At the end of The Social Network, David Fincher’s film chronicling the creation of the social networking site Facebook, I found myself asking the question, What motivates my own creativity? Why do I feel the need to make or say something meaningful? I know the answer isn’t all benign. Mixed with the joy of creating and communicating are feelings of insecurity and the need to prove my worth. In the film, ingenuity is sparked by a bruised ego, and creativity perseveres on the power of pride.
The film version of Mark Zuckerberg desperately wants to be heard and is driven by a deep need for recognition. Zuckerberg is clearly self-centered. Although I doubt he was the only one without looks, ladies, or style, he fancies himself a social outcast among the rich and privileged on Harvard’s elite campus. The character on screen is not very sympathetic, but the onscreen story is so appealing because we all experience similar emotions. We might not lie or mislead people to get recognized, but everyone wants to be valued by others — it’s part of why we end up on facebook.com.
But the film is also about being a social outcast. When you are on the outside, it’s easy to sit there stewing and thinking up all the clever things you’d say if you were in that perfect, popular place. And that is just the kind of motivation that drives Zuckerberg’s character to program his days and nights away and arrive at thefacebook.com.
Typically, lead characters are appealing, but Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is far from flattering, and it’s no wonder the real life Mark Zuckerberg isn’t pleased with the picture that is painted. The film has other appealing characteristics — fast-paced editing, a little humor, terrific casting, and a clever score — but the film succeeds for a different reason. The Social Network illustrates the road to unfathomable wealth and success, but the man who gains the riches is no better off in the end. It’s a story we welcome while the economic downturn has most of us tightening our belts. We spend a lot of time daydreaming about how much better our lives would be if we only a little bit more — just enough to pay for healthcare, or just enough to fix the car. We don’t dream big these days; they are modest fantasies.
Still, while watching The Social Network, wealth and comfort seem like one lucky idea away. But instead of provoking our jealousy, David Fincher allows us to feel superior. We don’t want to relate to this character; we want to condemn him and his money. We see ourselves as the moral superiors to this billionaire. Not only would we not engage in the manipulations and deceptions we see here, but we can also look down on the petty injury that started it all. As a Christian, I am relieved that the film doesn’t stir emotions of jealousy and envy when portraying wealth, but on the other had, it does inspire some problematic feelings of moral superiority. In the end, I am just as guilty as Zuckerberg when it comes to evaluating myself against others.