The Mad Men of social networking
The Social Network opens in Australia later this week and whether you couldn’t care less about Facebook or you’re guilty of updating your status every time your toddler passes wind, there’s a lot to think about in this film about the world’s youngest billionaire.
The first question viewers will discuss after seeing the story of the man who was just 19 when he created the world-wide internet phenomenon of Facebook will be: is Mark Zuckerberg an asshole?
And judging by the flurry of examination of the issue overseas - the second question will be: is this movie misogynistic/about misogyny?
The answer to the first question is entirely subjective - so much so that since seeing the film last week I’ve changed my mind about seven times.
The answer to the second, however, has greater social context.
Many have been shocked by the portrayal of women in The Social Network, and how some of the men in the film react to them.
On the Daily Beast Rebecca Davis O’Brien described how in the film they serve little more purpose than props.
And apart from the whip-smart woman who dumps Zuckerberg in the first five minutes of the film, and the lawyer at the end who serves up redemption to him neatly on a platter, the rest of the women in the film are either completely nuts, Victoria Secret models or happy to be bussed in to exclusive parties at Harvard to try to bag themselves a big fish.
The film’s writer Aaron Sorkin (West Wing fans will flock to see The Social Network, they won’t be disappointed) even felt the need to respond publicly to all the hoopla - writing: “It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about ... I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now.”
There’s a sense that what we’re seeing here, in this portrayal of social dynamics in the first decade of the 21st Century, is somehow new. But the whole debate reminds me of something. Call it life imitating art.
Certainly the show puts blatant, and sometimes brutal, sexual harassment on display warts and all.
The “feminist” moments are few and far between, and many of the female characters in Mad Men could be transported 40 years into the future to board the Social Network bus that will deliver them like prizes to the privileged young men of Harvard. They wouldn’t even have to change their costumes.
The men in Mad Men, especially the main character Don Draper, would fit right in amongst this group of striving nerds in the film.
While Draper is as suave as Zuckerberg is innept - he has about as much grip on social reality as the misfit who started the social networking revolution. He knows how to play people but can’t for the life of him sort himself out.
He too was a young outsider - he’s just had a bit more time to come up with the cover story to get him into the club.
And like Zuckerberg, he has often taken out his rage on the women in his path - usually by breaking their hearts. Sorkin might even say “bright women could be appalled” by Don Draper and his crew.
I wasn’t as troubled by the diminished role of women in the Social Network as many clearly have been, as I think it’s principally the story of what drove one man, rather than a piece of commentary on a whole generation.
Still, Draper could serve to provide some hope yet for Zuckerberg.
At the end of the Social Network Zuckerberg’s lawyer says to him: “You’re not an asshole Mark, you just want to be.”
In the recent season final of the fourth series of Mad Men, Don Draper’s lover tells him: “I know that you have a good heart, and I know that you’re always trying to be better.”
For two supposed misogynists they both need a woman to tell them they’re worth something.
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