The Facebook movie

By Anne Collier

All the other news this past week kept crowding out the Facebook movie, which I figure many of you have seen by now, maybe with your kids. The film, released last Friday, has done well at the box office, having made $28.7 million by Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday, and expected to gross another $12 million to 15 million this weekend.

Movie critics really liked it. The film still has a 97% “grade” on the review aggregator and is deemed “impeccably scripted [by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing scriptwriting fame], beautifully directed, and filled with fine performances. MTV called it “one of the year’s critical darlings, just a notch below Toy Story 3.” That’s what made me want to see it even though I thought I knew the story.

So did you like it? I saw it this weekend. I too thought the acting and screenplay were pretty remarkable, powerfully pulling us into a disturbing piece of art. We usually go into a movie theater allowing a suspension of disbelief, wanting to be transported as well as entertained. But I couldn’t entirely check my parent’s perspective or professional life at the door this time, so I couldn’t watch without a sinking feeling that this picture would fuel adult fears of social media and concerns about “this generation,” which – if we can really generalize about a whole generation – “is mentally healthier now than in the last several generations, less violent, suicidal, less likely to get pregnant, use drugs tobacco and alcohol [and] more likely to stay in school and engage in civic behavior,” according to psychology Prof. Christopher Ferguson at Texas A&M, with all those improvements happening right in the middle of social media’s exponential growth. [Dr. Ferguson went into much more detail on this in “Narcissism Run Rampant? Let’s Not Flatter Ourselves!” in the Chronicle of Higher Education this past August.]

Remember that moment toward the end of the movie where the “quaintness” of a celebration about reaching 1 million users (quaint because Facebook now has 500+ million) was drowned out by rivetingly acted cruel, callous behavior toward a friend? Only people very close to the real-life main characters will ever know how much of that and the rest of the story is true. The large number of people who went to Harvard early in this decade know how much of the story’s context is true and how much isn’t, but I strongly suspect they’d tell us it was partly stereotypical and partly true for some. So what I came away with is the great hope that most parents are now Facebook users themselves and draw their own conclusions about “young people these days” from their own children and their own experiences in Facebook – and that they, like me, couldn’t suspend their disbelief at the door of the theater!

Related links

* The New York Times says the film’s “paced like a thriller, if one in which ideas, words and bank books blow up rather than cars … [but] also a story about the human soul.”
* In a review in the Huffington Post, my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid said that – contrary to many people’s expectations – the film isn’t a “hatchet job” against Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg but rather portrays him as “more driven than evil” and “a young man with a vision.” Here, in the San Jose Mercury News, is an account of his personal encounters with Zuckerberg.
* If you read my post “Facebook fundamental,” did it jive with the film’s portrayal of Zuckerberg? Please do comment in our forum.

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