Picking panels for SXSW is about as difficult for me as picking my favorite albums: for every 10 I pick I could go “but wait…” and think of 20-30 that I would be equally thrilled to attend. Since my interests are across the board, this is particularly troubling (I care about music, comedy and politics with equal passion, even though I know the latter is more important), and the future of all areas could not just be discussed, but be defined (Twitter, for example) by any given SXSW panel. And yet, my contrarian streak (which plays into my views on music, comedy and politics) wants me to pick panels that may go against the entire grain of SXSW itself. To that end, I’m picking five contrarian panels to highlight, hoping that I will be able to attend all of them:Help Save SXSW from Marketer Douchebaggery
I’ve been to Media week in NYC, panels for Mediabistro and IU Journalism School, andtoo many webinars to remember, and there is a clear line in each panel between who is speaking from a place of real passion and who is repeating the corporate party line. Veteran produce Ryan Daume of Revision3 (most famous for the web series Digg Nation), is behind several web series with enough of a sense of humor to see through corporatespeak. If you can’t fully enjoy anything in life without a healthy dose of skepticism, this may be a panel worth attending.Hate Gone Viral
I have heard only a handful of anti-semitic slurs directed at me in my entire life, and just about all of them came from strangers on the Internet. Bullying, hate speech, and tormenting is part of human nature, but the internet speeds everything up, including the culture of fear (as everyone from suicidal gay teenagers in Indiana to members of the Libyan resistance have shed a disturbing light on the Internet’s relationship with the worst parts of human nature). Attorney Brian Cuban is probably the foremost and insightful critic of hate speech on the web, and his frankness is buttressed by his sympathetic nature and understanding of the first Amendment in web culture.Offline America, Why We Have A Digital Divide
So much of the talk you will see at SXSW will probably presume everyone in the world has access to a high speed internet connection (as everyone who attends SXSW alkmost surely will). But the gap in development on both an individual and community-wide level can vary greatly by how those who live offline in the new media economy. Understandably, this is mainly a not-for-profit panel, with two Public Policy Ph.D. candidates (Fiona Morgan at Duke and Justin Grimes at Maryland) and Jessamyn West, COO at Metafilter, one of the most popular (and most welcoming) social bookmarking sites on the web. This may be the only panel that will still matter 50 years from now.Unpacking Gender: Men, Women, Technology and More
If women get better grades, more degrees, and more jobs than men in 2011, then why is the media narrative so thoroughly dominated by men at every level (something not immune to music, comedy, or classroom discussions at IU). This tendency is amplified on the web, for which the technological focus, traditionally dominated by men, adds another level of gender complication. Debbie Charcra, a materials scientist at the engineering school Olin College, knows very well the gender devide in technology, and has been an influential force in reforming engineerin education for women. If nothing else, this panel will help stop me from being the straight dude in the room yelling about sexism.Social Media and Comedy: F**k Yeah!
Comedy podcasts are arguably the most influential new development for stand-up comedy since the Tonight Show, as several comedians have found audiences through podcasting, YouTube, and social media in ways that weren’t possible 10 years ago. Perhaps the biggest success story is Marc Maron, an accomplished comedian and radio host who has reached unprecedented success with his WTF podcast (which has been the closest thing to religion I’ve had over the past year). Maron’s twice weekly podcast featured his trademark open-hearted, raw comedy stylings in manners that is profoundly influencing an entire generation of increasingly wired comedians, and his honesty will keep even his most devoted fans in check while discussing what doors social media have opened (and what doors remain wedged) in the world of comedy.
As a survivor of the prep world depicted in NYC Prep, Gossip Girl, and The Social Network, I have often quipped (spuriously, I’ll admit) that the only things exaggerated in those works was the attractiveness of the characters. The Social Network was the first depiction of this world I saw where those exaggerations affected my views of the movie.
There are a lot of unanswered questions in The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg, his friends and enemies, modern society, the venture capital world, and the Human Condition. It’s to the movie’s credit that it doesn’t try to answer most of them. But the movie dodges questions in certain areas that left my enjoyment of this very good movie in serious doubt: are the answers to those questions going to be things anyone really wants to hear?
I saw the movie four months late due to several apprehensions. The biggest one was my complex relationship with Jessie Eisenberg, the actor who played the role closest to my life in The Squid and The Whale and has continued to play a version of myself I don’t want to be in every movie since. The second apprehension was if my knowledge of this era; a freshman actively obsessed with Facebook in the era/milieu depicted, and who worked with Mark Zuckerberg’s sister in a gleeful nerd Olympics that created “The Assbook,” would I pick out certain unbelievable moments that ruined the movie for me on a technicality (as happened with me and The Lives of Others, Tootsie, and School of Rock)? The others were more important: would Sorkin’s screenplay feature the kind of “good luck, kid” condescension that many of Sorkin’s generation (and real-life Sorkin himself) annoyingly persist in using? Would it get caught up in the personal dynamics of the creation as a way of saying “see, the internet is just as crooked as real life business”? The last qualifier was if the “this is the story of our times” theme would wreck the movie for me, the same way that caused me to misguidedly reject Up in the Air upon first viewing.
You can see why I waited months to finally see the movie. I was mostly happy with the result. It made time to focus fairly and somewhat humorously on the gap between the Internet and the old guard. Nor do I have any technical objections, (save for the women, more on that later) in the world that The Social Network depicts. Furthermore, Eisenberg deserves an Oscar for the role, though pre-show hype seems to dictate that it’s Colin Firth’s to lose. I don’t care about that. I do care that Eisenberg depicts the maniacally obsessive, high-functioning autistic mind better than perhaps any other attempt to depict that mind in any film performance to date.
If the movie does sweep the Oscars, however, it won’t be because of Eisenberg or Sorkin; it will be because of the boost David Fincher gives the movie from good-but-flawed to great-but-flawed. Taking the kind of Zuckerberg-like attention to detail, relentless pace, and spiraling out of control worlds that he mastered in Zodiac, Fincher is the catalyst that keeps all of the films positives and confounding factors and escalates them into Great Film territory.
My objections to the movie all revolve around the lack of the word “but” in the previous paragraphs. Everytime you think the “but…” moment is coming (at least a half a dozen instances by my count), it doesn’t. The closest it gets to “but” is the friend request Zuckerberg awaits at the film’s end from the girl who called him an asshole. Because of the beginning-end symmetry, this has understandably been emphasized in most smart-people reviews. But it’s a shallow “but,” basically a punchline: with hundreds of millions of Facebook users and billions of dollars to his name, he can’t even get a girl he likes to become his “Facebook friend” (in other words, she’s Zuckerberg’s Rosebud). The friend request, much like the very notion of reality in Inception (my pick for Best Picture), is left unanswered, but it’s still petty.
In fact, “petty” is the only word I can use to describe any potential message the movie has. Is the idea of a billionaire still awaiting love anything than a more shallow depiction of every Great Work that’s touched upon the subject before? Do the ambiguous, unanswered questions proposed by The Social Network hold a candle to the ambiguous endings of “Great Works” before it? Do its shallow, archetypal depiction of Big Themes get a pass because history hasn’t found an answer yet?
I’d venture no, as well as that the movie’s greatness, like a great Facebook profile, no matter how elaborate, is an unreliable, shallow depiction of an offline Truth. Like Facebook, The Social Network is enthralling and greatly successful when you get swept away in its charms, something the pacing (for which Sorkin, Fincher and Eisenberg are a match made in heaven) easily allows. But the Great Work (I’m talking of mind and soul, not of bank accounts and award chests), like an experienced Facebooker, requires some perspective, taking a step back, and taking a moment to really consider if the outcome of this movie is, really, all that great.
These are the kind of question that the high-functioning autistic hates, and one that the film, (and its real-life protagonist), hates as well. But the lack of a larger statement about anything—the lack of apoint—is way too big of a concern for a Great Work to ignore.
Most of my misgivings that caused my delayed viewership were surprisingly accounted for, but the ones that weren’t were deeply troubling. The first: it’s admittedly horrendous vision of the misogynist objectification of women that the world depicts. This was discussed in all the right places upon the film’s premiere, and Sorkin has stated that he doesn’t excuse the behavior, but rather that he meant to portray it accurately. Fine, the verisimilitude angle is a good one to play, but at this stage of my life I have lost patience for people who depict this kind of horror and say “this is how it is” to excuse any moral judgment. The fact of the matter is that the view of women The Social Network depicts is reprehensible, whether or not it it’s accurate, and verisimilitude does not give the movie a pass, at least from me, for shamelessly depicting that kind of world.
Secondly, the unanswered questions often seem to me to be presented as “unanswerable,” but I’m not sure that’s true, and I definitely disagree with the notion that they shouldn’t be answered. The Social Network has been compared to Citizen Kane, and it’s not all that out of line of a comparison, except for one important difference: The Social Network lacks the reality check that the last hour of Citizen Kane depicted. The themes of the story are not new: the battle between old money (and old society) and new, the flaws of the “making it” model of the American dream, and the tragedy that comes with all that, have been portrayed with more nuance and depth in Kane, The Great Gatsby, Death of a Salesmen, and hell, even Grand Theft Auto IV. All of those literary depictions go back to Icarus and Sisyphus. While hubris is certainly suggested, it is never openly talked about in The Social Network, mainly because Facebook, as of now, hasn’t yet crashed back down to earth.
This is why I suspect that every aspect of this movie, from its critical plaudits and awards to its real life parallels, will be seen in history as an ironic, unintentionally hilarious depiction of hubris not just of the world the movie depicts, but of the hubris of the contemporary critical culture world that accepted the movie so quickly as a Great Work.
Granted, I will concede that if the movie were to go down the route I suggest and depict a tragic fall to power, I would be marching in line with the new media detractors who would take the movie as a cynical judgmental work of condescention by the Olds. The Social Network would be a worse movie if it got preachy. But if done 20 years later in a similar style but with more unanswered questions answered, it would be a better movie, and would merit Great Works status a hell of a lot more.
This is nearly impossible to pull off in the middle of the historical event it depicts; Wells was able to pull it off with Hearst’s life nearly over in Citizen Kane, but Citizen Kane is Citizen Kane. All I know is that this great movie is flawed and will be forevere flawed in a way I supsect will very soon remove it from the Great Works territory. Basically, this will happen once the punch Andrew Garfield pulls on Justin Timberlake is delivered, not just to Timberlake, but to everyone who engaged with the Facebook world.Related articles
- The Social Network : The Next Citizen Kane ? (newser.com )
- The Social Network’s Female Props (voices.allthingsd.com )
- Social Network creators compliment Zuck on Golden Globe stage (venturebeat.com )
- A story that’s hard not to like (washingtonpost.com )
Reblogging this for the benefit of anyone who’s also a fan of (a) Zadie Smith, (b) Franz Kafka, and (c) that episode of Home Movies where they … made a rock opera about Franz Kafka.
“I’m an Eat The Rich Liberal, you fuck… Why kill me?” BANG! #lastlineofmyactionfilm
Or win the Grammy, I suppose.