Facebook via Sorkin, Kanye vs. 'Today' and Those Hated Digital Ninjas

It's the Best Media Writing of the Year -- Part One

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Rivaled only by Wikileaks and the iPad, the continued ascendance of social media was the most important development in the communications business in 2010. Facebook hit half a billion users, Twitter took $200 million in funding, and every aspect of culture from politics to business continued to change. It's an epic tale and, perhaps fittingly, Hollywood told it best.

'The Social Network'
'The Social Network' Credit: Merrick Morton/Columbia Tristar Marketing Group, Inc.
Which is why the finest media writing of the year was found in Aaron Sorkin's screenplay for "The Social Network," which may just be the first Oscar-winning script to discourse on company valuation and stock dilution -- you know, the stuff that actually makes the world go round.

This excerpt applies the Sorkinian cadence that we know from "A Few Good Men" and the "West Wing" to a key moment in the growth of the most important media company of our time, as Sean Parker's take on Facebook makes founders Mark Zuckerberg and soon-to-be-screwed-over Eduardo Saverin's baggy jeans a bit tighter.

SEAN
You don't want to ruin it with ads, because ads aren't cool.

MARK
Exactly.

SEAN
It's like you're throwing the coolest party on campus and someone's telling you it's gotta be over at 11:00.

MARK
Exactly.

SEAN
You don't even know what the thing is yet.

MARK
I said exactly that.

SEAN
How big it can get and how far it can go. Picture sharing, news feeds, a virtual Champagne room, apps you haven't even thought of. This is no time to take your chips down. A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool?

EDUARDO
You?

SEAN
A billion dollars. And that's where you're headed. A billion dollar valuation.

It won't take a sharp-penned screenwriter to bare Kanye West's soul for us; he's doing it himself. After long resisting Twitter, he signed up for it this year, grabbing more than a million followers (while following none) and introducing a new form of tweet-bitching that mixes an emo stream of consciousness, woe-is-me-celebrity-whining, gauche self-promotion, product placement, flashes of humor and insight, and a vicious, nearsighted hatred of a media wrong whose main crime seems to be their resistance to being controlled by him.

Matt Lauer interviews Kanye West on NBC's 'Today.'
Matt Lauer interviews Kanye West on NBC's 'Today.'
What Yeezy taught me is that Twitter -- once a manageable, useful haven for smart stuff -- is increasingly a shitshow directed by celebrities bleating for yet more attention in a fashion that's at once nauseating, depressing and, I'm ashamed to say it, heart-rending, especially with someone as talented as Kanye. In a stream of tweets that's condensed here for readability, he made an interview with Matt Lauer sound like date rape.

Man I'm heading to Abu Dhabi finna go to Ferrari Land YESSSS!!! ....but before I take off let me tell you how they did me at the Today show... I went up there to express how I was empathetic to Bush because I labeled him a racist and years later I got labeled as a racist.... While I was trying to give the interview they started playing the "MTV" under me with audio!!!!!!! I don't mess with Matt Lauer or the Today Show ... and that's a very nice way for me to put it! HE TRIED TO FORCE MY ANSWERS. IT WAS VERY BRUTAL AND I CAME THERE WITH ONLY POSITIVE INTENT. I feel very alone very used very tortured very forced very misunderstood very hollow very very misused. I don't trust anyone but myself! Everyone has an agenda. I don't do press anymore. I can't be everything to everybody anymore. I can't be everybody's hero and villain savior and sinner Christian and anti Christ! Everything sounds like noise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EVERYTHING SOUNDS LIKE NOISE!!!!!!! I don't trust anyone! Yo I really wonder if Matt Lauer thought that sh** was cool to play the "MTV" clip while I was speaking about Bush? He played clips of Bush and asked me to look at his face while I was trying to talk to him. I wish Michael Jackson had twitter!!!!!! Maybe Mike could have explained how the media tried to set him up!!! It's all a f***ing set up!!!!

As futile as resistance may be, there's still a healthy strand of thinking in our culture that considers the ways in which new forms of media are doing us harm. In a New York Review of Books essay, novelist Zadie Smith used "The Social Network" (and, to a lesser extent, Jason Lanier's wonderful "You Are Not a Gadget") to look darkly at Facebook, narrating her alienation from the generation that's embraced it -- that is, hers -- and talk about how she's rejected it. It takes a novelist's detachment to make us realize that the contemporary cultural cancers we consider inevitable -- the fragmentation of our attentions, the suckage of our time -- aren't faits accomplis. Here's Ms. Smith on the future under Facebook:

Maybe it will be like an intensified version of the Internet I already live in, where ads for dental services stalk me from pillar to post and I am continually urged to buy my own books. Or maybe the whole Internet will simply become like Facebook: falsely jolly, fake-friendly, self-promoting, slickly disingenuous. For all these reasons I quit Facebook about two months after I'd joined it. As with all seriously addictive things, giving up proved to be immeasurably harder than starting. I kept changing my mind: Facebook remains the greatest distraction from work I've ever had, and I loved it for that. I think a lot of people love it for that. Some work-avoidance techniques are onerous in themselves and don't make time move especially quickly: smoking, eating, calling people up on the phone. With Facebook hours, afternoons, entire days went by without my noticing.

Now read Alexis Madrigal's lovely response in The Atlantic, urging that rather than reject Facebook, we should use it better:

Our relationships with each other predate our relationship with Facebook! But that was (literally) just a footnote for her, whereas for me, it's the whole point of the enterprise. I want the equivalent of urban planning for Facebook; Smith wants to run off into the woods, or at best, a simple conservationism. You get to determine your level of investment in the digital world around you. You get to choose the people you listen and talk to. You have control over your data. You get to define who you are, no matter what your Facebook profile says. All that is not lost unless we choose to lose it.

But what if your business is social media, as it is for a growing number of folks whose main job is to spout off truisms about how Twitter will set you free? Snake oil salesmen, charlatans, digital ninjas, marketing juggalos... whatever you want to call them, those folks became targets of Mat Bisher and Jason Schmall, a pair of creatives from McCann Erickson who in this hilarious animation took the digital ninja's nunchukus and beat him senseless with it:

Look for part two tomorrow, in which we'll consider the continued relevance of The New York Times, the iPad and Gawker.

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