Guest Post: The Social Network or a Really Terrible Movie that Sucks by Dan Wilbur
Awhile back I was told by an acquaintance (a former friend) that 500 Days of Summer was “our generation’s Annie Hall.” Comparing generation-defining works is a silly notion in itself since (though Annie Hall “holds up”) the whole point of an emotionally wrought work of that kind is to take a snapshot of the human condition AT THAT VERY MOMENT which also applies to the past and (cross your fingers, screenwriters) our future world. Annie Hall is our generation’s Annie Hall. I only know the film in the context of its being from the past, yet still “speaking to me” as a person living in 2011. Nobody says things like “Avatar: The Last Airbender* is our generation’s Odyssey.” That’s dumb. For one thing, Nietzsche wasn’t exactly sure how the Greek public felt about epic poetry or theater, and he was a lot smarter than people bullshitting today. Furthermore, comparing these two works would be like saying “this show that is clearly influenced by the Odyssey is the the younger generation’s Odyssey.” It begs the question. Annie Hall clearly influenced several indie romance films, and saying any movie is our generation’s anything else is comparing apples to oranges. Or, I guess, comparing a really great apple to a bio-mechanically engineered clone of that apple which tastes like an orange filled with poop.
What I think my oncefriend was attempting to say was this: “500 Days of Summer was a movie that, I think, everyone in my generation can relate to in the same way those who saw Annie Hall the day it came out relate to Annie Hall. It is a generation-defining movie about love or the lack thereof.” Fine. This Imaginary Idiot is wrong again, since he has no idea how he or anyone else felt about Annie Hall when it came out. He’s saying something tantamount to calling Obama a Nazi. He’s not saying he thinks Obama’s policies resemble Nazism, he’s saying “I heard that what Nazis did sociologically is similar to Obama’s policies, even though I’ve never really read much about either.” He’s saying “the way people felt about Hitler when he arrived on the scene is the same way people feel about Obama,” and that’s stupid a) because he just read that somewhere and b) history, though similar things often happen, does not repeat itself. Furthermore, Obama-haters are hating something for the wrong reason! People don’t hate Hitler because he was popular and brought Germany out of a depression. People hate him because he was an egomaniacal murderer. It doesn’t take a lot of research to figure out that a guy who wants to extend health insurance to everyone is not a Jew-hating murderer. You have to hate Nazis for the right reasons: otherwise, you might end up liking something that’s as bad as Hitler later. So, I hate 500 Days of Summer not because it’s ripping off Annie Hall (it is) or Amelie (big time and unnecessarily). Rather, I hate it because it’s supposedly a film about my generation’s inability to communicate, open our hearts, be the people they want to be, etc. and it DOES NOT feature the one piece of communicative technology used by most people my age: Facebook. If there is a movie that’s our generation’s anything, it’s not 500 Days of Summer, but The Social Network.
The reason The Social Network is a generation-defining work is because it self-referentially (IMPORTANT!) focuses on an ever-present, identity-supplementing, unprecedented privacy-stealing piece of media, while 500 Days of Summer features landlines. Telephones that don’t even feature caller-ID. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! THIS IS WHAT OUR GENERATION IS ABOUT? Sitting by the phone on a Friday night? We have SKYPE now! Our generation has more in common with Star Trek villains than the people in this quirky romance.
I’m not saying great works necessarily have to mimic what is happening in the here and now (see: most Bob Dylan lyrics). But THIS generation, this self-important, lonely, narcissistic, smartphone-using, iPod wearing, video gaming, internet stalking, celebrity-for-no-reason-other-than-we’re-rich-and-willing-to-show-our-tits generation REQUIRES a mostly unimaginative (in the sense that there are no magic elves or kids riding broomsticks, or a machine that erases bad relationships from your memory**) movie about itself. People want to hear about the here and now, because they feel they are a small part of a huge structure that had (ostensibly) an exciting beginning. Am I saying my generation is stupid and unimaginative? No. I’m saying if you like The Social Network, you’re admitting you like hearing about yourself, and a person who’s sort of like you who made a bunch of money thinking about love, sex, and status (and computers, which we grew up with). If you like The Social Network you are saying to yourself: “That could have been me…and, in a way, partly is me because I’m a part of that thing that all my friends, and the creator of Facebook himself, use.” If you like 500 Days of Summer, you like looking at pretty stuff, and then seeing people kiss, but only if the structure is reminiscent of other quirky movies that came before it.
Answer these questions:
Why does he work at a greeting card company?
Why does he quit to become an architect?
Why does he have stereotypical roommates who say funny things at awkward times?
Why is there a quirky narrator?
Why can’t I tell what city these people are in?
Answer to all of these questions: Because this movie is ripping what was good about movies like it in the past while adding very little of its own. Exciting visuals, comic relief, and old communication conundrums, that’s all. It gives you all the fun stuff without taking any risks of its own. The narrator’s there not because the vignettes (day # included) need explanation, but because people like the narrator in the movie Amelie. You’ve Got Mail did a better job showing day-to-day tension in relationships than a movie which features a pre-teen sibling knowing more than the main character about relationships. Seriously, what year is it? How many times have you seen this hackneyed joke? A clever structure does not justify sloppy, contrived writing and nonspecific character development.
The Social Network isn’t perfect. It’s got Aaron Sorkin’s quips dripping off every scene. It is also supposed to serve as some type of historical document and the person who the movie is about has said the film is full of lies (although it would be great if Mark Zuckerberg thinks the only thing that can truly capture his identity is his own Facebook profile).
But, if you’re one of those people who think I’m dumb, too critical, too uneducated/overeducated because I don’t share in your enthusiasm (i.e. think exactly like you do) for a shitty movie like 500 Hundred Days of Summer, then guess what. You’re a Nazi.
*An awesome show!
** Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a great movie about love, and I am aware that it also features scenes with landlines, but it receives an exemption from suckitude since a) it’s an imaginary world which features a piece of technology we all half-wish were real, and b) it came out a month after Facebook was born.
Dan Wilbur is a 10. That is, a 10 after adding up his three best features: Physique (3), Face (5), Personality (2). Dan is a comedian, writer, and avid video game player living in Brooklyn, NY. His writing is featured on CollegeHumor.com, McSweeney’s, The Onion News Network, The Huffington Post and online versions of EW, The New Yorker, NYT blogs and Esquire. He is the creator and editor of betterbooktitles.com.