If you like The Social Network, fine. I don’t, at all, but fine. It does nothing for me—partly due to the fact that it’s so intensely fabricated, and partly because I find it aesthetically unappealing. But it’s not the kinda movie where if you like it, I need to pick an argument with you. Or the kind of movie I even feel compelled to write a review of—especially now, three years after it came out. Even people who liked it haven’t thought about it in years, and wouldn’t write about it now. It’s just kind of a forgettable movie.
However, there is one tiny aspect of it that has endured in my mind all this time and that I seriously think about here and there, and that is its absolute radio silence on any and all of the possible philsophical or metaphysical ramifications of Facebook. It’s actually kind of appalling and unnerving. Watching The Social Network is like watching a movie about the development of the atomic bomb and Hiroshima and Nagasaki not being mentioned whatsoever. Facebook has hugely changed the way we communicate, and the way we think about those around us, and the way we think about ourselves. It’s a seismic fucking thing. But you watch this movie and it might as well be about a guy who created any ol’ doohickey. The whole film is a giant sleight of hand, distracting audiences from the elephant in the room which has taken over us all for better or for worse.
Luckily, there’s a film out there which does explore these aspects of Facebook, if only allegorically, and most likely, unintentionally. That film is Charlie Kaufman’s magnum opus, Synecdoche, New York.
Here’s a movie I could talk about forever. I absolutely adore it. And it’s not just about Facebook—it’s about objectivity vs. subjectivity, it’s about narcissism, it’s about the creative process, it’s about sociopathy—I could go on forever. But let’s stay on topic here.
To put it bluntly: Cotard is Zuckerberg, and his warehouse installation is Facebook. His constant obsessive and largely irrational overcomplicating and tinkering of his ‘play’ mirrors the endless layout and functionality and security changes to the site over the years that have arguably made it worse and worse. In fact, Facebook has become cluttered to the point of near parody; each new update at first seems almost like some April Fool’s prank. Cotard’s myriad tweaks are similarly darkly funny.
Both Cotard and Zuckerberg’s creations require the compliance of everyone you know—even people you barely know—to be ‘complete’. Cotard’s reason for this is to create the greatest and truest play of all time. Zuckerberg’s ambition of replicating our real-life invisible social webbing as a website is similarly Herzog-esque in its grandiosity and impossibility. (In a perfect world, Klaus Kinski, not Jesse Eisenberg, would be playing Zuckerberg.)
Cotard’s desire to be privy to the every thought and utterance of everyone he knows is made possible in the film through storing them in an endlessly huge warehouse. In real life, he could’ve just used Facebook. Much as Cotard gets lost in his own fake world, it’s easy to lose a day to that site, lost in the lives of others. It’s also easy to come to completely distorted assumptions about these people. What someone puts on Facebook is just that—what they put on Facebook. It’s not everything about them, just what they choose to share. Unless you engage with them on a meaningful level on a regular basis, you can’t truly know them. Cotard engages in a real way with no one. He’s mostly an eavesdropper, and when he does actually communicate with someone, he reads way too much into anything they say, coloring instantly his own mind. A well-adjusted individual may do this from time to time, but for the most part, when it comes to in-person dealings, one reads people fairly accurately. However, communication on the internet puts us all in Cotard’s shoes, as it is quite sterile. It’s extremely easy to read too much or too little into even something as simple as a ‘nm’ after you say ‘sup’ to someone.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Facebook. I use it daily. It’s a fun place to dick around as a breather in between working, and I’ve connected with people on there that I may never have connected with otherwise. In that way, it’s like anything else—it has the potential to be used for good or for bad. Like a knife, it’s merely a tool.
I’ve definitely seen the toll it has taken on some people I know, though. It becomes a crutch of sorts that, instead of enhancing and operating alongside an actual social life, actually replaces it. It’s sad to see—so sad in fact, that it becomes tragic, and thus, kind of comedic. In fact, Synecdoche, New York is arguably the greatest dark comedy of all time. It beautifully exposes the ludicrousness of subjectivity, and of wasting your life seeing the world in such a skewed, morbid, narcissistic manner.
Life is short, if anything at all. There’s no good reason to see it any way but objectively, which is to say, as rationally as possible: your time is limited, nobody knows how long they have in this lifetime, so you might as well make the most of it. Plain and simple. Morosity is not a good pastime. Neither is dicking around on the internet, thinking you know everybody when you really don’t. Get off your ass and do a thing that truly fuels you. I’m doing that right now as I write this sentence.