Time Magazine made Mark Zuckerberg their person of the year, and I only now got around to reading the article in question. Which left me mostly wondering just how much he paid for this, because as image restoration goes, this is so much over the top that it really says just the opposite of what he presumably wants it to.
Now granted, the only thing I know about real life Zuckerberg versus the film version is that, as ide_cyan
pointed out to me, real life Zuckerberg had and has a girlfriend through all the Facebook years and before, Priscilla Chan, whose existence was ignored by The Social Network
because it would counteract in essential film plot point. So far so good. However, the "person of the year" article in TIME isn't just content to state that Zuckerberg so has a girlfriend and can keep a girlfriend (repeatedly), no, he gives relationship advice to his employees and is empathy itself: There are other people who can write code as well as Zuckerberg - not many, but some - but none of them get the human psyche the way he does. "He has great EQ," says Naomi Gleit, Facebook's product manager for growth and internatialization. "I'll often ask him for advice about, like, a girl issue that I'm dealing with."
He doesn't simply have friends, he's beloved by everyone he meets: Zuckerberg is a warm presence, not a cold one. He has a quick smile and doesn't shy away from eye contact. (...) People really like him.(...) The reality is that Zuckerberg isn't alienated, and he isn't a loner. He's the opposite. He's spent his whole life in tight, supportive, intensely connected social environments, first in the bosom of the Zuckerberg family, then in the dorms at Harvard and now at Facebook, where his best friends are his staff, there are no offices and work is awesome. Zuckerberg loves being around people. He didn't build Facebook so he could have a social life like hte rest of us. He built it because he wanted the rest of us to have his.
Before reading said article, I was utterly ready to believe Sorkin's depiction of Zuckerberg says more about Sorkin (and what interests him in fiction) than Zuckerberg. That's still the case as far as Sorkin is concerned, but this article definitely swung me around to "that much denial clearly indicates the portrait was more accurate than not". Which might be unfair, but is the effect all this relentless praise had. Which set me thinking. If the TIME portrait had included some quotes from enemies (the Winkelvoss brothers, say, who according to the New York Times last week still are sueing) as well as the praise from friends/employees, I would have been far more inclined to believe the later. Much as relentless bashing is off-putting and often makes you (well, me) more inclined to question the basher than to share the loathing, relentless praise in what is supposed to be an objective assessment by a medium makes me cynical and distrustful. Nobody in a top position is universally beloved, and we all have times where we just aren't that great towards other people.
On a related note: re: fictionalisation of real people, alive or dead, and how we feel about the fairness or unfairness or justification of the fiction. I honestly don't think there is such a thing as an objective stance, and it doesn't really depend on the distance of time, though often that plays into it. I can get upset about Schiller's take on Elizabeth I in his Mary Stuart
because I have feelings about Elizabeth Tudor, or annoyed at the saintly cypher like depiction of Yoko Ono in Lennon Naked
because I think it's a waste of a good actress and a very interesting real life character, but either way my response isn't dependent on the fact that Schiller's drama is high art or the Lennon Naked
film just not that well scripted (though boasting of a towering performance by Christopher Eccleston). My response depends on my previous knowledge of events and people and my own subjective take on them, which, all things said and done, isn't any more valid than that of the men who wrote drama and script respectively. Conversely, I don't know more about Tony Blair, the Clintons, Gordon Brown or Elizabeth II than the avarage newspaper reader. Peter Morgan's depictions of all of them in the various films he scripted may have been too kind or too harsh for other people (let alone the people concerned themselves), but because there was no prior personal investment on my part I could watch those films as stories without inwardly argueing via my own perceptions of events and people.
There is a certain safety in complete fiction, of course. Like Janet Morgan says in her perceptive book about the Plath biographies and the Plath/Hughes marriage, The Silent Woman
, if we read a novel in which character X does such and such, we don't have to doubt whether or not character X really did this. The author tells us he/she did, for this and that reason, and thus it is. But when we read a story based on actual events, there is always a potential question mark - ah, but did it REALLY happen this way, or was that grossly distorted by historian Y or, more contemporary, by biased/bribed eyewitness Z? Is the motivation of X which the biographer/novelist/film maker reports truly X' motivation or did X act from other reasons altogether? What's the agenda the biographer/film maker has with telling the story this way? And so forth.
But no sooner have I written "safety in complete fiction" that I remember just about every fandom ever based on fiction. Take Harry Potter
. Doesn't matter whether we're talking Snape-focused fans, Remus/Sirius'shippers, Harry/Hermione shippers, Draco fans, none or any of the above, the arguments online and offline of how JKR got it wrong with *insert favourite character and/or pairing* and fanfiction (meaning their own particular brand, not the fanfiction which uses another characterisation) got it right are galore. "The author is dead" is common wisdom, even more so in fandoms where there isn't just one author but several, as in tv or comics. There isn't such a thing as generally accepted truth in fiction, either, or we wouldln't have all those debates. And again, I think personal investment in a character colours all our povs. During the original broadcast, I was upset by certain events in the fifth season of Alias
, or by the Waltz
and onwards characterisation of Dukat on DS9 in a way I just wasn't by anything Morgana-related in the third season of Merlin
, and what it comes down to isn't that the later is better written than the former (I think fifth season of Alias/Merlin are about even there, and DS9 is better) but that while being interested in her I never loved Morgana (and, err, never saw her the way a lot of fandom did). Whereas Arvin Sloane is one of my favourite characters of all time, I cared a lot about Irina Derevko, and liked Dukat (without seeing him as a misunderstood woobie, I hasten to add).
I wonder whether there is a difference between living and dead authors in as much as fandom's acceptance of fictional reality is concerned, though. While there has been a lot of to and thro regarding Lord of the Rings
based fanfiction post-movies, and how much characterisation was influenced by the films, I don't think - correct me if I'm wrong - there is a strong faction seriously arguing that "Tolkien got it wrong" about pairing X or character Y. Compare the attitude towards al lthings Sherlock Holmes when Arthur Conan Doyle was still alive - the famous pestering him for years into resurrecting Holmes post-Reichenback Falls - to current, where the criteria for modern adaptions like Sherlock
or the Guy Ritchie film Sherlock Holmes
certainy include whether or not these depictions of Holmes and Watson are reconcilable with Doyle's versions, not whether Doyle "got it wrong".
There is safety in one thing, though. I may dislike bashings of either Gwen - the one from Torchwood
and the one from Merlin
- but neither woman exists; finding posts wishing them unpleasant fates may make me roll my eyes and/or even disturb me, but there is no Gwen who could come across all the kerfuffle. Whereas when Robin Morgan accused Ted Hughes of "murdering" Sylvia Plath in the 1970s and wished a gory fate on him, he most certainly read it. And of course, films like "The Deal", "The Queen", "The Special Relationship" or "The Social Network" describe events only a few years back so just about everyone involved is bound to be confronted with their fictional alter egos and have an emotional response to this - how can they not? To return to the beginning, the most telling sentence in the entire TIME article about Zuckerberg is: Sorkin did a much better job of representing Facebook when he wrote The West Wing.
Because it makes it impossible to conclude that what Zuckerberg minds isn't so much being fictionalized at all, let alone being fictionalized by Aaron Sorkin specifically. But he wants to choose the type of fiction. (I don't blame him. I'd rather live in the West Wing verse myself. Who wouldn't?) The West Wing
, with a very few exceptions (Zoey's French boyfriend comes to mind, and he's only around for a few s4 episodes), doesn't have one dimensional villains, and it's a fictional universe where flaws are balanced by virtues, where even your enemies respect you and most people really want to change the world for the better. (And where everyone speaks in brilliant dialogue, but they do that in The Social Network
, too.) But you know what? Fandom is still debating as to whether action X or storyline Y was in character for such and such, and what really
happened regarding a certain late s6 early s7 plot point. Safety in fiction? There is no such thing. Even if you think you can control your author, or your world.