Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Facebook Movie: the Me Generation v. the iGeneration

"I really think this whole performing thing is a way for me basically to just be myself...and have a microphone. To be myself, and be louder than anybody else in the room."
-- Lyle Lovett, 1992
"Facebook profiles are always something of a performance: you choose the details you want to share and you choose whom you want to share with."



Security was irritating at last night's screening of The Facebook Movie (the Social Network), precipitating an exodus out to the cars to stow the banned cellphones. Kids could've been emptying bags of syringes and spoons as long as the iPhones didn't make it in. "Here's your lighter, miss. And your pipe."

It wasn't a sell-out, but it was a good crowd -- filled with exactly the 20-somethings director David Fincher aimed for -- all batting their eyes a little at the late afternoon September light, still recovering from the afternoon when facebook crashed.

Sadly, the news had to break on Twitter that facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had just given the New Jersey public school system $100 million bucks. (PC Magazine -- and the ultimate Twitter Transparency Mayor Cory Booker -- suggests that Zuckerberg nearly made the donation anonymously. But it's hard to imagine Oprah standing for that.  "YOU get an education! YOU get an education!" A commenter notes that it's like the "episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Ted Danson gets lots of praise for donating an art gallery wing 'anonymously' while Larry David is scorned because his donated wing had his name on it.")

It seemed cruel to deprive the audience of such a self-referential, self-aware movie an opportunity to discuss it while it played out in front of them. (If a tree fell...)

This is a movie made entirely, and expertly, by grownups Fincher  (Seven, Fight Club) and Sorkin (A Few Good Men, West Wing) and to a great degree: for grownups. The hippest thing about it is Trent Reznor's score and Trent Reznor is what...46 now? The dialogue is smart, sharp, and sparkly -- and bears no resemblance to how Zuckerberg speaks in interviews -- you can't handle the truth? On paper (if such a thing still existed), it might be hard to imagine how a movie with long sequences devoted to coding -- and explaining coding -- could be riveting, but it is.

This movie is big and expensive and almost 80s-like. It's the Me Generation vs. the iGeneration.

It is all Wall Street (the original), not the handheld verite of the new indie facebook-preoccupied Catfish.

(The movie previewed the same night that Twit My Dad Says premiered on TV -- painfully illustrating that not all social-media stories or phenoms are transferable to the screen. The TV suits took a slight, modestly amusing twitter feed and tried to shoehorn it into the nearly-dead sitcom format, brought to you by KoMut "Will and Grace" Entertainment.)

The grownups seem a little angry. Much like the 80s. Even cocaine  makes a comeback (at least for the Justin Timberlake Napster character, Sean Parker) ...just like the 80s.

Fincher, Sorkin, and Jesse Eisenberg (the Squid and the Whale), who plays Zuckerberg, go out of their way to "disclose" that they don't personally use facebook, and that it's immaterial to The Story (which is played out as half Shakespearean, and half courtroom drama, which has now been replaced by the new procedural: the deposition drama, where nothing ever actually gets to court).

Newsweek ("Friends Without Benefits") is pissed off because Facebook -- unlike the old HP/Intel/Apple days of Silicon Valley -- doesn't actually make anything. (In related news: GET OFF MY LAWN.) Plastics. Plastics. Their argument is, facebook isn't science and it doesn't solve problems. Elsewhere though, they turn in an elegiac rave review, quoting Thornton Wilder and the "typical American battle of trying to convert a loneliness into an enriched and fruitful solitude."

But facebook has made something -- and it isn't inherently good or bad -- it's a platform, a tool, a means for connecting, or not. The typewriter wasn't evil when it replaced the pen. The phone wasn't evil when it replaced door-to-door communication. In the early days, nobody wanted to be the douche who stood around Starbucks talking on his cellphone, but these are universal social network applications as well. (Just like everybody shuns the guy on Twitter or Facebook who always tries to sell you a house.)

As the New York Times review puts it, puts it, "Mark builds a database, turning his life — and ours — into zeroes and ones, which is what makes it also a story about the human soul."

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