Select Page

The Social Network was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, so it was inevitable. I was going to see it. This is no review, though. This is just a musing question about the nature of dramaturgy and the responsibilities a dramatist has when storifying real peoples’ lives.

Look at The Social Network and you might see a lot of things. You’ll see traces of the truth and a story based on facts, but you’ll see wholly invented characters and a character arc made out of dramatic contraptions.

The brilliant author and Harvard professor, Lawrence Lessig, looks at The Social Network and sees a missed opportunity to make a dramatic argument about the powerful freedom of net neutrality.

Also at The New RepublicIsaac Chotiner argues that Sorkin’s attempt to turn history into dramaturgy is hypocritical, given Sorkin’s disapproval of the Internet’s many inaccuracies. (Sorkin is not a fan of the Internet.)

The Social Network doesn’t have fight scenes in it, per se, but thinking about it I’m reminded of the Bruce Lee biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. That movie features big kung-fu action sequences meant to dramatize the conflicts and challenges in Lee’s actual life. The movie-Zuckerberg—Mark Zuckerberg the character—doesn’t fistfight Napster founder Sean Parker or anything, but the principle is still in effect in a movie like The Social Network. I mean, a person’s life doesn’t unfold in neat little scenes, much less form a cogent and satisfying dramatic arc. The Social Network isn’t a biopic of Mark Zuckerberg or of Facebook; it’s not about that.

The point of the movie is to get us thinking and talking about success, about genius, about invention, about this electronic thing that’s gotten involved in 500 million lives. It’s to tell us a story. That story is based on things that happened, but it is not what happened.

In the New York TimesDavid Carr writes about how The Social Network divides its audience generationally. I think the film is positioned such that it cuts across more than just a generational axis, but the point is sound. You’ll look at Zuckerberg’s success differently depending on your familiarity with and investment in the Internet, depending on what you’ve created and what you’ve lost, depending on what you’ve wanted and what you’ve achieved, depending on a lot of things.

That divide in the audience—whether it’s vertically, between political poles, or horizontally, between generations—is what Sorkin and Fincher were after, I’d wager. Sorkin has said, he wants us debating in the parking lot; he wants us seeing the story from more than one side. Can this story be told from another perspective, in which Zuckerberg is a wholly heroic creative genius who triumphs despite the drag put on him by a social network? Absolutely. That’s not this story, but The Social Network isn’t meant to be the last word in the conversation, it’s meant to start a conversation.