The Business Movie

Went to see The Social Network last night, and thought it was terrific. Even though most of the scenes set at Harvard and Silicon Valley were shot elsewhere, the versimilitude was high. And,while it was strange to see the recent past treated as history, the story actually works, and carries truth, even if it doesn’t ring true for the living subjects of the story. (I’ve haven’t met any of the movie’s characters, but I thought Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of the Sean Parker character was drawn straight from Jason Calacanis.)

The story that matters, at least to me, is about the making of a Silicon Valley success. In The Business-Movie Business, The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki unpacks Hollywood’s small and mostly poor assortment of movies about business. His summary statement is “Movies’ mistrust of capitalism is almost as old as the medium itself.” Here’s how he puts “The Social Network” in that context:

Watching “Wall Street,” you’d think that business is a Hollywood obsession. But it’s really Hollywood’s biggest blind spot.

For that reason, the fall’s most important business film—indeed, the most important business film in ages—is not the second “Wall Street” but, rather, “The Social Network,” David Fincher’s film about Facebook. The film represents a rare attempt to take business seriously, and to interrogate the blend of insight, ruthlessness, creativity, and hubris required to start a successful company. Hollywood has made good films about money, loyalty, trust, and organization before—but most of them have been about gangsters. “The Social Network” suggests that it could also start making good films about businesspeople who don’t carry guns.

Henry Blodget’s blog post title sums up his own take: No Wonder Everyone Loves The Facebook Movie: It’s The American Dream. He begins,

True, it paints Harvard as a stuffy cartoon-scape. True, it treats women as as video-game props, sex tools, and platforms for coke-snorting. And, true, Mark Zuckerberg’s character comes off as a bit of an asshole. (But based on the other evidence I’ve seen, this would seem to be a fair representation of the reality at the time. And, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s writing and Jesse Eisenberg’s delivery, even the assholishness is charming.)

But all this is secondary to the main message of the movie, which is a celebration of what makes a vibrant corner of our economy–and our country–great.

What’s the Facebook movie really about?

It’s about a college sophomore who says “fuck you” to authority, follows his passion, and creates something great. In so doing, he works ridiculously hard, inspires his colleagues, blows past the comfortable establishment, and becomes rich beyond belief.

In other words, the Facebook movie is the latest incarnation of the American Dream.

Ah, but we wake up from our dreams. And Hollywood knows how to make that movie too.

Mark Zuckerberg is clearly an extremely bright and prescient dude, and Facebook could hardly be a bigger success story. But that story isn’t over. In fact, it’s just begun.

(An aside… Both The New Yorker and BusinessInsider, from which I lifted the quotes above, do something I hate. They give me more than I intend to copy, putting on my clipboard a “Read more” and the URL of the piece. So, when I paste the passage, I get bonus jive. Sometimes this is handy, but it smacks of pure promotion, and its annoying.)


  1. bruce wayne’s avatar

    …..So the American dream that we are told to believe and be a part of is one where members add content/value to companies like Facebook and receive no share in of the monetary value that they create….Thats not a dream….its a nightmare frame work that has been set up an pushed as truth for to many years…..Its time for this dream/myth to be shattered once and for all….


  2. Phillip Dews’s avatar

    I just been watching the trailers to this Movie and it looks great! I really cannot wait to see it when it opens here in the UK. As a prolific blogger myself i use Facebook all the time to connect with my readers. Looks like the movie deals with Facebook’s privacy issues a few years back. Anyway I for one cannot wait for this to come out

    I wonder if hollywood will ever make a movie on Google’s founder’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, now that would be a great picture to see! Love your writing and your thoughts Doc.

    -Phillip Dews

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Well, Bruce, that’s why I said the Facebook story had just begun.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Phillip, the privacy issues the movie deals with are those that occurred before Facebook was developed. In fact the movie suggests that Mark Zuckerberg’s early experience with oblivity to privacy (which got him in trouble at Harvard, and with is ex-girlfriend) helped shape the vision and direction of his work with Facebook.

    I think the Brin/Page story is simply less interesting than the Zuckerberg one. No dramatic tension worthy of cinematic treatment. Now, if Google crashes and burns, count on any number of movies being made about it.

  5. Todd’s avatar

    You mentioned the movie wasn’t shot at Harvard. Oddly enough, the movie was shot at Johns Hopkins instead of Harvard.

  6. Tom E’s avatar

    The Social Network reminds me of Oliver Stone’s Wall St in terms of perpetuating the American Dream.

    With the benefit of hindsight critics will say the Social Network was a reflection of the times where public and private online information became blurred.

  7. Mark Thomas’s avatar

    Give it a few days and things will change at the blink of an eye. I have heard that Google now owns all the patents to semantic indexing ( a way of categorizing and retreiving data). IBM is spending billions to try and figure this out! I bet there will be a new company that figures it out the next big thing before the big guys.

    The amazing thing to me is that these comapnies don’t get bought when they are small. Yahoo had a chance to buy Google and passed. I wonder how many people passed on Facebook?

  8. Movie’s avatar

    I liked this as a movie about a fictional character named Mark Zuckerberg, but as a biographical picture it answers the question what happens when you get a bunch of douchebags together to create a movie about another bunch of douchebag.

  9. Jeff Livingston’s avatar

    I saw the movie and frankly enjoyed it. Even if the portrayal of of Zuckerberg was accurate, that he was and may still be a heartless bastard, I believe him when he remarks that the Harvard boys wouldn’t have made it happen on their own. Their focus was elsewhere for good reason.

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