Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics


'The Social Network' Zeitgeist (Director Fail Remix ft. Footnotes)

                                          Photo © TheSocialNetwork-movie.com official site

No matter how much I stick my head in the sand, these days there are some things that I just can't remain oblivious to.

The Social Network is the latest such tragic occurrence.

When it came out, it seemed like everyone and their aunties went to see it, including me [1]. And if sitting through the movie wasn't bad enough, there were also the rave reviews and awards (some that I'd never heard of before [2], along with the hundred and two Oscar nominations [3]) after the movie was over.

There was some pushback, of course. Some reviews detailed how regressive the setting and story were, portraying the Harvard of another era, as "a citadel of old money, regatta blazers, and (if I am not misreading the implication here) a Jewish underclass striving beneath the heel of a WASP-centric, socially draconian culture."

There were reviews that critiqued its portrayal of women ("Missing from what critics are calling the defining story of our age are female characters who aren't doting groupies, sexed-up Asians, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys..."), particularly its portrayal of Asian American women. And the complete absence of Priscilla Chan from the movie made these critiques especially compelling.

There was also speculation about why Max Minghella was chosen to play the Indian American Divya Narendra, and whether or not this was a case of Hollywood whitewashing/appropriating Asian American lives and experiences.

As one of these reviews points out, "It's not interesting that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher changed the 'reality,' but it is interesting how and why they did. A movie like The Social Network that slavishly strives for some forms of verisimilitude...is making a choice both about the world it wants to see and the world it thinks will sell."

These reviews and critiques, however, did not prevent The Social Network from getting universal acclaim [4], with luminaries such as Roger Ebert labeling it "instinctively perceptive" and Peter Travers saying it "lights up a dim movie sky with flares of startling brilliance" and "deserves to go viral" [5][6].

And then there was the Wall Street Journal, which found the film to be "dazzling as contemporary cultural history... The Social Network is fully equal to the challenge of dramatizing the Big Bang that brought the site into being... That includes plenty of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll -- girls getting wasted while their brainiac boyfriends write code." [7]

And if that isn't enough to make you wonder just how distorted certain people's perceptions of reality are?

This last note, before I go and replenish my supply of lighters and matches.

The DVD with the Director's Commentary came out at the beginning of this year. In it, David Fincher explains, in illuminating detail, just why he felt it so necessary to cast Max Minghella, who is of Italian, Scottish, and Chinese ancestry, to play the part of a desi. [8]

He [Max Minghella] came to us, uh, he obviously came in to read for another part. And we had read an enormous, probably a hundred Indian actors who came in to read for Divya. And I saw footage of the actual Divya Narendra, who I've met now, and he's kinda like Warren Beatty. There's nothing, I mean aside from being incredibly tan, there's almost nothing that seems particularly ethnic about him. He's really handsome -- he reminds me a lot of Peter Dante, who's an actor that's in a lot of Adam Sandler movies. And we couldn't find somebody who had that sort of smoothness. I looked and I looked and looked, we went to London, we went to I think Paris, we went to Montreal, we cast from everywhere. And finally in the end I just kinda felt that Max had the most, kind of... [trails off] I just wanted to make sure that Divya was an equal.

Mind you, the source of this baldly racist statement is a critically acclaimed director; and the source is Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures, which put out the DVD.

Because apparently it is universal knowledge, that the only desis who measure up to standards are the ones who practically aren't: the ones who can pass as white people with truly extraordinary tans.

As for the rest?

It is rather regrettable how none of us can manage to be a social equal.

___________________________

[1] Sometimes with our aunties, and for the record, it is not an experience I would recommend. Though, to be fair, I would not recommend seeing it without your aunties, either.

[2] Sorry, National Board of Review, but with a name like that you really should be reviewing judicial decisions and exploring how the TARP legislation turned the Treasury into a black hole sucking in all our money.

[3] Yes, I counted. (If you thought the Oscars too long and too boring last year, do you have a surprise waiting for you this year...)

[4] universal [yoo-nuh-vur-suhl], adj: of, pertaining to, or characteristic of all middle & upper class Caucasian males in the US and sometimes also the UK. e.g., the universal experience.

[5] Viral message to Peter Travers: look up what viral means. Consider its applicability to a big budget Hollywood movie with a major part of its advertising done via traditional television ads. (Unless, of course, by "deserves to go viral" he means this.)

[6] Along with some unintentionally ironic testosterone-laden framing.

[7] And then there was also the article about Facebook deploying its fearsome PR machine to win back the hearts and minds of Americans, apparently just like media moguls used to do back when the world was black and white and static-y, and GM and the Golden Arches did just recently. 

[8] via the racebending.com forums, which have commentaries and reactions. (Does this count as evidence that livejournal is more than teenage guys writing misogynist entries about their exes? Or does it show how regrettable it is that some people are missing the social zeitgeist that this Hollywood film was so instinctively perceptive of?)

About The Author

Kirti Kamboj

Kirti Kamboj was born in Mumbai, and while growing up also lived in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago. She worked as a researcher and a futures trader, before deciding to see what life would be like without staring at computer screens most of the day. That's also why she started blogging.

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