A synecdoche of White’s review:
Like one of those fake-smart, middlebrow TV shows, the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality. It’s really a movie excusing Hollywood ruthlessness. That’s why it evades Zuckerberg’s background timidity and the mess that the Internet has made of cultural discourse. In interviews, Sorkin brags about the multiple narrative and Fincher has even invoked Citizen Kane—both are grandstanding excuses for Zuckerberg’s repeated masturbatory request for friendship—a mawkish George Clooney ending. Here’s the truth: Kane was not about a brat’s betrayal, but about a sensitive braggart’s psychological and philosophical shift inward. The Social Network is more like Hollywood’s classic film industry selfromance The Bad and the Beautiful. Yet that Kane-lite film never excused its bad-boy protagonist’s sins and ended magnanimously by converging his three injured parties’ points of view into one beautifully clarifying narrative. It admitted our cultural compromises; this is TV-trite. In The Social Network, creepiness is heroized.
Peter Sciretta comments:
You might recall that Armond White has been featured on this site [www.slashfilm.com] previously. He is notorious for his contrarian movie reviews he files for the alt-weekly New York Press. His list also includes unfavorable thumbs downs for Inglourious Basterds, District 9, The Wrestler, In The Loop, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince , 500 Days of Summer, Avatar, Up in the Air, The Princess and the Frog, An Education, Star Trek, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hangover, The Dark Knight, Gone Baby Gone, Iron Man, There Will Be Blood, and Zodiac. Yet, he gives films like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Jonah Hex positive reviews? Even Roger Ebert calls White “a troll.”
For the sake of substantiation, Ebert’s “troll” accusation was, in reality, a “redaction” uploaded to his blog (Roger Ebert’s Journal) on August 14, 2009, where — in lieu of a previous post — he reneged on a fervent defense of Armond White as an “intelligent critic and a passionate writer“:
On Thursday night I posted in entry in defense of Armond White’s review of “District 9.” Overnight I received reader comments causing me to rethink that entry, in particular this eye-popping link supplied by Wes Lawson. I realized I had to withdraw my overall defense of White. I was not familiar enough with his work. It is baffling to me that a critic could praise “Transformers 2” but not “Synecdoche, NY.” Or “Death Race” but not “There Will be Blood.” I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll.
Ebert and Sciretta are right, in my opinion. Armond White is an avid contrarian. That’s to be sure. But his intentions also smell of masochism. White derives widespread exposure (perhaps even pleasure) from the apoplectic e-backlash of his reviews (he seriously didn’t like Gone Baby Gone?). It’s not just a matter of bad taste, either.
It goes beyond that.
Ostensibly, it’s about enabling the notoriety (it’s exposure, any way you cut it), one that refutes the consensus palate of the critical elite. It is the lifeblood circulating through the New York Press’ reasoning for giving him that gnarly, Scrooge McByline (one whose very name induces tachycardia, nausea and dizziness).
Armond is arguably responsible for countless intellectual aneurysms. His reviews share many of the lucrative characteristics that are idiosyncratic to some of Glenn Beck’s pseudo-intelligent radio-cum-television sermonettes, a series of small, right-wing manifestos that spread subliminal hate and (dare I say it) ignorance.
There is a reckless obfuscation to his craft — some of it intentional, some of it the result of bad writing. Not that I am self-professedly the next Don DeLillo, but (to opine plainly) Armond White is a very bad writer.
Please observe exhibit A:
Hollywood and the journalism industries—both cowed by the Internet breathing down their necks—have perfected a method to curtail individual response to movies, thereby dictating widespread enthusiasm for this shallowly complicated film. To Fincher and Sorkin, Zuckerberg represents a new cultural avatar who (like other snarky Internet avengers) must be worshipped, not held to account. They inflate Zuckerberg’s story as a “creation myth” (as one lawyer calls him), the better to concede victory to a tycoon of new technology rather than apply normal social or professional standards to his hostile relations with people.
OK. Time to dissect the frog.
How have Hollywood and journalism industries “curtailed individual response” to movies? Is White saying that the critical elite (or the viewing masses that have helped the film gross $22.4M in sales over the opening weekend) have been brainwashed by Hollywood ad campaign executives to falsely believe that certain mainstream films are good or bad by way of systematic suggestion (a la John Carpenter’s They Live [awesome movie by the way, Roddy Piper!)?
Also: Why would Fincher and Sorkin (two of the most reputable visionaries in the film industry today) set out to transform Zuckerberg’s public image to one of idolatry? “Held to account” for what? Wouldn’t anyone be thoroughly underwhelmed by any billionaire’s failure to morally account for some of the cutthroat maneuvers he or she employed in his or her career to become a ridiculously successful billionaire in the first place?
And what exactly is a “shallowly complicated” film?
How is that possible? Does this film have a secret doppelgänger? Is the one we see on-screen complex and profound and the subliminally suggested one we see in our dreams at night shallow and pretentious?
Or, is White calling Fincher and Sorkin’s rendition of the Facebook story a glorification of money, power and women (nerd-lean instead of gangsta-lean, of course) over moral accountability, notwithstanding how true or false the accounts in Ben Mezrich‘s nonfiction novel The Accidental Billionaires (2009) — the film’s source material — are?
The answer is that we just don’t really know what he’s saying. And that’s OK. Trust me, it’s not going over your head. The illusion is that it is. It’s a smokescreen for what he really wants to do, which is to attack Fincher and Sorkin; to refute the majority opinion for the sake of what precedes him, his reputation. Don’t believe me?
Please observe exhibit B:
Particularly egregious is a Royal Regatta sequence meant to ridicule the Winklevoss lifestyle. Fincher shoots it just like a Nike commercial break. He’s an affectless director who disregards the emotional impact of every scene and situation […]
Remember, White attacked Martin Scorsese in his review of Shutter Island by calling him a hack:
Shutter Island is a perfect example of Hollywood excess: It demonstrates a oncesignificant filmmaker decaying into a bigbudget, poorly-motivated hack.
(I smile every time White takes two separate words and condescendingly stitches them together without the use of a hyphen. Verbicidal cases in point: “oncesignificant” and “bigbudget” [Shutter Island review]; and “selfromance” [The Social Network review]. What a selfimportant prick).
Now, let’s backpedal a bit to the opening excerpt from White’s The Social Network review:
Like one of those fake-smart, middlebrow TV shows, the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality. It’s really a movie excusing Hollywood ruthlessness. That’s why it evades Zuckerberg’s background timidity and the mess that the Internet has made of cultural discourse.
For starters: There is no such thing as a “fake-smart, middlebrow TV show.” That’s what I call a vaporous, adjectival cluster-fuck. Please identify a TV show that fits that description (if you’re thinking of The West Wing [as White likely was], then stop reading this post). It’s a circumventing stab, in fact, at middle-class America.
Secondly, what does this terminology mean to you? “…the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality.”
Speciousness as a signifier means “superficially pleasing or plausible,” inasmuch as something is deceptively meritorious. It’s fine to opine, of course, that The Social Network is specious.
Still, what does White intend to communicate when he (in essence) writes: the superficial meritoriousness of The Social Network is “disguised by topicality”?
Here’s an attempt at a translation: “The superficial credibility of The Social Network is disguised by ‘the attribute of being of interest at the present time’.” In other words, I believe what White is trying to say is that the superficial, faux-cleverness of The Social Network is disguised by how legitimate and timely the subject of social media (a la Facebook) is at the present time — that is to say, this day and age. Unfortunately, that is the best I can personally do for that sentence. (This is an age of technology and software that is speedily obviating the stubborn old-fart analysis of Luddites like White.) Ultimately, it’s impossible to adequately decipher what he is truly communicating. All we know is that he hates good movies, and that it improves site analytics.
Now, let’s move a bit further in the excerpt in question:
The Social Network “evades Zuckerberg’s background timidity and the mess that the Internet has made of cultural discourse.”
Your guess is as good as mine as to what White meant by the term “background timidity” (and how that even remotely applies to Zuckerberg as both a character in the film, and as the real person). Lastly, how the Internet is the sole culprit responsible for the mess of “cultural discourse” is beyond me. I would suppose that any film, good or bad, perpetuates some form of cultural discourse (just as any social networking site might), but how such a vague idea applies to a review of a film about Facebook, or how cultural discourse (in whatever context that this term is meant to be sandwiched in) can be marred (in some way) by the Internet, is an intellectual crap shoot. I’m absolutely astounded by how untamed White’s solipsism actually is.
So, I reckon you’ve had enough of bad, discombobulated writing (my penchant for verbosity included). Here is an incisive breath of fresh air from James Berardinelli’s review of The Social Network (perhaps my default, go-to movie reviewer amidst the pick of the elite):
Much will be written about whether The Social Network is unfair to the real Mark Zuckerberg, but that seems to me to be a red herring. This is a narrative feature based on a true story, not a documentary, so expectations of real-world veracity should be taken with a grain of salt. The character of Mark Zuckerberg as represented by Sorkin and Fincher is fascinating and his journey is compelling, involving as it does so many aspects of the electronic era human experience: friendship, obsession, big ideas, betrayal, and lots of money.
[Featured image from 10 Zen Monkeys]