David Fincher’s The Social Network follows the formation of the popular social networking site, Facebook, from it’s inception to its one millionth user. The creation of Facebook has had an unprecedented impact on the way society communicates today. The website’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, the film’s antihero, has completely restructured how people form social bonds and transformed how society perceives the socializing process. The Social Network examines exactly how this social outcast revolutionized communication to reflect his own social behavior.
Fincher opens his film with a conversation in medias res between Mark and his girlfriend, Erica. The scene establishes a number of important characteristics about Mark, including his obsession with status and image, his desire for validation, and his infatuation with exclusivity. Within the five minute scene, Fincher establishes the dominant traits that will inspire Mark to create Facebook, which will propagate the same traits on to the rest of the world.
The scene opens with Mark discussing his desire to distinguish himself amongst his peers. He is struggling to make himself appear different and more attractive from the rest of the Harvard population. “But here’s the question, how do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SATs.” This is a major driver in Mark’s social aspirations. He wants to be recognized and admired for his intelligence and innovations rather than just blending into the crowd. He is fixated with how the student body perceives his image.
One way Mark believes he can set himself apart is by joining one of Harvard’s prestigious final clubs. Mark reveals to Erica his aspiration to be punched by one of these distinguished clubs, and become a part of something legendary. Mark is consumed by the image and status these clubs can give him. In Mark’s mind, these clubs exemplify status and prestige, which is exactly what he is seeking for himself.
Yet when Erica challenges him by asking why he doesn’t just apply to the easiest club to get into, he is offended. To Mark, being a part of these clubs is meant to establish his social dominance over his peers. He doesn’t want to join Harvard’s most prestigious clubs to make friends. He wants to join to increase his status and image among the Harvard population. It’s clear that status and image is important to Mark, and that he is desperate to be viewed as worthy of this high society. Mark resents Erica for suggesting that he should go for the easiest club because he doesn't want to just be a part of a club, he wants to be a part of the most important club with the highest status.
Similarly, Mark’s conversation with Erica shows his desperation to be validated by the people in these clubs. From the conversation, it’s clear that Mark’s entire mindset is focused on how he can impress these clubs enough to get punched. He is obsessed with being accepted and validated by the members of these clubs. Mark knows the type of people who have been members (Teddy Roosevelt being the most prominent), and he wants the validation of being in the same class as them. He needs to receive validation from these clubs to feel worthy of himself and his place at Harvard.
Mark tells Erica, “My friend Eduardo made $300,000 betting oil futures one summer, and Eduardo won’t come close to getting in.” But later in the film, Eduardo is punched by the Phoenix, and Mark is filled with jealousy. He can’t understand how Eduardo, who, in Mark’s mind, is far less worthy, could have been punched and he wasn’t. Mark believes his future relies on being punched, so he is devastated when his best friend gets the acclaim of being accepted and he doesn’t. This strains Mark’s relationship with Eduardo because the validation of being a part of a final club is more important to him than friendship. Mark is so enthralled with being accepted by this social club that he would destroy the only real tangible relationship he has. To Mark, the validation and prestige of these club outweighs having a real emotional connection.
The allure of the final clubs for Mark also comes down to their exclusivity. Rumors and tall tales surround these societies, creating an illustrious and attractive illusion around these social hierarchies. Yet, no one outside of the club actually knows what happens within the club’s walls. The exclusivity of these clubs establishes a distinct separation between those who are in and those who are not. And Mark is desperate to be in.
He mentions to Erica that one of the driving factors for his desire to be in a final club is its exclusivity.
MARK: I’m just saying, I need to do something substantial in order to get the attention of the clubs.
MARK: Because they’re exclusive. And fun. And they lead to a better life.
Like status and validation, Mark sees the exclusivity of the final clubs as a way to improve his life. He thinks being punched by these clubs will make him far more superior to his peers by the sheer fact that he is a member of one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. He wants the power of being a part of something that others are desperate to join. He is obsessed with being one of the few members of these exclusive clubs.
Furthermore, when Mark meets the Winklevoss brothers, he physically encounters the exclusivity of the clubs. He is humiliated when the brothers tell him he is not allowed to go past the bike room at the Porcelain because the rest of the building is for members only. Without knowing, the Winklevoss’s are taunting Mark by flaunting their exclusive rights. This moment represents, in physical form, the social roadblock Mark encounters with these clubs. He is desperate to be included in the most exclusive social sphere at Harvard, yet he can’t physically, or socially, reach beyond the illustrious veil of these prestigious clubs.
The social status, validation, and exclusivity that Mark seeks from being a part of these final clubs are some of the catalysts for the creation of Facebook. Facebook, at least in its early life, functioned like an online final club. It was only available to people with university email addresses, it was by invitation only, and the more connections one made the more validation one felt. Yet, outside of the world of The Social Network, Facebook still dictates this exact social behavior of its users.
The concept of Facebook grew within the mind of a socially inept loner. His neurotic tendencies, some actualized in The Social Network, completely revolutionized the way people socialize. Mark’s main character flaws— his obsession with status, his desire to be validated, and his desperation to be a part of what’s exclusive— are now common social norms for social media users.
Like Mark, users of Facebook fixate on their image in society. Mark wanted to create an image of himself around the final clubs, which would project the image of a man who was superior to the rest of his peers. Users of Facebook act the same way. They are obsessed with appearing “cool” or “superior” to the rest of their peers. They fixate on which “selfie” to use as their profile picture, they meticulously execute each post, and they skew their real lives to appear better than they actually are. One’s entire presence online is a misconception of who they actually are to make themselves appear superior to their friend group.
Similarly, Mark sought social validation by being punched by a final club, as he needed the validation of being accepted by the people he admired. Facebook users constantly seek validation from their peers. The entire premise of social networking revolves around “likes,” “friend counts,” and “shares,” making users obsessed with being recognized and validated for what they post. One’s entire presence online is determined by how many people like a post or authenticate another’s idea. Socializing online is not about building relationships; it’s about being validated by bigger viewing numbers and greater recognition.
Finally, Mark experienced exclusivity in a different way than modern social media users. He sought to find out how the other side lived; he wanted to see what was behind the veil of an unknown world. Because of the nature of social media today, there is nothing that is unknown about how others live. Facebook users document their lives in complete detail, even down to the food they eat. Anyone who wants to know what is behind the veil now can. Yet, there is still an exclusivity around the elite. Although one can easily view how other live, one is still not a part of that world. Outsiders are still outcasted from the world they admire, and they will feed off the notion of one day being a part of that exclusive world.
Mark Zuckerburg completely reestablished the nature of communication. His social network created an entire generation of people who no longer socialize to make connection and friends but to demonstrate their dominance and superiority. David Fincher’s The Social Network dramatizes Zuckerberg’s antisocial character in order to explore how the inner desires of an antisocial loner was able to revolutionize the way the world socializes.