I stand corrected. For the past 24 hours the film blog water cooler has been populated with chatter about Aaron Sorkin‘s response to the sexism criticisms against “The Social Network.” But I was very skeptical, for a few reasons. Even after I was told the blog belonged to a fellow TV writer it still didn’t make sense to me. Sorkin hates the Internet.
He writes “final clubs” instead of “finals clubs.” And, most importantly, why would anyone feel the need to defend his work, let alone actually do so, on a relatively random Blogspot blog, to another commenter on that blog? Especially when every other outlet on the web has had some commentary about the film’s supposed misogyny problem (here’s Spout’s)?
But Cinematical confirmed with Sony that it was indeed Sorkin who left the comment on a review written by Ken Levine (who has an Emmy for scripting “Cheers,” by the way). Here’s a sample:
I wish I could go door to door and make this explanation/apology to any woman offended by the things you’ve pointed out but obviously that’s unrealistic so I thought the least I could do was speak directly to you.
Of course now he is, thanks to the bloggery chain (or train?), somewhat also speaking indirectly to all those women, as long as they have a computer and care enough to read it. He also addresses a bit of the reality problem in his admission of inventing two of the film’s characters, “conflating” two people into the part of Christy (Brenda Song) and changing some names, but mostly he focuses on his portrayal of “a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people,” as well as claims that everything else sexist about the film is “real. I mean REALLY real.”
So how is his explanation and defense suiting the rest of the blogosphere? Let’s see:
This response is somewhat disappointing to those of us who defended the writer and the movie. […] I argued that the other women — the crazy girlfriend, the bong-hitting groupies, the hotties dancing on expensive Harvard coffee tables — were shown that way because we were seeing them through the eyes of these three fictionalized men. The women were symbols for all the things that Zuckerberg, the character, wants yet resents, the things he thinks are out of his reach but which he craps on when he does get them. […] It seems like Sorkin wants to have his cake and eat it too. If these women — some of whom are conflated for plot purposes, and I get that, that’s what happens when you write about real people and real stories but still need to keep a plot going — are “REALLY real,” then the questions about how they’re written are once again on the table. After all, Zuckerberg et al aren’t “REALLY real.” They’re dramatized characters.
I’m not about to let the filmmakers completely off the hook — some clearer nod to this insight in the film would have been welcome — much less am I about to suddenly declare this a feminist film for pointing out such glaring inequalities. But this brings up an important point in current culture: We pretend feminism has advanced so much that we barely need it anymore, and yet in many of the most important places (technology, religion, finance) men still not only call the shots, but they also surround themselves with women who do the opposite of challenging them. […] I’m sure some of those ladies are more complicated and nuanced than that (who knows if the real-life Christy had perfectly good motivation for setting things on fire?), but let’s bring it back to the matter at hand here, the portrayal of women on film. That’s where we can do something: We need more movies about cool, strong, complicated women doing stuff. The more girls see that, the more they’ll feel like they can be the ones making the next Facebook. And the more boys see that, the less they’ll act like sexist tools even if they make the next Facebook.
I’m still not certain his argument makes up for some of the movie’s (slight) flaws in its attitude toward women— Rashida Jones’s lawyer character is a strong female, yes, but she’s also a cipher charged with awkwardly saying the movie’s theme out loud– but knowing how deliberately Sorkin made some of these choices makes arguments that the movie is outright misogynistic seem even more flawed.
So all this disturbing misogyny and willingness on the part of women to play the role of sex objects is, to hear Sorkin tell it, not exaggerated at all, but totally authentic. I guess I’m willing to believe him […] Still, I don’t know what’s more depressing — that the men at Harvard (just a few short years ago) acted like such crude misogynists or that the equally well-educated women hanging around them acted like they’d spent a hell of a lot more time watching Britney Spears videos than reading Germaine Greer.
It’s just a little scary to hear Sorkin tell it like he believes the slick characters from the movie actually exist in real life, with one or two character traits motivating everything they do. Mark Zuckerberg and his nerd buddies created something that was like MySpace, but worked better, and people wanted to be on it because of the exclusivity factor. He and a friend had a disagreement about how it should be run, and they split. That’s pretty much the whole story. That they made something as entertaining as The Social Network out of it is awesome, but let’s not act like Zuckerberg is some Dickensian villain motivated by deep-seated misogyny based on one anecdote you know about him from when he was 19.
Maybe as a guy, I’m biased, but I honestly don’t see the case for the movie itself being sexist. Sure, there are characters that are misogynistic, and girls who allow themselves to be taken advantage of in that fashion, but I don’t think the film is straying all THAT far outside of reality, and has plenty of strong females in the film as well (Erica and Rashida Jones’ Marylin). I don’t think Sorkin needed to play this much defense, but hey, he is a writer, it can be hard to stop once you get going.
The Social Network is a brilliantly written movie, and I would not at all hesitate to call it a masterpiece. But to argue that its characters are honest representations of their real-life counterparts? Sorry, Sorkin, but I’m calling bullshit.
It’s a gracious, smart response, and should hopefully close the book on a ‘controversy’ that’s always seemed a little thin to us, or anyone else who paid attention in the film itself.