Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Why So Glum?
One of the most anticipated films of the fall isn’t a romantic comedy, or an action movie, or even a horror movie. Without a doubt, the new movie about the rise and rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook (The Social Network with Jesse Eisenberg playing the plum role of the boy wonder himself) is the hot ticket for the fall for a number reasons.
In a piece published this past weekend (Facebook Feels Unfriendly Toward Film It Inspired) The New York Times outlines in detail the general attitude at Facebook towards the impending premiere and potential success of a movie about Zuckerberg and his empire. To sum it up: Zuckerberg and Facebook loathe the film with a seething white hot hatred (my description of Facebook’s dissatisfaction is a bit over-the-top but then so is their reaction to this movie).
There is talk of possible rebuttal by Facebook if the movie is a success. Apparently, if the movie tanks, bad box office returns will be punishment enough for the film’s producers and the movie studio.
But Zuckerberg and Facebook’s disdain for what is basically a popcorn movie that (even if it did live up to Zuckerberg’s worse fears) could hardly do worse to deteriorate the public’s perception of him than he has mismanaging his own pr, is both odd and, in some ways, hypocritical. This leads me to my first question for Mark Zuckerberg:
What exactly are you afraid of?
Based on the film’s trailer (which I thought was cheesy and trashy – I’ll be getting my ticket early!!), the movie is typical Hollywood sensationalism that is not very kind in its depiction of Zuckerberg. But, really, what Hollywood adaptation of a powerful public figure is ever flattering? Nice, virgin alter boys who rise to the top rescuing neglected children from orphanages in third-world countries doesn’t sell movie tickets. But neither does it reflect the life stories of the most powerful businessmen running billion-dollar corporations. Zuckerberg’s reality likely falls somewhere in the middle between these two polar opposite character portrayals.
Scott Rudin (the film’s producer) slams the door shut on Zuckerberg’s notion of a truth: “There is no such thing as truth.” I would agree with him here — our history (as we tell it) is made up of perceptions of reality from the limited perspective of many individuals (not one absolute truth). Mark Zuckerberg would, no doubt, disagree.
For his part, Rudin tried to work with Zuckerberg and the Facebook Illuminati by keeping them in the loop on the development of the screenplay (even allowing them to edit it). But then Zuckerberg and the Facebook Illuminati went “Hollywood” by requesting too many changes to the script and Rudin wasn’t having it. Rudin packed his screenplay and politely told Zuckerberg and Facebook to kiss his ass (which immediately earned him wings in heaven).
The NY Times notes that Zuckerberg (who declined to be interviewed for the article – surprise!) once said of the movie:
“Honestly, I wish that when people try to do journalism or write stuff about Facebook that they at least try to get it right… The movie is fiction.”
Fair enough – or is it? With Zuckerberg being so unreasonably secretive about his life (pretty strange considering his expectations of the rest of humanity to upload every detail of their entire lives on Facebook’s platform) and with him refusing to do interviews, what’s a roving reporter to do? Go to alternate sources – that’s what (Mr. Zuckerberg, if you won’t talk, be certain that your enemies and detractors will). Still, I find it hard to believe that, in the his college years, Zuckerberg did anything more scandalous than most college kids testing the limits of their freedom, identities and relationships.
But none of that should matter now. Zuckerberg won. He got the company, secured a position in the history books as an entrepreneurial genius who has defined an era and changed the way human beings communicate with each other, likely gets laid whenever and wherever by whomever he wants, and is worth billions of dollars (he’ll have to defend the legitimacy of his claim to his own empire for the rest of his life but so does everyone who builds an empire – it’s par for the course). This leads me to my next question for Mark Zuckerberg. If the movie is pure fiction (pop cult trash) and you trust Facebook Users to understand this then, Mr. Zuckerberg:
Why so glum?
It can’t be easy being a billionaire and founder of one of the most powerful companies on the planet at the age of 26. And, to be fair, Zuckerberg is likely to face pressures and criticisms none of us ever will over several lifetimes. So, not only is he entitled to his eccentricities, it’s expected of him (as it is of every billionaire). But it’s hard not to lose patience with Zuckerberg when he insists on micromanaging a reputation he no longer owns or controls thanks to his own PR mismanagement on the heels of bad business decisions. Add to that the fact that Zuckerberg seems reticent to tell his own story (refusing interviews left and right) and you’re left with the impression that this is a young man not only at odds with himself and the world, but that he’s a walking contradiction of epic proportions.
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes attempts to come to Zuckerberg’s defense but doesn’t help much in his explanation of the Facebook movie backlash:
“It’s crazy because all of a sudden Mark becomes this person who created Facebook to get girls or to gain power… That’s not what was going on. It was a little more boring and quotidian than that.”
Therein lies what must be at the heart of Zuckerberg’s biggest fear with the release of this film (the depiction of him creating Facebook for popularity and to “get girls”) which is just… odd.
There’s only two things that matter to young college boys/men brimming with lethal doses of testosterone: power and pussy. Would it really be so damaging to Facebook and Zuckerberg’s legacy if the world believed that Mark Zuckerberg built his empire to be liked and get laid like every other world leader and corporate demigod?
It is ironic that Zuckerberg is straining to defend a reputation that he himself seems to take no interest in building or, rather, nurturing (he is, as most of us are, a co-creator and co-conspirator in his own perceived drama). Which leads me to my next question for Mark Zuckerberg:
Exactly what “truth” do you want us to believe?
Zuckerberg is a public figure (that much is fact). He seems to still be having a hard time grappling with exactly what that means and likely will for some time (he’s still, basically, a kid). If he wants to maintain control (or the illusion of it), he’s going to have to learn to give some of it up (with a smile on his face – no more pouting pleeease!). Protesting the release of this movie hardly seems like a fight Facebook should be taking on (especially since, considering Zuckerberg’s stature, everyone knows this movie was going to be made at some point in time by someone).
The bottom line here is, Zuckerberg’s life story no longer belongs to him — it belongs to the world and the world will do with it what it pleases. Someone should tell him that ASAP. It’s a bit hypocritical that Zuckerberg is fighting allowing other people to tell his story when 500 million people on the planet trust him with their life stories every day (and he, himself, has proven to be potentially unethical by signing away our life stories to the devil (advertisers and big brand corporations) for big profits, without our permission (cough-cough)).
What Zuckerberg seems to not realize is that, even if every last word and punctuation mark in this salacious movie were true, he would STILL be an exceptional human being and a visionary entrepreneur who has accomplished more in his life than most people can ever dream of including being one of the world’s youngest billionaire (and the tiny thing of halfing half a billion people all around the world trusting and beliving in him and Facebook). My final question to Mr. Zuckerberg is:
Isn’t that enough?
Speaking of cheesy films about entrepreneurs, Silicon Alley/Valley, and startups, check out clips from some of the most notable entrepreneurial films (and disregard the bad 90’s hair).
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