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Facebook Movie: The Arrogance of Achievement vs. the Arrogance of Inheritance

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The word on the street is that the Facebook movie, The Social Network, ruins Mark Zuckerberg's reputation. I'm not so sure.

The review in the Los Angeles Times captured much of the apparent consensus about the movie, including the characterizations of Mark Zuckerberg as "extremely unlikable," "self-absorbed and arrogant," and "socially maladroit" (and, it had to be acknowledged, "fearsomely smart").

Around the time that review was published, The Social Network was about to open at the New York Film Festival and Zuckerberg had donated $100 million to schools in Newark, NJ. The LA Times reviewer surmised that Zuckerberg was "probably worried that with all his billions he may forever be a prisoner of the film's uncharitable portrayal."

It is true that there was a lot not to like about Zuckerberg, based on the portrayal in the movie. His treatment of women in the despicable Facemash, for instance. The way he uses other people. Whatever else you want to add.

But think about it. What other character do you know of who is searingly brilliant, stunningly engaging in his rat-a-tat-tat conversational wizardly, totally and even smugly tactless and rude -- and still adored? People want to be with him, they want to work with him, they can't get enough of him. Some even like him, personally, as a friend.

Do you know yet who I'm talking about? Here's another hint: He's not a real person, he just plays one on TV.

It's House, as in Dr. House.

I concede that the comparison of Zuckerberg to a make-believe person may be a stretch, but think about it anyway. Did you revel in Zuckerberg's intensity, passion, and joy in working so devotedly on one thing and being so stunningly good at it?

Remember those moments in the movie when Zuckerberg is struck with a bolt of insight and walks away from a conversation in mid-sentence? You've also seen that on House. It is a dramatic technique that makes insight exciting. What is created in those memorable moments is a connection. It's not a social connection but a mental one. Being smart is invigorating and fun.

If you come to this blog regularly and do not turn away even when I am telling you about studies from professional journals, admit it -- you like to think! You're probably really smart. Isn't it refreshing, at a moment in American culture when cluelessness seems too often to be celebrated and rewarded, to find an elegantly crafted work of art in which smarts, skills, knowledge, and dedication to problem solving are what shines?

You know who struck me as pathetic in the movie (and granted, maybe they are not so in real life)? The twins. You say Zuckerberg was arrogant? I say the twins were, too, but in a different way. To me, part of the dramatic tension in The Social Network was the pitting of the arrogance of achievement against the arrogance of inheritance. I have nothing against inheritance, but I know which one I find more inspiring. (Continue reading here.)

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