Bright Lights Film Journal

Jew or No Jew? David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin tell the story of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in The Social Network

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Was there ever a film so picked over as The Social Network? West Wing King Aaron Sorkin’s script for the Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg biopic was leaked on the Internet back in July, where it was widely blasted for being 1) grossly inaccurate and 2) sexist as hell. Sorkin defended himself, sort of, by saying “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling. What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?”1

Sorkin got a running start in the fabulation sweepstakes by basing his script on The Accidental Billionaires, a book by author Ben Mezrich,2 who had previously struck publishing gold with Bringing Down the House, the story of six brainiac MIT dudes who practiced their card-counting skills in Chinatown gambling dens and then hit the big time in Vegas, using strippers to cash in their chips for them and surviving a beatdown administered by a casino security team — all of which, according to the brainiac dudes, he totally made up.

Then, shortly before The Social Network dropped nationwide, the New Yorker released a long profile of Zuckerberg, which I myself picked over here in a post wittily titled “Short, narrow-shouldered, shy semi-douche bag seeks companionship.” The New Yorker article, by man-fancyin’ scribe Jose Antonio Vargas, basically portrayed Zuckerberg as, well, a short, narrow-shouldered, shy semi-douche bag who ripped off those fabulous Winklevoss twins3 (“tall, wide-shouldered, and gregarious”) on his way to the big time, not to mention the millions of credulous morons who entrusted their innermost secrets to him over the Internet (“dumb fucks”).

When The Social Network did drop, there were, unsurprisingly, a lot of Harvard folks who knew Zuckerberg and claimed that the film didn’t do him justice. So, anyway, what is the deal with the film itself?

Directed by David Fincher,4The Social Network tells its story through a series of flashbacks — the “real time” of the movie takes place during a couple of legal depositions involving most of the principals, which allows them to snap and snipe at one another in approved Sorkin fashion. In real life, of course, depositions are deliberately set up to avoid personal confrontations, but this is a movie. As you probably know already, the action begins with poor Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) compulsively yet unconsciously harassing his date, poor sweet Erica (Rooney Mara) on the subject of Final Clubs or Finals Clubs,5 of which the vast majority of Americans, pathetic middle-class losers that we are, were entirely unaware.

One thing leads to another, and Erica tells Mark he’s an asshole, which leads Mark to call her a bitch, on the Internet, which, we will later learn from Erica, is an unforgiveable sin because the Internet is forever. But for the time being it’s all good, because Mark surges on to create a “hot or not” site featuring pics of all the Harvard undergrads, a site so hot it crashes the Crimson computer network, bringing Mark campus-wide attention as a cool guy.

But of course he’s not that cool. He’s not a Finals Club guy, he’s not a WASP, he’s an Alpha Epsilon Pi guy, which is, as Mark tells us with an all-revelatory sigh, the “Jewish fraternity” at Harvard. And so we go to a party with the Alpha Eppi guys, to what Aaron Sorkin and Ben Mezrich totally know is Jewish hell, Jews trying to act cool, the place where everyone is as Jewish as you are, the place where everyone and everything reminds you that you will never be not-Jewish, that you will never be cool. And this is the meme that they try to paste on poor Zuckerberg throughout the entire picture.6

The Alpha Epsilon bash has a Caribbean theme, which means short,7 skinny bearded guys in Hawaiian shirts, dry ice (not sure why that was there, but it was), the world’s least cool DJ, and even a yarmulke or two glimpsed briefly in the background (O the shame!).8 Scenes of Jews trying to party — that is to say, trying to pretend that they aren’t Jewish, and only affirming that they totally are Jewish — are intercut with scenes of WASPs partying. The blue-eyed blonds at the Porcellian — the Final Club of Final Clubs — are getting it on, bringing in busloads of hot, hot Vassar lesbians9 for some hot, hot girl-on-girl action, which goes so well with a 20-year-old single-malt Scotch or a decent Port .

Over at Alpha Epsilon Pi, Mark is hanging with his Brazilian Jewish buddy Eduardo Saverin. We see a shot of a couple of Asian chicks and we hear a voice-over (not clear to me who’s talking) claiming that, in terms of coolness, or hotness, depending on how you want to measure the social temperature, Asian chicks are the polar opposites of Jewish guys. Asian chicks, apogee; Jewish guys, perigee. Later, once Mark and Eduardo have Facebook 1.1 cranking, two hot, hot Asian chicks practically gang tackle them, providing them with blowjobs in a men’s room about five minutes after they’ve introduced themselves.10 Hey, this fame stuff is fun!

The subtext for this shit is fairly bizarre. The real Mark Zuckerberg did belong to Alpha Epsilon Pi, and he did meet an Asian chick there, Priscilla Chan, and she became his girlfriend, pre-Facebook, and she’s been his girlfriend for six years.11 But as Sorkin tells it, Mark does not have a girlfriend, ever, at all, unless you count that five minutes of heaven from the stalljob from that Asian chick.12 At the end of the film Mark is still madly trying to get it back on with Erica, who keeps rejecting him. So, good, true, what the fuck? A plot point is a plot point, am I right?

Well, before he even invents Facebook, Mark meets up with the Winklevi, as he likes to call Tyler and Cameron. The idea, of course, is that here is another polar opposite for Mark, a pair of Aryan giants who blow the oars off the rest of the guys in Harvard crew and who are not coincidentally Porcellians, and they have a proposition for Mark, a computerized dating service for Harvard. Mark says, yeah, he’ll do it for them, at about the same time that he has the idea for “Thefacebook,” which he decides he’ll put together with Eduardo.

Of course, he does the latter, not the former, pissing the Winklevi off, even if they don’t know about the stalljobs. They obtain an audience with Harvard President Larry Summers,13 who unfortunately proves to be as big a douche bag as the Winklevi themselves. I’m the president of Harvard, goddamnit! Why am I talking to undergraduates? If you’re not smart enough to solve your own damn problems, maybe you shouldn’t be here! Admissions! I think we need a recount!14

While the Winklevi are whining, Facebook — still “Thefacebook” — is growing, and Mark and Eduardo take a meeting with Napster creator boywonder network guru/badboy Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) to refine their strategy. Eduardo isn’t sure this is a good idea. He’s heard rumors about Sean — drugs and “girls.” Drugs and girls, huh? Sorkin was a long-time coke-head, and Eduardo, he’s the guy who a got blowjob from a “girl” in a stall in a men’s room.15 Who’s got room for moralizing here?

Sean lays a heavy “sky’s the limit invent your own reality” rap on the dudes, and Mark is totally into it, while Eduardo, he can’t get past the drugs and the “girls.”16 But name change or no, Facebook is growing.

Overseas, the Winklevi feel its power. In a scene that has been criticized for retailing “Old Money” WASP clichés, the twins compete in one of the biggest snob events in the worldwide social calendar, the Henley Royal Regatta in England. But, as in the scene with Larry Summers, the film undercuts the Old Money clichés that it first established. The Winklevi don’t win. They’re beaten by the Dutch.17 They have to endure the absent-minded, condescending condolences of burned-out British “royalty,” none of whom look like they’ve got two dimes to rub together. Worst of all, video of their humiliation is already up on Facebook! Yeah, Winklevi, you’re big strong boys with big broad shoulders, that is to say, big strong goys with big strong shoulders. Hey goy! Think you can out-think a Jew? Think again!

So the Winklevi sue, but really, who gives a damn? Mark is out in sunny Cal with Sean, where only two things matter. How fast can you write code, and how hard can you party? You’re Porcellian, pal? You get to wear a little porcelain pig on your lapel? I got one question for you, dude. What’s a lapel?

Eduardo joins the gang of crazies that Sean has assembled, much against his better judgment, and is shocked at what he sees.18 Sean has been coming on to one of the interns, he tells Mark, his voice trembling with terror. But then when we see the intern, flaunting her fanny in a “Do me, Daddy, Do me” mini-skirt and fuck-me pumps, she looks about as innocent as Lady Gaga. Who’s corrupting whom?19

And so the film goes, or goes down, moments of Victorian prudery str8 outa AndyHardysville alternating with PG-13 Girls Gone Wild pseudo-porn, all of it done with a lack of finesse that would bring a smile, if not a snicker, to the lips of Cecil B. DeMille himself. Hey, Aaron! You left out the Golden Calf!

The real killer is Sorkin (right) lecturing Mark about calling a girl a bitch on the Internet because the Internet is forever. But making a movie that tells a pack of lies about real people, that’s OK? Only in Hollywood.

  1. I dunno, Aaron. Can we? If he meant, as he probably did, that the true is often the enemy of boxoffice, yeah, I’d agree with him. []
  2. The idea of making a film on Zuckerberg was so hot that Sorkin started writing the script before Mezrich finished writing the book. []
  3. The Winklevoss twins, Tyler and Cameron, sued Zuckerberg, claiming that Facebook was really their idea, scoring about $65 million in the process, though they would like some more. Why they didn’t sue their parents for naming them “Tyler” and “Cameron” is anybody’s guess, but I suppose that if you’re six foot five and row crew for Harvard, you can get away with it. []
  4. Consciously or unconsciously, Fincher seems to have allowed himself to be bigfooted by Sorkin during all the controversy over the film. Maybe he’s the smart one. Anyway, I can’t recall a film in which the guy who wrote the script gets the credit (or blame) for the film. []
  5. Also, is it “Final Club, Finals Clubs,” or “Finals Club, Finals Clubs,” or “Final Club, Final Clubs”? I obviously didn’t get the handle on this one. []
  6. Mezrich was at Princeton as an undergraduate and did graduate work at Harvard. Sorkin, not quite in that league, graduated from the University of Syracuse with a degree in musical theatre (despite which, he is totally not gay). Fincher, a serious odd man out here, is West Coast, not Jewish, and didn’t even bother to attend college at all. For an examination of these issues by someone who actually is Jewish, try “The Social Network: How Jewish Is Facebook? “http://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/lifestyle-features/39327/the-social-network-how-jewish-facebook or “The World’s Most Powerful Jew”. []
  7. A woman I know who went to Harvard back in the day told me a funny story: twenty years ago, Harvard undergrads (male only, obviously) over 5′ 11″ could make money selling their sperm to sperm banks. If you were Jewish, you didn’t have to be 5′ 11″. []
  8. But was this as embarrassingly Jewish as Mark Zuckerberg’s actual bar mitzvah, which was a Star Wars bash? One only hopes he wasn’t packing a light sabre. Years ago I saw Robert Klein on Letterman, showing home movies of his bar mitzvah, which included a herring Ferris wheel. I worked with a Jewish woman, Ruth Gutstein, and when I told her about it, she laughed and said “Just when you think you’ve seen everything.” []
  9. And believe me, dude, there are no lesbians like Vassar lesbians! []
  10. This hot Asian chicks in the john riff comes from the book. Mezrich’s wife is Asian. Since the population at the Ivies these days is roughly 20% Jewish and 20% Asian, such pairings are not unusual. []
  11. In his New Yorker piece, Vargas first calls Chan Zuckerberg’s “current girlfriend” and then rather grudgingly admits that they’ve been together for six years and that friends expect them to get married. But, hey, “current” means “right now,” right? So it’s correct, right? []
  12. The chick who blows Mark is not named Priscilla. Sorkin may not care about accuracy, but he does care about lawsuits. Or at least the studio does. []
  13. Summers, like a lot of people at Harvard (he’s back, though not as president) is Jewish himself, though the film, unsurprisingly, doesn’t mention the fact. Jews are supposed to be outsiders at Harvard, not the keepers of the keys to the kingdom. []
  14. But at least he didn’t call them “women,” right? Larry famously speculated on the incapacity of the female mind to deal with higher mathematics, and then quickly learned the only math lesson that counts at Harvard: don’t fuck with the broads at Harvard. []
  15. In the movie, at least, if not in real life. Don’t sue me, Eduardo. []
  16. Despite the studious vagueness, the film is careful not to allege that Parker ever had sex with a woman under eighteen. Again, the lawsuit thing. []
  17. By the Dutch! That’s gotta hurt! []
  18. Among other things, they knock down a chimney, to Eduardo’s dismay. How many times have I told you guys? Don’t knock down the chimney! That’s so immature! []
  19. Throughout the second half of the film, Sorkin pats himself on the back for defending the honor of Stanford women, whom he uniformly portrays as wanton, coke-snorting sluts. []