Monday, October 25, 2010

So Sayeth the Winklevii

Skip this post if you haven't yet seen The Social Network.

The Social Network, with a rather unsympathetic depiction of Mark Zuckerberg, helps carry itself by presenting a series of characters who are even less sympethetic. In the early part of the film that role was filled by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. In the later part of the film, by Sean Parker. Which isn't to say there aren't elements of humanity to those characters, or by the same token somebody whose arrogant disdain helps humanize the Winklevoss brothers (enter Larry Summers), but the elements of caricature and exaggeration (along with Jesse Eisenberg's impressive portrayal of 'Zuckerberg') help carry the film forward.

The film doesn't quite answer the question of why Zuckerberg played the Winklevoss brothers for suckers. One interpretation is that they treated him with arrogant disdain, as somebody who was capable of scripting their vision of a social website but not worthy of getting past the bike room of their social club. The other is more mercenary: that Zuckerberg didn't believe in the brothers or their vision of a social network, but he recognized the importance of primacy. He strung them along because had he done otherwise they might have sought out a different programmer and become the first to market. One way or another, it was Zuckerberg's failure to simply tell them, "No, I'm not going to work with you," (along with, if accurately depicted, his behavior during depositions) that breathed life into a lawsuit that would otherwise have had no legs.

David Brooks recently lectured us that the Harvard that is depicted in the movie doesn't actually exist. That there is no longer an elite Harvard with "the old WASP Harvard of Mayflower families, regatta blazers and Anglo-Saxon cheekbones" squared off against "the largely Jewish and Asian Harvard of brilliant but geeky young strivers". The Winklevoss brothers, celluloid personifications of the "old WASP Harvard" who were depicted in the film as wearing regatta blazers at the time of their decision to sue Zuckerberg, appear to disagree:
The 29-year-old identical twins, who are suing the Internet site on claims they came up with the idea for Facebook while students at Harvard University, said on Saturday they were pleased with the way they were portrayed in the Hollywood film.

“It does a great job of capturing the factual events of the 18 months of the founding of Facebook. It is a true story,” Cameron said in an interview.
Whatever reticence the brothers once had about suing has apparently evaporated, as "the twins have taken up legal action again, saying they were given misinformation about Facebook’s value and that relevant documents were withheld." A few 'Zuckerberg' quotes, then, from the "true story":
If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook.
The "Winklevii" aren't suing me for intellectual property theft. They're suing me because for the first time in their lives, things didn't go exactly the way they were supposed to for them.
A guy who makes a nice chair doesn't owe money to everyone who has ever built a chair.

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