Posted on Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 by Adam Quigley
With a 9.1 out of 10 average rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 95 out of 10 score on Metacritic, The Social Network is without debate the best reviewed movie of 2010 so far. The film, and in particular its script, has been lauded and revered by just about everyone—including us—but as with everything that attains popularity and acclaim, there is also a vocal minority standing in firm opposition of the picture.
Criticisms have been lobbied against the film over its supposed veracity, as well as its portrayal (or lack thereof) of social networking itself. Others, meanwhile, are less than thrilled by its depiction of women.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has been dismissive of most of these criticisms—all except one. In response to claims that the film is sexist, Sorkin took to the blog comment boards to offer his (not-so-surprisingly) wordy defense. Read what he had to say after the break.
In the comments section of a review of the film by Ken Levine (who’s an Emmy-winning TV comedy writer, in case you were curious what Sorkin was doing there), a poster who goes by the name Tarazza left the following: “I also loved The Social Network, except for one thing– the lack of a decent portrayal of women. With the exception of 1 or 2 of them (Rashida Jones included), they were basically sex objects/stupid groupies. … kinda makes me think that Aaron Sorkin (though I love his writing) failed the women in this script.”
Here’s the comment Aaron Sorkin left in response:
Believe me, I get it. It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about. Women are both prizes an equal [sic – “prizes and equals”, I think]. Mark’s blogging that we hear in voiceover as he drinks, hacks, creates Facemash and dreams of the kind of party he’s sure he’s missing, came directly from Mark’s blog. With the exception of doing some cuts and tightening (and I can promise you that nothing that I cut would have changed your perception of the people or the trajectory of the story by even an inch) I used Mark’s blog verbatim. Mark said, “Erica Albright’s a bitch” (Erica isn’t her real name–I changed three names in the movie when there was no need to embarrass anyone further), “Do you think that’s because all B.U. girls are bitches?” Facebook was born during a night of incredible misogyny. The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on their looks and then publicly ranking them. It was a revenge stunt, aimed first at the woman who’d most recently broke his heart (who should get some kind of medal for not breaking his head) and then at the entire female population of Harvard.
More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren’t women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)
And this very disturbing attitude toward women isn’t just confined to the guys who can’t get dates.
I didn’t invent the “F–k Truck”, it’s real–and the men (boys) at the final clubs think it’s what they deserve for being who they are. (It’s only fair to note that the women–bussed in from other schools for the “hot” parties, wait on line to get on that bus without anyone pointing guns at their heads.)
These women–whether it’s the girls who are happy to take their clothes off and dance for the boys or Eduardo’s psycho-girlfriend are real. I mean REALLY real. (In the case of Christy, Eduardo’s girlfriend so beautifully played by Brenda Song, I conflated two characters–again I hope you’ll trust me that doing that did nothing to alter our take on the events. Christy was the second of three characters whose name I changed.)
I invented two characters–one was Rashida Jones’s “Marylin”, the youngest lawyer on the team and a far cry from the other women we see in the movie. She’s plainly serious, competent and, when asked, has no problem speaking the truth as she sees it to Mark. The other was Gretchen, Eduardo’s lawyer (in reality there was a large team of litigators who all took turns deposing witnesses but I wanted us to become familiar with just one person–a woman, who, again, is nobody’s trophy).
And Rooney Mara’s Erica’s a class act.
I wish I could go door to door and make this explanation/apology to any woman offended by the things you’ve pointed out but obviously that’s unrealistic so I thought the least I could do was speak directly to you.
My issue with Sorkin’s response has little to do with his explanation for why females were portrayed in the manner they were (which I understand and endorse completely), but with his callous attitude toward the actual people on whom the film is based.
Though my opinion of the film has not lessened at all, as I still believe it to be brilliantly representative of recent generational changes in business and youth, it’s a little disheartening to hear that Sorkin thinks he has depicted these individuals fairly and accurately, when he himself admits that his basis for the motivations of these characters stemmed from posts they wrote online through social networking sites like LiveJournal.
If Sorkin truly believes what he is saying, why then has he decried social networking for its artificiality? Recently, he appeared on The View and said, “I think socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality TV is to reality.” I’m inclined to agree with Sorkin on this point, and that’s precisely why I find his rationalization of the accuracy of The Social Network so troubling. Just as Facebook is no substitute for real life interaction, web postings and online chat exchanges are no substitute for face-to-face interviews. And even if Sorkin had interviewed Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the Harvard clan, any motivations applied to the characters would still be based on the inference of one man who is only observing the people and events after the fact.
The Social Network is a brilliantly written movie, and I would not at all hesitate to call it a masterpiece. But to argue that its characters are honest representations of their real-life counterparts? Sorry, Sorkin, but I’m calling bullshit.
What do you guys think? Is The Social Network sexist? And furthermore, did Sorkin portray these people fairly?
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