Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Social Network

Marshall McLuhan famously said, "The medium is the message." "Style is content" is another shibboleth of the modernist movement, which began to recognize that context—the way in which the images and text that make up so-called content are ingested and regurgitated—is as important as the content itself. Think about what you remember when you recall a movie or television show and it will soon become apparent that style outweighs the message. You may not remember the plot of The Manchurian Candidate or Psycho, but you will surely remember the paranoiac style. This emphasis on cultural context is at the heart of the deconstructionist view of literature, in which texts are value-free products of the psychosocial moments that produce them. Thus it is a curiosity that The Social Network, which purports to deal with the latest revolution of the Internet medium, a revolution which some experts believe is tantamount to the invention of email itself, is such an anachronism. The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, whose Seven was one of the most terrifying essays of style of its decade, approaches its subject almost entirely in terms of gossipy content of the litigious variety (the plot is structured around the suits that have been filed against Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, by three of his Harvard classmates, the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo Saverin, who helped found the company). Facebook may have been started as a dating site (with gossip correctly identified by Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay, as the grist for its mill), but its implications have phenomenological consequences that far exceed any of the intentions delineated in Fincher’s movie, which is full of girls at parties in Cambridge and Palo Alto drinking too much and taking off their clothes. Not the least of the concerns is the nature of personality itself. The concept of transparency, which Facebook introduces into the cyber universe, runs in direct contradiction to the previous anonymity of Internet life, with its avatars and screen names. Facebook presents human personality as a series of surfaces defined by preferences that become apparent from the consuming habits of its members. The comparison between the view of personality that Facebook espouses and that of modern depth psychology, with its notion of unconscious life, is equivalent to the comparison between the kind of language philosophy advocated by a different set of Cambridge thinkers, almost a century ago, and the metaphysics propounded by German idealist philosophers in places like Freiberg, Marburg and Heidelberg centuries before that. Sadly, The Social Network totally trivializes the significance of the revolution it heralds.

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