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The Social Network (2010)
There Must be a Cure
If I had to imagine the person who created Facebook, I would imagine the Mark Zuckerberg of the movie The Social Network.
Indeed, I would imagine an uncomfortable, social misfit eager for some kind of power--and especially the power to hurt people he can't own. A player whose favorite pastime with the girlfriend is one-upping the girlfriend, routing her in every conversation. A frustrated social climber ready and eager to play and exploit those with money and social standing. A user bright enough to create Facebook and schizophrenic enough to justify every security gaffe that leaves users exposed and vulnerable for exactly as long as it takes for Whomever to get whatever information it wants from Facebook.
I would imagine a creepy, power-hungry freak who didn't care about whom he exposed or exploited on the way to wherever he wanted to go.
Watching The Social Network on Sunday night, I did not imagine I was watching the biography of Mark Zuckerberg. I did not think for a moment there was a one-to-one correspondence between what was happening on the screen and what happened in the life of the Harvard students who created Facebook.
But I did see a creative exploration of the question, What kind of person created Facebook--and what kind of person thinks it's a good use of time?
Because I think Facebook is the antithesis of me, I was completely comfortable with the idea that Facebook's founder is an emotionally damaged social misfit--which is to say a greedy, selfish little bastard who doesn't care about whom he hurts or how badly. Nevertheless, I was glad the movie was over when it was because all that bad karma on a Sunday night is not a good thing.
The Social Network has Facebook growing out of a young man's desire to hurt a young woman who (sensibly) spurned him. Can good come of that? I don't think so. The movie also shows some avid Facebookers becoming obsessive and paranoid thanks to their living too closely to the pages they stalk. A good thing? When there's so much air to breathe out there in the real world, can it be?
The Social Network is a good movie that ended exactly when it should have.
My prediction? When the sixth edition of the DSM comes out, Facebook will be a diagnosis. May the Pill People offer up a cure for it.
The Queen (2006)
Illusion Becomes Reality
As Britain's new prime minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) finds himself playing teacher to the monarch following Lady Diana's death. In The Queen starring Hellen Mirren, Blair values his Britishness as much as the queen does hers. If he hasn't inherit her privileges, he nonetheless has inherited the same sense of pride, and he brings it to his role as head of government. Unlike the Queen, however, he is in touch with the thinking of the British people and their love for Diana--or at least their idea of her.
Blair takes office in 1997 just before Princess (or not) Diana dies in a car crash in France with her lover. According to this movie, Blair is a PR pro, whose skills in this area save Queen Elizabeth's royal can following the death of the People's Princess--a moniker of his making.
Like any astute PR professional, Blair understands both his audience and the people to whom he answers. He never mistakes his propaganda for the reality--though he understands the right propaganda serves his interest, the Queen's interest, and the interest of the British people. Patriotism unites all three, yet each understands the homeland differently because each invokes different icons. The British people understand pop culture, of which Diana is the premier British icon; the Queen understands tradition, of which she is the central figure. Blair the pragmatist understands both.
The Queen shows a prime minister who understands the power of that great figment of the imagination, Diana, as a political force he could harness to his benefit. Blair understands that there are two Dianas--the one the Royals know and the one the ordinary people believe they know. He helps the Queen get over her intense dislike of a woman who treated her place in British society as a trifle and reunites her with her subjects without her ever losing her pride. Ironically, it takes a good while before the Royals come to realize that the British people love the idea of Diana--their feelings for whatever she is are heartfelt. The Royals just can't believe everyone doesn't loathe her. Their failure to see this costs them popular support for a while. This is the power of prejudice.
Blair speaks to his audience where they are and works all the players to his advantage. Everyone benefits--especially him. That's PR101. Watch and learn.
Order of the Phoenix is about the Real World
Why do Harry Potter movies give me, but not the children, nightmares? I've been wondering this for the past few years. Today, watching Movie No. 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros., 2007), I got my answer. Simply: Harry's world is the real world. As Harry and his friends mature, the line between the world of wizardry, magic, and Hogwarts and the world of self-centered, manipulative, cruel adults thins to the point of almost magical invisibility.
Fantasy literature has since the beginning of time been about mediating and making sense of the real world; Harry Potter is part of this tradition.
Indeed, one of the movie's first big special effects embodies this idea. As the movie opens, Harry is the subject of a smear campaign that Valdemore has cooked up because darkness works tirelessly to triumph over the light; when his friends come to rescue him from the suburban horror show known as his adoptive family, they take him to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, a place that doesn't exist until a row of Georgian homes stretches out to reveal it. It's there, but the neighbors are unaware of it. They have no idea their building grew a house that the wizards and witches of the world can solve an internal problem. Such is life; how seldom do we know the inner workings, the coping mechanisms, the interior life of the people around us? In The Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter again does battle with evil to bring home the theme that when you fight, you fight well with and for your friends and to the death if necessary. Truth and goodness--call if love, if you want--are worth the trouble. The Gothic idiom of Harry Potter brilliantly takes the challenges Harry faces out of the present on one level even though these are very clearly 21st century characters facing contemporary challenges. Alongside the power of goodness over evil theme is the theme of the power of the imagination to find solutions to problems that are the same in every generation: politics, power games, jealousy, stupidity, growing up.
Always in Harry Potter is the clear distinction between the good guys and the bad ones right alongside the good kids and the annoying kids, who could very well become evil people if they so choose. They are tragic because they don't understand the long-range consequences of their petty cruelties--but then, as we learn in this movie, even the good kids are capable of petty cruelties that break souls. Always there is Snape, the middling Hogwarts employee who is not clearly good but not clearly bad but capable of both (until fate forces his hand in Book 6).
J.K. Rowling doesn't let anybody off of the hook of responsibility for their choices. But she does present the internal struggle for goodness and justice for the mess that it can be. Just as the Gothic world of Hogwarts helps Harry and his friends mediate the real world, so Rowling helps her readers see the world for what it is. This is a world that can give me nightmares, though not my daughter and my nephews. Perhaps because all they really need is an honest story.