Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why I won't be paying to see The Social Network - Part 3: A synthesis.

This is the last bit, continued from part 2.

I've already written about how 1) Hollywood generally treats women like props and objects, and 2) Hollywood doesn't understand the geek experience, and it shows in movies that purport to be about geeks. Since beginning this series of posts, I've had a lot of opportunities to read various viewpoints, rebuttals, and interpretations of this film. This has allowed what I say in this post to more or less be my final say on the matter, such that I feel that I'd really be going around in circles repeating what I've already said if I had to argue any of this further.

The argument of many, including Sorkin himself, was that The Social Network isn't a misogynistic movie - it's a movie about misogyny. I'll give our fair writer and director the benefit of the doubt that their intentions were good, but it does seem that there was no insignificant failure in making this distinction, given that so, so many people have walked away from this feeling so uncomfortable. That discomfort has promoted dialogue, which is never a bad thing, but I think the dialogue would have been a very different one had the film's motives been more clear.

When your movie is in some way a biopic, there is an urge to make your movie through the eyes of that protagonist. That, it seems, is what Sorkin and Fincher have done here - the world of Harvard and geek life are being viewed as how proto-Zuckerberg saw it, which is and of itself part reality and part fantasy. It makes sense then, on this level, that if proto-Zuckerberg is a misogynist, the women on the screen seen through his eyes would not be portrayed in the most favorable light.

Now, the whole movie, basically, is more or less about how this version of Zuckerberg is a dick. So there certainly is the interpretation that, much in the way that the audience isn't really supposed to agree with anything that Eric Cartman says or does on South Park, the audience here is supposed to read proto-Zuckerberg's views on women and humanity as deplorable. I'd allow that, except that in the past few weeks I've read a frightening number of comments that claim (I'm paraphrasing) "Well, the movie is just telling the truth. College girls are like that - they show up to parties slutty and just want to get laid by powerful or good-looking men."

Obviously, a problematic viewpoint. But the thing is, that's not really a radical reading - it doesn't seem that the movie does much to actually prove otherwise. There are two women in it who are meant to be respectable: first, there is the girlfriend in the beginning, Erica, who dumps Zuckerberg because "[he's] an asshole"; secondly, there is Zuckerberg's lawyer, played by Rashida Jones. Sorkin has used Erica as evidence that there are classy women in the movie, but rather, I feel that she is a very cliched exception to the rule. Jones' character, despite being smart and a good lawyer, is still by requirement sympathetic to Zuckerberg, so truly, Erica is the only woman in the film who blatantly points out to Zuckerberg that he's a bad dude. She's the only woman who stands up to him, and she's in the movie for less than 20 minutes. The rest are all his rewards, his prizes, and his protection. That's just not realistic, but rather than take the opportunity to prove the heralded Erica right by including more women like her, The Social Network glorifies Zuckerberg's sexist fantasy.

This gets into the whole point of "affirmative action" in movies: when is it necessary, if ever, to make sure that every type of person - in "Sesame Street" rainbow fashion - is represented fairly and equally in every single movie? That's one argument that seems to come up every time a complaint is made about the treatment of a certain social group in a film. "This movie is about one man and his world. It doesn't make sense to add women. It would make for some really cumbersome movies to do this all the time," the argument goes. I think this argument is kind of a straw man. No one has suggested that every single movie needs to be this way; rather, if more movies were made that weren't primarily about white men, then the film industry as a whole would be more inclusive.

That said, there is something interesting at play with The Social Network, namely, that this is allegedly somewhat biographical. So yes, this is a movie that is unequivocally about one man. However, in real life, there isn't anything to suggest that Mark Zuckerberg was this much of a hateful misogynist. Moreover, the complaint about unnecessarily adding women to this film is ironic and off-base, because the fact is that there were real women erased from Zuckerberg's life to create this film. The real Mark Zuckerberg was in a serious, committed relationship with a woman throughout the whole time frame represented in this movie. They probably had a lot to talk about after watching movie Zuckerberg get blowjobs in the bathroom at parties! Also, people who claim to have known Zuckerberg during this time say that he was very close to his sister, and that she was very involved in the creation of Facebook at the consultant level. Finally, in real life, though she wasn't around during the representative time period, Zuckerberg became very close friends with Sheryl Sandberg, who is now the COO of Facebook.

This really doesn't seem to be the same guy who hates and can't relate to women.

Would the real-life events involved in the creation of Facebook have been as interesting to watch onscreen? Perhaps not. But the invention of this misogynistic character to apparently make a point about misogyny amongst nerds seems disingenuous when you realize that real, smart, savvy women were ablated from the screenplay and the story in favor of two-dimensional party-favor women who only exist to further proto-Zuckerberg's fantasy. The omission, to me, seems completely unnecessary. We already have enough movies where women are treated this way - why did this movie have to join their ranks, when there is compelling evidence to suggest that it didn't have to be this way?

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