Divine Drama in The Social Network

Divine Drama in The Social Network February 25, 2011

With very little reluctance, I must admit I’m more than a bit of a luddite. I see computers as something of a necessary evil, and held off from composing any sort of writing directly on the computer well into my first year of graduate education (1998). The mobile phone I currently own barely answers calls and does text messages; it certainly doesn’t connect to the internet or have any “apps” of any description, nor even a camera. And while I have several e-mail addresses, a blog, and memberships on a number of dating and other types of websites, I am neither on Twitter nor Facebook, and don’t plan to be anytime soon, for a variety of reasons.

Despite this, I very much wanted to see The Social Network, and most happily did so recently. I enjoyed the film a great deal, and think it will be a serious contender for Best Picture (though The King’s Speech may give it a run for its money…though I’ve still not seen it!); it certainly deserved its Golden Globe. It is well-written, well-acted, and very well-produced, not to mention both entertaining and informative. However, it also reinforced for me every reason that I don’t want to be a part of Facebook, and will continue to do so for a long time, I’m sure.

Now, don’t get me wrong–people can do as they like, and if they want to be a part of Facebook, in however serious or casual a manner, they are more than free to do so. However, I want no part of it myself, and I think the pressure that many people have placed on me and fellow “Facebook objectors” to conform and succumb to its lure is the worst kind of peer pressure that all those films and trainings in primary and secondary school in relation to drugs and alcohol warned us about. Social ostracism and the “all the cool kids (and adults, and businesses, and social causes, etc.) are doin’ it!” message that Facebook advocates enact are quite ridiculous and mean-spirited, I think. As Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter of The Social Network himself said on The Colbert Report many months back, the relationship between “friends” on Facebook and the social life provided by it bears the same relationship to real friends and human interactions as reality television does to actual reality. Too true…

But, independent of this, the characters in the film, or perhaps more accurately their characterizations by the writer, director, and actors, very easily reminded me of a number of Greek deities for a variety of reasons (apart from the fact that I deal with Greek deities on a regular basis!). Common modern Pagan lore says, for some people, that Hermes invented the internet; Sannion has written a story which says that Hermes actually stole it from Athena, who invented the “World Wide Web” for military defense applications (and her Arachne/spider connections determined its name, therefore!), which I find quite an appealing notion as well. Hermes, I think, is involved in the film The Social Network, in the form of Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield. (Garfield also played Mercury in the plays-within-the-film of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which I highly recommend to everyone!) Not only did he provide an essential algorithm to Mark Zuckerberg in the first part of the film, leading him on to his notoriety in the world of web design, but he also provided the financial resources necessary (to the tune of $19,000!) which made it possible for them to start Facebook in the first place. Hermes, of course, is connected to communication, but also to commerce and money, and certainly to transitions and connections between people and things. Saverin travels perhaps more than any other character in the film, back and forth across the U.S. in a short period of time, and around New York city attempting to gain advertising revenue “the old way.” I found him to be a most sympathetic character, and I fully applaud the lawsuit he settled with Zuckerberg for an undisclosed sum, as he was certainly cheated by Zuckerberg and his other associates in the business deals the company eventually made.

The twins, Tyler and Cameron Wincklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) act as if they are one person, and even refer to themselves as such at various points in the film, and yet the two are somewhat opposed at certain points, with one wanting to take more aggressive actions against Zuckerberg, while the other prefers a more moderate approach (“We are gentlemen of Harvard!”). The two are strapping young lads, and are superlatively physically fit since they are on the Harvard rowing team. Of course, they reminded me of the Dioskouroi (known in Latin as the Gemini, “twins”), Kastor and Polydeukes, right down to the latter’s association with the sea and sailors and the maritime activities of the Wincklevoss twins. They were not ingenious enough to win their lawsuit against Zuckerberg, even with the assistance of their friend Divya Narendra (who was the “brains” behind their entire operation, in any case), who is played by Max Minghella. (Pagan film fans may remember Minghella from the movie Agora, for example.)

As for Justin Timberlake, who plays Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, it is tougher to fit him to a particular archetype…many people would say “Apollon!” due to his blond hair, but his character was extremely slimy, in many respects, so that doesn’t even remotely work. If I had to suggest a mythological parallel from Greece, I’d perhaps go with King Midas–the one who turned everything he touched into gold…but at what “price”? Parker’s excesses and high-flying promises are what prove to be the undoing of the friendship of Saverin and Zuckerberg, and to be a difficulty of their own not easily solved.

As for Zuckerberg himself, let me suggest that he is another god who has been said to be a part of the creation of computers and the internet by many modern polytheists: Hephaistos. His difficulties at the beginning of the film start over his troubles with a relationship, which he tunes out by creating something; and at the end of the film, he is alone, mentally absorbed in his work, and still wishing (and using his creation) to have contact with the girl who started all of his troubles in the first place. Like Hephaistos’ difficulties with Aphrodite, we see how such things can end up becoming beautiful and powerful creative work and amazing creations; like Hephaistos and his relationship to Athena, which was fraught with difficulty, something did come from it eventually, but no enduring connection was made as a result. And, noticeably, Zuckerberg in the film is not as attractive as many of the other male leads (though the same is not necessarily true of Jesse Eisenberg, the actor who plays him), and is quite awkward and socially inept. It is precisely the invention of Facebook, which is meant to allow people to connect with one another and communicate more easily, that seems to be a colossal failure at the end of the film, when its creator is not even reaping the benefits (other than money and notoriety) that it was meant to facilitate. This is, therefore, something of a Greek tragedy in many respects (though not in the strictest sense of the term!), that the downfall and fatal flaw of the main character is never overcome as a result of the drama itself.

The fact that part of the message of the film seems to be that the various litigants in the multiple lawsuits were all overprivileged Harvard students with family money, and who could afford to invest $19,000 at nearly the drop of a hat while second-year undergraduates (I personally remember doing without candy bars on many occasions because I couldn’t afford them during my sophomore year of college!), and that corporate greed and excess is good, and that everyone has a price and can be bought, is a rather dismaying reality to confront. The characters are played in such a convincing manner, and are written so well, that it is a compelling story, even if it is one that makes one uncomfortable to witness–for every cleverness and dedication that Zuckerberg shows, his temptation and eventual submission to the greed offered by Parker at the expense of his friendship with Saverin is a very sad tragedy to view. I cannot imagine that if the actual deities named above were involved in a myth of this sort that it would have gone the way that it did, and thus perhaps the comparisons are neither fortunate nor apt. Yet, we must remember that our gods are not exclusively good nor bad, and that they can act in selfish ways as well as benevolent ones. The ways that humans exploit the gifts of the gods and their influences for their own ends can never be ignored, but the source of some of these gifts and inspirations in the gods themselves must also never be discounted. Every technological advance can potentially be a boon as equally as a plague. And while some will avoid Facebook like the plague and others will embrace it as a blessing, I’m very content in this particular case to watch from a distance and let things play out as they will, however this particular divine drama unfolds.

If nothing else, looking at this film in this way suggests to me that, within both the big stories that are newsworthy and earth-shattering, as well as the daily toils of our lives, the gods are always to be found, if we have the eyes to see them. The same is true of the modern myths and legendary figures, like Parker and Zuckerberg and any number of other such technological innovators, as it was of Daedalus and Icarus.

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