Mystery Girl

5 Jun


Millions of people, after having watched David Fincher’s film The Social Network, looked up the name ‘Erica Albright’ on Google. They wanted to find out just how scathing Mark Zuckerburg’s real post about her was on his blog Zuckonit. Did he really call her a ‘bitch’ in the opening sentence? Did he really offer an indictment of her bra size and her social class, etched forever in stone on the wall of the internet?

How disappointed they were to find that Erica Albright doesn’t exist. Sure, Zuckerberg dated an ‘Erica’ in college, but not the feisty, Maya-Roonified-‘Albright’ of the Fincher film.

To say that Erica Albright was based on Erica Fillintheblank is tantamount to saying that the scene in the film where a Garfified-Muskowitz picks up Eisenbergified-Zuckerberg’s laptop and shatters it against the ground is based on a real event. It is based on a real event, just not that event.

Fight Club proved that Fincher could stay close to a Palahniuk novel and still slap us with his own style. The Social Network proved that Fincher could stay close to a Palahniuk novel while telling a story that supposedly has something to do with Facebook.

In the closing scene of the film, little Zuckerbeg sits at a table with his laptop after a long private court session, clicking and clicking and clicking the ‘reload page’ button to see if his ex, the Fincher-fantasized Erica Albright, has offered him the universal stamp of post-relationship clemency by accepting his Facebook ‘Friend Request.’

It is unfortunate that the redemptive implications of this last scene have been largely overlooked in favor of a far easier interpretation that many viewers gleaned from an earlier scene in the film, in which a Justin-Timberfied-Parker tells the young EisenZuck that he started Napster because of a girl that broke his heart in high-school.

‘Do you ever think about the girl?’ Fincher’s Zuckerberg asks.

‘What girl?’ Fincher’s Sean Parker replies.

People everywhere started referring to Erica Fillintheblank as the woman ‘responsible’ for Facebook. This interpretation is just as misogynistic as it is shamelessly opportunistic. The two conclusions of this interpretation: 1) Women are stumbling blocks to a man’s potential. 2) Money heals all wounds. The message is a minority romance in a Hollywood slop-pile of messages that forever tell us how to live without ever really representing life.

Kierkegaard certainly would have appreciated Facebook as I’m sure he would have appreciated the final redemptive subtext of the Fincher film—regardless of what little semblance it had to reality. We may not know for a while to what degree an Erica informed Zuckerberg’s work, but we do know which woman influenced Kierkegaard’s work.

Kierkegaard’s work is peppered, slathered and spiced with Regine Olsen. His entire career is a constant flirtation with the woman he broke his engagement with in the autumn of 1841. Kierkegaard’s first major work, Either/Or, is full of surreptitious messages to, about and for her.

His journals and letters provide us with all the evidence. Regine Olsen—someone he parted ways with ultimately because he didn’t feel he could accomplish the work he wanted if he was married to her—was the secret intended reader of his every word. Soren’s various pseudonyms only helped perpetuate the openness of the very anonymity he hoped to achieve through his ‘indirect communication.’

Poor Soren didn’t have the luxury of social networking. I imagine that if he did, he would have dropped philosophy altogether in favor of a monumental game involving a multifaceted network of fictive internet personalities, each with a different name, a different message, a different way of communicating.

Certainly, Kierkegaard could have taken it pretty far with the internet. He spent a decade or so creating a network of subtexts that we are now able to create with social networking in a matter of minutes.

Zuckerberg and company have done a lot to make the social networking experience both convenient and stimulating. The different settings, guidelines, quirks, quips, tags and likes have created a whole complicated system of etiquette that transcends any Terms of Service Agreement. Facebook may be constantly changing to make the whole social networking venture a smooth one, an inclusive, an unassuming yet shamelessly opportunistic one, but it seems that few people remember the dynamics of social networking sites that were in vogue earlier on like Myspace.

Does anyone remember how messy Myspace made us? The comment bar was like a series of people shouting obnoxious things at you from across the parking lot. It took a while for people to figure it out. Remember the questionnaires that thousands of your friends awkwardly and uncharacteristically put on their pages in the About Me section? (What’s your favorite soda: I don’t drink soda. What’s your favorite movie: I don’t watch movies. Etc.)

Myspace told us publically what text-messaging made us suspect privately: that most people aren’t really sure how to write things. This didn’t stop them.

One can excuse a ‘thanks’ being shortened to ‘thnx.’ It is disheartening, however, to see how many grown men and women still can’t seem to grasp the difference between ‘there,’ ‘their,’ ‘they’re,’ and ‘there’re.’

We’ve evolved along with social networking. It always seemed that even the smoothest face-to-face flirts became parking-lot shouters when Myspace was big. Chemistry between members of the opposite sex always seemed to translate into a series of public, badly spelled bits of conversation that would normally happen over phone-text.

Facebook is a lot less vulgar. It’s classier. It’s subtler. It gives you the opportunity to exercise shameless ostentation without wearing your emotions on your sleeve through the categorical elitism of the ‘Top Friends List.’ Perhaps Zuckerberg and company knew these devices turned grown men and women into junior-highers.

Like Kierkegaard’s works, like his ‘indirect communication,’ Facebook is a network of constant flirtations with secret messages. People can compartmentalize themselves more easily on Facebook. You can tag a friend in every status update if you think they’d appreciate it, regardless of whether or not they have anything to do with it. You can hint at all sorts of in-jokes. The uninitiated see it and it causes them wonder. Here, we all take turns, cloaking ourselves in mystery. But this is not an empty mystery. This is a mystery we can show. It is a sense of mystery we can force on one another.

A million Regine Olsens, I imagine, are behind a million posts, a million tagged-photos, a million status-updates and quirky jokes. We’re all peacocks in this game, puffing up our feathers to send a message we won’t say. How many mystery girls lie under the surface of a simple sentence? How many mystery boys? How many mystery business opportunities? Mystery deals? Mystery lifestyles? Mystery desires?

How many status updates are merely tools to stay present so that some other business, art or piece of expression may be grasped by your hundreds of friends? Some are just trying to sell their books. Some are just trying to promote their blogs. Some are just trying to express their opinions. Some are just trying to book shows at local venues. Some are just trying to hook up with someone.

Facebook offers a world where seduction and flirtation form the core of all social transaction. The information is deliberate in its expression and discriminate in its choice of company. Every piece of information is disguised as something you’re not supposed to see, thus appealing to a mass voyeuristic impulse. We can offer someone the illusion of thinking that they’ve come to the information on they’re own.

No, the romantic vision of Fincher’s movie may possibly tell us something about successful young billionaires, what it’s like to piss people off and what it’s like to get sued, but in the end, it tells us nothing about the subject of its title: the social network.

The Zuckerberg character may have been happy enough if the equally fictive Ericka Albright were to accept his Friend Request, but it’s hard for me to imagine the real Zuckerberg sitting there clicking a button over and over again, as if so much rested on that single update, that single acceptance.

What Hollywood fails to see is that social networking has made the whole idea of ‘acceptance’ quite cheap. Everyone ‘accepts’ everyone as a mere gesture of politeness. It doesn’t hold the same weight it did fifty years ago. We are more enamored with flirtation. It is flirtation itself that we like to flirt with.

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2 Responses to “Mystery Girl”

  1. leroybenesfiction November 7, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    I’m guilty of typing precisely that into a google search. lol. That movie was a great piece of fiction!

    • Shane November 7, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

      I agree. Thanks!

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