The Rumpus Review of The Social Network: Suck It

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At the end of The Social Network, a new indie flick that no one has ever heard of, I turned to my friend, and out of every intelligent comment I could have made, I said, “There was so much testosterone in the movie that I feel fucked six ways sideways.”

There’s a bad joke the boys in middle school used to tell: “It’s not rape if you’re willing!” The Social Network, directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, brought me back to that “joke,” to the boys who made the joke, and to the girls who laughed because they didn’t know what else to do. Rich white straight men are the subject of the movie, and rich white straight men made it (both The Social Network and the social network). The portrayal of women is inaccurate, insulting, and short-sighted; better put: “intelligent men who change the world wear their blind spots like burkas,” says Julie Greicius, professional hulahooper and Rumpus senior literary editor. Men do cocaine lines off breasts while starting a billion-dollar revolution. In a peripheral shot, girls do bong hits while boys change the entire social structure. The scenes to which I’m referring, and those like them, take up no more than 15 minutes of the movie. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s apathy.

When I asked Stephen Elliott if he loved the movie, he said, “Oh yeah, I loved it.” And I said, “I wanted to have sex with it.” Every man wants to be The Social Network, and every woman wants to be with The Social Network. This is our world. This is our sick, sad world. And I was into it, in a tasteless, shameful, twisted take on “it’s not rape if you’re willing.”

In his essay “The Crack Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “. . . the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” One could, for example, want a penis and want to be so far away from one at the same time. The men behind the movie and the movement: their confidence, their determination, their ego; I was with them. But of course, if The Social Network’s point of view is correct, I can never be with them. I’m someone who dreams as big as Zuckerberg but lacks the penis required for social revolution. Women are there to blow the dick, excite the dick, but not wield the dick.

Sorkin’s writing is quick and sharp and endlessly fascinating. I’ve never tried cocaine, but I’ve never wanted cocaine more or become so convinced someone dropped it into my popcorn. I was thrilled; kids, kids my age changed the world (kids similar to those in the science-fiction book Ender’s Game, which is Zuckerberg’s favorite book as listed on his Facebook profile). Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. As the unstoppable Justin Timberlake playing Napster co-founder Sean Parker says, “We lived on farms. We lived in cities. And now we live on the Internet.” And it’s all thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues/drinking buddies/circle-jerkers.

My friend with whom I saw the movie, journalist and dick-owner Brenden [last name redacted], reminded me that a woman, Erica Albright (pun intended?), bookended the movie; in the first scene she breaks up with him, in the next scene he’s creating what will be Facebook, and in the last scene (spoiler alert) he’s alone and waiting for her to confirm his friendship request. I asked Brenden, “How is this a consolation?” I don’t want to be the girl who prompted the man to start Facebook. I want to be the man who started Facebook. Is it empowering that Zuckerberg’s fictional ex-girlfriend gets the final word at the end of the movie by not giving him the final word? I don’t care. She only has a few words in the movie anyway.

“Good social change is fueled by jealousy,” a man once said to me (Stephen Elliott, an hour ago). Sorkin writes this story: Zuckerberg’s social revolution was fueled by wanting to get (or get back at) the girl. As for the fake girlfriend who drives Zuckerberg, it doesn’t matter if she’s fake because it seems undisputed that the point of forming Facebook was to be popular and get laid–to have what they didn’t have and couldn’t buy. They had to create it. “They”? The men. The move from jealousy to Darwinian-sized social upheaval is all movie magic–in this movie. But here I am, writing this, fueled by jealousy and, maybe, sure, why not, penis envy. Perhaps I’m conflating the fictional Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker’s testosterone with confidence. On why The New Yorker, etc. publishes more men than women, even though statistically more women buy/read books and there are more women in MFA programs than men, Lorrie Moore said, “Men have more courage to send their stories to The New Yorker.” Confidence. Courage. Cock.

I don’t need a dick to make it in this world, but that’s the story this movie sells and that’s why I bought the ticket. (It’s also the story of my life in the publishing world; memoir forthcoming from No Such Press, 20TK.) While I want little to do with their cocks, I do covet and need the Zuckerberg/Parker confidence and courage. What men! What brave and ambitious and cock-sure men! I won’t have sex with you, but please let me conspire with you. (Goddamn it, Justin Timberlake, I would totally have sex with you and you know it.)

When I wrote to The Rumpus advice columnist, Dear Sugar, about not being able to achieve the revolution-ensuing success I expect of myself, Sugar said, “The most fascinating thing to me about your letter is that buried beneath all the anxiety and sorrow and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core. It presumes you should be successful at 26, when really it takes most writers so much longer to get there. . . . You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done.” But! These men were boys (still are)! They were successful at 23, and why? Because they were consumed by the grandiose ideas they had about their own importance. They’re too high up, but it works for them because they’re not simultaneously down too low. They don’t loathe themselves; instead they conveniently loathe “that bitch” who broke Mark’s never fully-formed heart or that “groupie”-turned-girlfriend setting the CFO’s bed on fire.

(NB: My license plate since I’ve been 16 says “CFO,” bitches.)

The movie portrays a sexist world. This does not make the movie sexist; it merely holds up a fun house mirror to its audience. We live in a network of men getting what they want at the expense of women. They are doing what I’ve always wanted to do myself, and they are screwing me while doing it. If you see this movie and you don’t admire them, you’d be wrong not to.

They’re sexist but sexy. Tracy Clark-Flory, a writer at Salon.com (and my current Facebook wife), told me over g-chat, “Those frat boys, Zuckerberg, all of them, I want their power, and I want to fuck their power.” For her, this is “an embarrassing and intellectually indefensible fantasy about fucking to conquer,” which taps into the female chauvinist pigs argument: embody the object and the objectifier. For me, fucking is more than “sex” or “exchange of fluids”; it’s creating something out of nothing. For me, it’s about getting what I want, wanting to be so close to the center of an idea, wanting it all at once and now and so badly, that the only way to get there is to fuck like there’s no tomorrow, fuck until I’ve changed what tomorrow means, fuck until it is, in fact, tomorrow.


Elissa Bassist edits the Funny Women column. Follow her on Twitter, and visit elissabassist.com for more literary, feminist, and personal criticism. More from this author →