Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why I won't be paying to see The Social Network - Part 2: Hapless Geeks

continued from part I here

Despite the seemingly never-ending barrage of celebrities, Hollywood types, and generally pretty people who insist that they were heinous looking geeks in middle and high school, I'm personally fairly certain that they all doth protest too much.

Reason being, I kinda have to think that if these people were all geeks and nerds, then they'd actually manage a somewhat realistic portrayal of geeks and nerds in the media.

When responding to the criticism of The Social Network that it was a bit unseemly with its management of women, Aaron Sorkin said "I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren't the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80's. They're very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now." Two things:

1) Let's be real - the "cuddly nerds" of 80's movies thought about as highly of women as the misogynistic geeks of The Social Network do. It was just played for laughs. I'm using Revenge of the Nerds as my frame of reference here, but I'm sure there are more examples. For one thing, there are at least two scenes in the movie that are not only deeply disrespectful of women; they're also illegal. One is the bit where a video camera is installed in the sorority house so the nerds can watch the girls walk around topless. The second is the part where the nerd ends up having sex with the popular hot cheerleader even though she thinks it's her boyfriend. Let's be clear about this - in a court of law, that would be called rape. In the movie, she's all "Oh nerd I can't believe you were so good at t3h sex!" Yes, that's a very realistic response from a woman who just found out she had sex with some random person pretending to be her boyfriend in the dark.

2) Yes, there is misogyny in the geek world. There's misogyny in every world. This is nothing new. What's interesting is the depiction of this geek world as such a frightfully misogynistic one.

In the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields women are still a minority, except for probably the life sciences (heyo!) We know this. And yes, some geeks are mistrustful and resentful of women, dating back to whatever experience that has left them scarred. But geek men are now being raised in the post/feminist era, and increasingly with post/feminist ideals. Many geeks now are mildly awkward, but still have daily successful (even pleasant!) interactions with the opposite sex. And with so much of STEM work now being highly collaborative, chances are that there are male and female geeks working well together on a variety of projects.

This is why The Social Network rings false. Facebook is exactly the type of project that is born out of a team of collaborators that probably includes women (which real life corroborates,) but the movie instead opted for a radical portrayal of Facebook's creator as, frankly, misanthropic in general, but particularly seething toward women, to the extent that he apparently didn't want any on his team. (Well, I think one woman was spotted among the coders, but there was some kind of sexual remark made about her as well.)

So while geek women have stories to tell about sexism in the workplace - and they do - observing the geeks in this movie purports to be a surreal experience because it is so jarring against what a lot of geeks actually experience in real life. Even though Revenge of the Nerds and The Social Network are, at the end of the day, both stories about how geeks end up running shit, both treat geeks like they are a specimen to be studied. Like women, Hollywood just doesn't seem quite comfortable portraying the geek experience - male or female - because it hasn't quite lived it (as much as its members claim to have done so.)

Geeks - we walk among you. We look like you and talk like you, and we're not overall a collective group of social degenerates that do horrible things in movies out of despair against humanity. We do get laid and usually, it's by a real, live person. I know it seems like it's asking a lot for the contents of a fiction movie to be realistic, but hell, for a movie that's getting so widely praised (again, probably by people who are more than happy to make geek culture a scapegoat for sexism, human nastiness, and antisocial tendencies in general) I'd like to see characters that have some basis in real people - and not in name alone!

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