Flicked Off: "The Social Network"

by Sasha Frere-Jones and Natasha Vargas-Cooper


Natasha Vargas-Cooper: I ain’t going to lie to you. I went in wanting to hate. I was queasy thinking about what Fincher/Sorkin had to say about the Digital Generation and I was resistant to suffering through Jesse’s flat-affect-acting.

Sasha Frere-Jones: I enjoyed the narrative locomotive, but the movie might as well have been about a struggle over the Enzongium contract in Quadrant K9. I would have liked that more, actually. This is first and foremost a movie about Sorkinese, a language that finds a comfy home in litigation. “The West Wing” was Walking and Talkingâ„¢-The Social Network is Sitting and Talking and Occasionally Dartingâ„¢.

NVC: What kills about Sorkinese is that it doesn’t give room for any mode but Pithy.

SFJ: In Sorkinland, people speak as if coked up (even when not) and are always witty and slightly angry.

NVC: The actors barely breathe between quips, except for the Eduardo Saverin character-he crowbarred in some moments of ACTING?

SFJ: He was good at perspiring and breathing.

NVC: It is no country for young men.

SFJ: Everyone is a quote machine in Sorkinland, even dumbos. Moving on: there are a lot of crazytown moves in the actual fabric of the story, and here is just one: almost every collaborative, commercial endeavor could engender a movie like this. Look at The Police. Band struggles over songwriting credits are an epic GOLD MINE.


SFJ: The core problem-which I think we agree on?-is that we did not see a movie about Facebook or the Internet. Think of that early moment when Zuck drops the “22,000” bomb. Rashida Jones has to pause and ponder the majesty of his pageviews. But wait-in 2003, there were many sites that could have quickly generated that kind of traffic. Hmm. That fact is not relevant, apparently. The movie’s plot driver and its ad tagline is another number: 500,000,000 users. OK-no argument. That is historically huge, no matter how anyone feels Zuckerberg fits into history, or what this movie does or doesn’t do. But what does the movie say about all those users? Almost zero, except a little bit about the first, university-based users.

SFJ: And we can probably salute the arc of the pitch. First, you were supposed to want to be on Facebook because only a small elite could join. Now, many stock options later, you need to get on Facebook because all of China and your Dad and your ex is on there. Nice! But is this a typical sales arc, selling exclusivity and then implying losership when it opens up and you’re not on it? Or atypical? You know more about products and pitches-what do you think?

NVC: This speaks to my overall beef to the movie: because the real DRAMA with Facebook that merited cinematic exploration is not questions about the creation myth of Zuck or the lawsuits with the Winklevi-but the decisions that came after the million members. The tradeoff between exclusivity and advertising money. I want to know about the decisions to open it up to public universities, to moms, to predators and (and/or) to advertisers.

SFJ: Enter John Seabrook’s 1993 piece on Bob Kearns, windshield wipers and the nature of patents, “The Flash of Genius.” (The article became the basis for a 2008 movie called “Flash of Genius”-cleaner without the article, isn’t it?-that jettisoned the most complicated bits of Seabrook’s piece and decided to celebrate the majesty of individual innovation.)

NVC: Goody!

SFJ: The piece seems relevant because it discusses how inventions can be ascribed to one person, and also how they can’t. Here is a passage about Thomas Jefferson, who took on the idea of inventions:

Jefferson thought he could fix the basic flaw in the British system. His solution was the principle of examination. The principle is that certain innovations have a quality that elevates them to the status of inventions, and thus makes them eligible to be held as private property, while innovations that lack this quality are the common property of humanity. Learned people can, by study and power of reason, determine which inventions deserve a patent and which do not. Examination is the greatest American contribution to the institution of patents, and it has been copied by virtually every industrial nation in the world. Like a lot of ideas associated with the Enlightenment, it sounds a lot better than it works.

SFJ: Patent law now favors the individual, and rewards him or her with the right to be paid. The idea of “common property of humanity” would sound like Communist pinko talk to most people now. So: did anyone ever cash in harder on “common property” than Zuckerberg? Aside from the very elegant design, which-kudos!

NVC: So why is this entirely forgettable procedural lawsuit movie being hailed as THE SECOND COMING?

SFJ: Nerd alert: I think it is about lexis and mimesis.

NVC: Explain yourself.

SFJ: Let’s compare “The West Wing” and “The Wire.”

NVC: I’d love to!

SFJ: Sorkin talk makes everybody feel smart and makes the shitty world look OK because making money and being an asshole is fine as long as a deserving nerd wins. This appeals to nerds and anybody who fancies themselves as SMARTS. Further, he goes in hard on lexis-the act of delivering words-and lets the characters walk you through everything that would either be the job of a) acting or b) the audience using their heads. It is a way to load middlebrow content into totally fun speed talk that saves many people some hard work while feeling highbrow, because only smart people can talk that quickly. It’s like associating athletic skill with height, de jure.

SFJ: Think of how many Sorkin characters are sort of Flat Erics who talk, rapidly describing every idea that could have been acted out. The advantage is you can cram a lot of action into one episode. The downside is a weird, Aspergersy sameness to every project. Actors become court stenographers in reverse, spitting out Sorkinese and then stepping aside to let the next block of text barrel through.

NVC: Agreed.

SFJ: “The Wire,” on the other hand, doesn’t mind alienating you. It eliminates spoken exposition (lexis) in favor of mimesis. This is an entire world, it is full, and you had better take notes if you want to keep up. You have to WORK. People who don’t look like you may be in charge for a minute, maybe for a long time, and nobody has the moral high ground.


SFJ: Sorkin loves the abasement that is a by-product of believing in the high ground. It’s in everything Sorkin does.

NVC: Might as well be footage of Sorkin sweatily wanking in front of a mirror screaming SAT words (with a hoodie on).

NVC: This brings us to the other big point which is about HISTORY. Here is the challenge thrown down regarding The Social Network: we are still in the middle of this moment; we are at the point where the lava is touching the sea. The lava is still hot!

NVC: David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin have the hubris (rightly or wrongly) to take it on and I think they did not rise to the occasion because it failed to actually be ABOUT anything but a lawsuit.

SFJ: Another flaw in the mimesis (which is part of the selling point, that this is A REAL NOW THING HAPPENING TO YOU) is that the movie didn’t summon any particular year. Compare that to the OCD set-design of “Mad Men” or the verité of Panic In Needle Park, which essentially time-stamp all their scenes.

NVC: Ooo, yes!

SFJ: It could have been 1972. It could have been 2012.

NVC: It could have been the dot com boom.

SFJ: Coke off an intern’s stomach in 2003? Wouldn’t it be Adderall?

SFJ: There is no take on this era. There is no take on the internet.

NVC: I think that’s a colossal failure of nerve.

SFJ: Like, I don’t think RoboCop says much about robots or cops. Though it does say something about cities.

NVC: This is still a movie about a lawsuit.

SFJ: The movie about the internet already exists and it’s called: The Matrix.


SFJ: But we can still value the Sosh Net. Look at that body of work about WWII.

NVC: I often do!

SFJ: Tracing the national attitude towards the war through fifty years of movies-it’s bonkers!

SFJ: We just need enough art. This is part of the first wave of internet movies. We need more of them, and then we can sift them in twenty years.

NVC: It’s a weak start. I also don’t know where to put this work in relation to Fight Club. It seems like Fincher has these really silly notions of rebellion.

NVC: And what I resent after a two-hour creation myth is that: the big Sork/Finch insight is that Zuck is sad about a girl? BECAUSE HE’S A GEEK? AND AN OUTSIDER? I don’t buy it for a second.

SFJ: He had the same girlfriend for the entire time period depicted in this movie.

NVC: I’m so EXHAUSTED from this fucking narrative of the love-lorn outsider forgiven for his inability to function because he has a broken heart.

SFJ: Say Anything.

NVC: Right!




Natasha Vargas-Cooper is a writer and lady in Los Angeles. Sasha Frere-Jones is a writer and a musician from New York.