens of The Social Network and Wall Street 2. Enough to make one wonder whether the word “drive” is actually a synonym for “socially acceptable yet ultimately counterproductive pursuit of self-justification”:

Every Facebook user, friending and unfriending at will, can travel freely in intersecting circles of his or her own design. In the utopian version of this resulting horizonless network, status is not something inherited or enforced by others or even earned: it is something you can change, update and revise according to your own whims. You are who you say you are, and what you want to be — a citizen of a perfect Emersonian republic of self-selection and self-reliance.

Except that the mood of “The Social Network,” directed by David Fincher from a script by Aaron Sorkin, is dark, sinister and paranoid. The disjunction between Facebook’s sunny communitarian promise and these ambient tremors of unease — the paradox of a deep loneliness in a world of friendship — is summed up in the character of Mark Zuckerberg himself.

In the film’s view, this young man, brilliantly and twitchily embodied by Jesse Eisenberg, is able to construct Facebook not only because he is a computer genius, but also because he is morbidly obsessed with status and exclusivity.

The resentment of elites is an axiom of political discourse and popular culture. So is the celebration of the self-made man, an outsider turned world-beater who rises to a position of titanic power and influence. And yet even though it is our habit to admire such people, our envy of them has a way, especially in movies and in older novels, of mutating, conveniently and reassuringly, into pity.

More than a few critics writing about “The Social Network” have invoked “Citizen Kane,” both to indicate their extravagant admiration of the film and to highlight some of its themes. Whatever the ultimate merits of the comparison, the brash young geniuses at the center of these two films share an unmistakably tragic dimension. Charles Foster Kane, the great newspaperman, ends up unable to communicate, much as Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of a great engine for sharing, schmoozing and keeping in touch, is defined by his failure to connect.