‘The Social Network’ and the Triumph of the A-Holes
Bret Watson: Bruce, since you’re someone who spends far too much time on Facebook, I’m surprised you pulled yourself away long enough to see The Social Network with me. Does that mean you’re finally going to accept my friend request?
Bruce Fretts: It’s pending. What I found fascinating about the movie is it plays like a thriller, but the question it hinges on is: Is Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg an a-hole? Where did you come down on that debate?
Watson: As a cranky guy, I appreciated some of his a-hole qualities. Do you think the movie says you need to be an a-hole to succeed, or at least succeed on a billion-dollar scale?
Fretts: I don’t know if you need to be, but it certainly doesn’t seem to hurt. I really admired Aaron Sorkin’s script and David Fincher’s direction because the movie kept me riveted even though its central character doesn’t change or go through any arc, except that he starts as a poor a-hole and ends as a rich a-hole.
Watson: It was like The Godfather with lawyers instead of hitmen. Instead of machine guns, we got rapid-fire dialogue.
Fretts: It was a little much for me at first, but as I got into the rhythm of it, I didn’t mind it. Sorkin’s certainly got a distinctive style. I wish he hadn’t given himself a cameo, though—I just found that distracting. Did you notice Sorkin’s cameo?
Watson: Yes, I enjoyed it.
Fretts: Why cast himself in that role, though? It just took me out of the movie.
Watson: You’re Mr. Hollywood. Few people will recognize him.
Fretts: He’s pretty recognizable—he’s guest starred on Entourage and was on Jimmy Fallon last week. I think he probably identifies with Zuckerberg on some level—he wants credit and recognition too.
Watson: Which made him the perfect person to write this script. Maybe he identifies more with the Justin Timberlake character, Napster founder Sean Parker: rapid-talking brainy charmer with drug/police problems. Like you, in that way.
Fretts: I interviewed Sorkin once during the first season of The West Wing, and he was one of the most self-involved people I’ve ever met. There was no room for anyone else in the conversation.
Watson: Same as the depiction of Parker! See? He admires the Smartest Jerk in the Room.
Fretts: Do you think a-holes are making a comeback? Aside from Rick Sanchez, that is. I saw the Wall Street sequel last week, and people seemed to be clamoring for the return of Gordon Gekko.
Watson: And that Geico Gekko is an a-hole.
Fretts: For most of the movie, it seems like Gekko has turned over a new leaf and become a good guy. You could feel the excitement in the crowd when the old Gordo reappears with his hair slicked back—a devilish Master of the Universe. Gekko has become a beloved character in a cinematic franchise, like Indiana Jones. Why are people fascinated with a-holes like him and Mark Zuckerberg?
Watson: Maybe in this era of incompetent leaders, we relish a character who can get things done. Even our superheroes are turning into a-holes. Tony Stark in Iron Man is a smug a-hole. Whereas the Superman remake bombed. The new incarnation of James Bond is no longer the suave gent, he’s now a tough guy with an a-hole streak. So to speak.
Fretts: And yet Rahm Emanuel, a notorious a-hole, couldn’t get things done in Washington. That’s why he’s going to Chicago, where he can be an a-hole and an effective mayor.
Watson: You probably have to be an a-hole to get to the top in politics. Which seems to be the movie’s point about business.
Fretts: Sorkin’s characters on The West Wing weren’t a-holes. Maybe times have changed and we’re not in the mood for idealism anymore.
Watson: We’ve lost faith in idealism. Notice that nobody in the movie is motivated by any noble drive or goal. They all just want to make money. Except for Zuckerberg, who just wants recognition. Like us doing this blog: all for fame and glory, not the billions that will fall in our laps.
Fretts: Yes, Andrew Garfield’s character, Eduardo, is the wronged victim, yet his motivation is to “monetize” Facebook. He just doesn’t know the right way to do it. Promise me you won’t sue me for $600 million when this blog takes off.
Watson: I wouldn’t dream of it. $700 million, minimum.
Fretts: Now, instead of idealistic White House staffers like on The West Wing, we’ve got a-holes like the ad men on Mad Men.
Watson: TV is rife with hero a-holes: Mad Men‘s Don Draper, House, Peter Griffin on Family Guy, Boardwalk Empire‘s Nucky Thompson, Tim Roth on Lie to Me, Gordon Ramsay, Simon Cowell…
Fretts: It seems like the appeal of a lot of these TV characters is that women want to “fix” them—House is a wounded soul, Don Draper’s tortured by his past. But they refuse to be redeemed.
Watson: Stephen Colbert has made a whole career out of an a-hole persona, and most of Steve Carell’s characters are a-holes, too. Do you agree that there are more a-holes on TV now?
Fretts: Certainly on cable—shows like Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire are crawling with them. It’s trickier on broadcast TV where you have to draw a mass audience and your main characters have to be somewhat likable. That’s what did in Lone Star—not enough people wanted to watch a show about a bigamist oil exec. But it can work on a cable show like Big Love. Hugh Laurie’s able to pull off that tricky balance. Tim Roth, somewhat less so.
Watson: How do you pull off that balance?
Fretts: From what I’ve been told, a lot of it has to do with Hugh Laurie’s soulful blue puppy-dog eyes. That’s how I get away with being an a-hole, too.
Watson: Those tinted contacts have done wonders for you, along with your Ziggy tattoos.
Fretts: You’re an a-hole, yet you’ve got 199 Friends on Facebook. Which is apparently 198 more than Zuckerberg had, if you believe the movie. What’s your secret?
Watson: Says Bruce “Never Met a Man I Didn’t ‘Like’” Fretts, who has forced Facebook to buy more servers just to keep up with his legions of online friends.
Fretts: I’m a friend whore. You’re more like a high-priced friend call girl.
Watson: Well, Elliot Spitzer did friend me. Maybe people are responding to a-holes because they seem more authentic, in an era when so much is branded and marketed and polished and packaged.
Fretts: I predict American Idol won’t be the same without its resident a-hole. There’s no way J. Lo or Steven Tyler will be rude to contestants, and that’s one of the main reasons people love Idol. Simon’s a jerk, but he’s almost always right.
Watson: A-holes are our heroes because we rely on them to cut through the bullshit, to unmask the pretenders.
Fretts: And what are Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann if not a-holes? Nice old man Larry King gets replaced by British a-hole Piers Morgan. And Elliot Spitzer gets his own show!
Watson: It was gratifying to watch Zuckerberg’s up-yours attitude against the lawyers. But in judging the characters, and drawing conclusions about the real people they may or may not resemble, we have to keep in mind: These characters are college kids. Sometimes you grow out of being an a-hole.
Fretts: I’m still waiting for you to grow out of it…
Watson: Cheap shot.
Fretts: I know—I’m an a-hole.
Watson: Don’t sell yourself short. You’re an a-plus hole.
Fretts: Who do you think was the biggest a-hole in the movie—Zuckerberg or Sean Parker? Or Lawrence Summers, the Harvard president? He’s another famous a-hole who hasn’t seemed to be able to get things done in DC lately.
Watson: I liked the Summers character! I thought he made a valid point: You think another student stole your idea? This is not a Harvard issue. Take it to court.
Fretts: Yeah, but he was rude. Or is that why you liked him?
Watson: I liked his rudeness. Summers was a bracing corrective to some of the characters’ suppositions. Go get another idea! Make something else! It would be ridiculous for Harvard to try to adjudicate who had the rights to an idea, or an inkling of an idea.
Fretts: Were you aware that the twins were played by one actor and it was all done with CGI? I wish I hadn’t known that before I saw the movie. Our buddy Jon Small spoiled that for me on Facebook, ironically enough.
Watson: This blog started with our dueling comments on Facebook. Funny to think that, basically, Two Cranky Guys wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Zuckerberg.
Fretts: Another reason he’s an a-hole. I was annoyed by all the a-holes around us in the theater, unwrapping noisy candy, kicking my chair and checking their iPhones.
Watson: And jabbering in the middle of scenes.
Fretts: Yes! People have no manners anymore, and why should they? You can become a billionaire with no friends.
Watson: Facebook demonstrates yet again how so much technological progress just serves to separate us, pushing us away from personal contact. Being in a crowded theater with annoying people made us want to be at home watching the movie on, say, an iPad, perhaps via a link posted on Facebook. Facebook perfects isolation.
Fretts: Now you’re getting deep on me…
Watson: If he were alive today, would Thoreau be posting status updates from his cabin? “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Repost this if you agree!”
Fretts: By calling ourselves Two Cranky Guys, are we just jumping on the a-hole bandwagon?
Watson: We do live in the Golden Age of A-holes.
Fretts: That’s why it’s our time, Bret. Let’s strike while the a-hole is hot.
Watson: [clicks “Hide Bruce”]
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