With the inundation of “end-of-year” best lists, one seems to be coming out on top across the board – “The Social Network.” Critics circles (which I always imagine literally a bunch of middle-aged writers standing in a circle on a cold New York street corner), prestigious awards (if you want to call a Golden Globe “prestigious”) and assholes with blogs (here we are).
Now I loved the Social Network. It’s the only movie I saw twice this year – and I didn’t even make it to see Avatar last year. It was one of those rare convergences of indie cool overload that is happening more and more – just like “Where the Wild Things Are”, only more appreciated.
Now that’s the point I want to focus on – why is the Social Network being appreciated so much? Obviously David Fincher is killng it. Aaron Sorkin can write scathing dialogue in his sleep. Jesse Eisenberg was born to play anti-social weirdos, but it takes real talent to play a cocky one. While spelling out all of these elements should answer my question pretty clearly, they don’t guarantee anything. Fincher’s last effort, Benjamin Button, has become a quick punchline, mainly for it’s length (see, I liked it). Sorkin had a big bomb with his West Wing follow-up Studio 60 (also liked it). Eisenberg did not carry Adventureland to big box office success as, say, oft-compared to Michael Cera might have (I liked it too – and was in it). What is the glue making this piece stick?
No, I don’t think it’s Trent Reznor’s soundtrack (though it completed the awesome pie), I think it’s relevancy. Cultural relevancy is a tricky thing – it can make a movie/book/song/celebrity really “important” one year, but also confine them to that year as time rolls on and leaves them in the past. I’m wondering if “Social Network” is doomed to the same fate as Fahrenheit 9/11?
What makes “Social Network” culturally relevant, of course, is the fact that 500 million people are on Facebook, and the movie is ostensibly about Facebook. However, I would argue that the majority of the people that make Facebook a success – the moms, the blue collar workers, the kind of people that may have not even gone to college, the place Facebook originated and Zuckerberg-cum-Eisenberg claim it “puts online,” were never interested in a highly talkative and technical film about the college of colleges (Harvard) and the origins of their daily clicking obsession. Then why is it an Important Film and One of the Year’s Best?
Because like many cultural artifacts of the past, critics and producers are telling us it’s important, and the sheep among us are following suit. Why have your own opinion, something that can be beaten down and make you feel insecure, when you can wait to see what is widely accepted and just agree with it? This is the interesting thing about the middle-America red-state froo-froos – while they may come off as repugnant, you must give it to them – they don’t see a stupid movie just because so socialite says they should. In fact, they may avoid it simply because someone suggested it. At least they’re shooting from the hip.
There is, however, a difference between shooting from the hip and using your gut because that’s how you were raised, and purposely being a contrarian.