By Sree Sreenivasan
DNAinfo Contributing Editor
After attending an early screening of "The Social Network," the film about Facebook's founding, I wrote about the six things I had learned, including that the film would make a lot of money, and that the movie’s creators took a lot of dramatic license with the story.
Now that the movie's been out for a few days, I’ve learned something else — something somewhat surprising: people really, really care about how Facebook and its founder are portrayed.
Folks who know founder Mark Zuckerberg have been quick to come to his defense, saying that the movie treats him unfairly. Among them is David Kirkpatrick, a former Fortune reporter whose book, "The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World," is generally considered more comprehensive (because he got access to Zuckerberg and Facebook) than the one the movie is based on, "The Accidental Billionaires," by Ben Mezrich. In a must-read (but only after you see the movie) post in The Daily Beast, Kirkpatrick says "Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg in ‘The Social Network’ aren't real."
Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as an angry, insecure but cocky young jerk whose creation of the service initially called Thefacebook was motivated in large part by a desire to win the attention of a former girlfriend.
In fact, Zuckerberg is one of the least angry people I've ever met. He is even-tempered, generally upbeat, if prone to silence, and highly self-confident.
The Huffington Post's Jose Antonio Vargas, who profiled Zuckerberg in last month’s New Yorker and spent a great deal of time with him, also decries what he views as the inaccurate portrayal of the young media mogul in his piece, "How Hollywood Misread Facebook":
And it's a movie that, at its core, stands on one glaring false premise: Zuckerberg as a flat-eyed, borderline autistic, humorless guy, a consummate outsider who wanted badly to get into one of Harvard's "final" clubs, his considerable coding skills reduced to social awkwardness. In other words, the geek as the "other." The lonely nerd, sitting alone in front of his computer, seeking connection. The friendless Zuckerberg creating Facebook to make friends and get a girl. There's something that feels quite dated and very 1990s about all of this, like the filmmakers never bothered to meet some of the geeksters -- geeks and hipsters -- at Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc. who fuel the social media renaissance in Silicon Valley. Zuckerberg is presented as an alien from a faraway computer programming space, instead of a leading member of an entrepreneurial generation who's grown up with the Internet and now tops Vanity Fair's ranking of the New Establishment, ahead of Steve Jobs, the Google guys and Rupert Murdoch. In the film, Zuckerberg's character lacks context. He just is.
CUNY professor Jeff Jarvis, author of "What Would Google Do" and the forthcoming "Public Parts" (which is about the end of privacy and the benefits of “publicness”), calls the movie anti-social and anti-geek:
The Social Network is the anti-social movie. It distrusts and makes no effort to understand the phenomenon right in front of its nose. It disapproves—as media people, old and neonew, do—of rabblerous (or drunk or drugged-up or oversexed) masses doing what they do. Ah, but its fans will say, it’s really just a drama about a man. But that’s where it fails most. It can’t begin to explain this man because it doesn’t grok what he made—what he’s still making (“We don’t even know what it is yet,” Zuckerberg says in the movie, “It’s never finished”).
The Social Network is the anti-geek movie. It is the story that those who resist the change society is undergoing want to see. It says the internet is not a revolution but only the creation of a few odd, machine-men, the boys we didn’t like in college. The Social Network is the revenge on the revenge of the nerds.
Here's Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal, who has covered Zuckerberg for years. She wishes that the real Mark Zuckerberg talked as much as the Facebook movie Mark Zuckerberg.
The Mark Zuckerberg in the movie, as penned by master wordsmith Aaron Sorkin, is able to parry with top-notch lawyers and deliver perfectly crafted rejoinders one after the next to friend and foe alike.
He can conduct several conversation streams at once–so much so that a soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend remarks that talking to him was like “being on a StairMaster.”
I’d agree with that statement about the real Mark, except that the effort is quite the opposite of being dazzled by wild verbal gymnastics.
In fact, unlike a lot of Internet moguls, it has often been a struggle to get him to be fully articulate about the company, due mostly to a more taciturn, awkward and incredibly precise way of speaking.
When Zuckerberg famously asked Leslie Stahl of “60 Minutes” in a television interview–”Was that a question?”–right after she asked a question, I shuddered in recognition at the exchange.
Another theme among the passionate reactions to the film is that there's a generational divide among those who've seen the movie. Writing Monday in the New York Times, columnist David Carr says "Film version of Zuckerberg divides generations."
Many older people will watch the movie, which was No. 1 at the box office last weekend, and see a cautionary tale about a callous young man who betrays friends, partners and principles as he hacks his way to lucre and fame. But many in the generation who grew up in a world that Mr. Zuckerberg helped invent will applaud someone who saw his chance and seized it with both hands, mostly by placing them on the keyboard and coding something that no one else had.
By the younger cohort’s lights, when you make an omelet this big — half a billion users — a few eggs are going to get broken.
The fact that many of those involved with the movie aren't big users of Facebook has been criticized too. Vargas quotes Sorkin as saying "I've heard of Facebook, in the same way I've heard of a carburetor. But if I opened the hood of my car I wouldn't know how to find it." Actor Jessie Eisenberg, whose face will, to many people, come to define Zuckerberg the way Ben Kingsley's came to define Mahatma Gandhi's, told Reuters he's not on Facebook: "I don't use Facebook and I had never been on it prior to reading the script of 'The Social Network.' But I went on it during pre-production and it was immediately evident to me why it's such a phenomenon." Here's a slideshow from TheWrap.com that clearly exhibits the lack of Facebook savvy among the movie’s producers as well as director David Fincher.
It's only been five days since the movie opened, so it's much too soon to know what its legacy will be. But we can be sure there's going to be a lot more said, written and tweeted about it in the next few weeks.
As for me, I am looking forward to seeing the other movie involving Facebook that's getting a lot of publicity, "Catfish." I liked this tweet from tech writer Peter Rojas: "The Social Network is a fake film about Facebook that people think is real, Catfish is a real film about Facebook that people think is fake."
What do you think? Post your comments below or on Twitter @sreenet.
Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.