“There’s one thing you never put in a trap, if you’re smart. If you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there’s one thing you never, ever put in a trap: Me.”—Eleven (Doctor Who, “The Time of Angels”)
The Social Network & My Generation an open letter to my friend Peter Travers
Hey man! So, I finally watched The Social Network the other night, and today I read your review of it, curious about your claim that this film defines my generation. First let me say, I agree that the movie is impeccable, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I have nothing but praise and admiration for the folks who made it. But on behalf of we who are inheriting a new earth connected by the Internet, I must raise my hand to say that while Mr. Fincher’s Facebook drama certainly nails a lot of today’s more ominous trends, this story only tells half of our tale.
You say that technology is winning a battle against actual human contact, and that we have become a nation of narcissists, reshaping ourselves online in the hope of being “friended” by others. First of all dude, the cool kids don’t really use “friend” as a verb like that ;o) But in all seriousness, you and I share some of those concerns which The Social Network so poignantly portrays. Whether judging a person’s worth by Twitter followers or a movie’s merit by box office scores, the Information Age has introduced some disturbing new ways for us to measure our culture and ourselves based on trivial statistics and exclusive hierarchies. The low self-esteem and obsession with social status represented by Mr. Eisenberg’s protagonist speak to that brilliantly. And yes, using new communication technology in this way does indeed have the potential to alienate us, to stratify us, and ultimately to weaken the human race.
However! Mr. Travers — I know because of your work and because we’ve had a bunch of awesome conversations — you are a man of letters and a lover of cinema. Well, aren’t the printed word and the motion picture both technologies that blew open doors to new forms of human expression? Technology is not fighting a “battle against actual human contact” any more now than it was then. The Social Network sounds a pertinent alarm against some arguably unhealthy ways our culture is currently using new communication technology, but to say that this film defines a generation is to dismiss the sense of community, the shared empathy, and the collective beauty that our new connectivity has allowed us this past decade. This generation, my generation, we are reaching out to each other, communicating with one another, and creating a shared world in ways no prior generation could have.
Yes, you could focus on the friend-counting narcissists, but you could also focus on countless meaningful relationships formed across national borders and cultural boundaries that would have been logistically impossible before sites like Facebook. And yes of course, there’s the spam-bots slinging Viagra, but there’s also unprecedented opportunities for independent artists and entrepreneurs on sites like Etsy and KickStarter. Or how about the simple fact that I’m sitting here writing this in New Orleans and you’ll read it by tomorrow in New York, along with thousands of movie-lovers like us from all over the world, who will also chime in with their own opinions?
These relationships, these opportunities, these connections, these are the unique blessings of my generation. So who’s gonna make the movie about us? I don’t know, but if I had to guess, it’ll be some group of kids who’ve never physically met, living in all different places, all far from Hollywood, trading ideas, uploading videos, and working together via one or another social network.
This is a beautifully articulate response to Peter Travers’ review of The Social Network.
“No matter what our achievements might be, we think well of ourselves only in rare moments. We need people to bear witness against our inner judge, who keeps book on our shortcomings and transgressions. We need people to convince us that we are not as bad as we think we are.”—Eric Hoffe (via kari-shma)
I would love to. That’s not really an option right now.
She’s not moving. She’s just taking yet another trip to yet another location I have repeatedly tried (and failed) to move to/visit. With God knows what money and despite any responsibilities she could theoretically have.
I love Harry because he doesn’t feel properly. Is that the best place to start? I know that doesn’t make sense (yet), but I don’t even know how to begin with this boy, so let’s start there. See, the thing about Harry is that he grows up in a cupboard. Sorry, let me state that again — he grows up in a cupboard. There’s no sunlight. There’s dust and spiders and two feet of room. This kid has never known a useful emotion in his life. He’s learned how to shut down. And he’s known how to be angry. But he’s never known anything else, anything like love or real happiness. It’s not something he understands. But then he gets this — this birthright. He has this magical man show up at his door and tell him for the first time in his life that he means something. That he’s special. And it all would be fine and dandy if it weren’t for the fact that there’s a war on. But there is a war on. And eleven-year-old Harry Potter looks death in the eye again for a world he has barely begun to step into because it’s the Right Thing to do. Because it’s what his parents died for, and if there is anything that boy understands and feels quite desperately, it’s his (overly idealized) love for his parents. Now, the version of James and Lily he has in his head aren’t real. When he finds out James bullied Snape it’s like a slap in the face because his father wouldn’t do that, surely. But he did.
The thing with Harry that I think most people miss is how blind he is. See above re: cupboard, war at eleven. But I also think that there’s things that Harry understands, things that are intrinsic in him and that’s this desire to be good and loved and proud of something, but most of all to be worthwhile. This boy has heroism bred into him. It’s the most natural thing in the world. There’s a troll in the dungeon; first thought: Hermione doesn’t know about the troll. This is a basic understanding of who this child is. He’s — I’d call him a soldier but it’s not that because soldiers make the choice, they sign up. Harry simply is that hero. It’s who he is, it’s as natural a part of him as his eyes. Some people just have that in them, that compulsion. Harry is one such person.
Now, I feel like Harry gets a lot of flack because he’s apparently whiny — I don’t know why heroes always get described as whiny, perhaps it’s that they’re always right and no one wants to listen to them but really this all comes from OotP, so let me stan my favorite boy in my favorite book for a second because I think it’s really the crux of the issues of both why I love Harry and why fandom hates him:
Harry James Potter has never been a child. He has never been a child. For 11 years, he was not treated like a child, or coddled like one, or loved like one. That’s how he lived. He had never been taught like one or spoken to like one. The Weasleys are wonderful for him and to him, but they treat him like a child. To a certain extent, I imagine this is a relief. Being an adult in an 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-year-old body must be exhausting. Which brings me to OotP, because never is my boy more him in his purest form than that book. Petulant and brutal and angry and terrified and wanting so desperately to prove himself and be allowed to prove himself. No one will tell him what’s going on. His body is the literal battleground for this war and no one will tell him what’s going on. So of course he’s angry and complains and yells and capslocks and the like. At 15, Harry’s been fighting this battle for years. But now the stakes are vast and terrifying and the world keeps trying to coddle him when he has never been coddled. It is not in his nature to be coddled, to allow for such a thing. I think it’s odd, because I always read Harry as being older than he was (perhaps this is because when I read it, he was older than I was) and I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve never had a problem with him, though I only recently became a real stan for the kid. I never saw him as a child. And there was a certain narrative there that appealed to me, I think, because I never really felt like a child either. But that’s a tangent, I suppose.
More on point, I think the thing to understand with Harry is that he’s someone who’s instinctively and preternaturally heroic. That means that he feels trapped very easily, because no one is ready to treat him like that. I’d be whiny too. The entire Wizarding World rests on his shoulders but these people keep trying to pull that weight off him. But Harry doesn’t work that way. That weight is affixed there. It’s how he articulates himself. It’s how he conceptualizes himself because it’s the thing that allowed him self-actualization. But people keep treating him like a child, the child he has never been. Which I think is so appropriate for a children’s story? I actually think that it’s the best thing JKR did in these books, that Harry keeps being treated like a child when he doesn’t feel like one. I think it is the best thing about these books. Hear ye hear ye. My favorite thing. I think it’s very honest. I read about that and I feel like it’s honest.
So — why is Harry my favorite character? I feel like this was a lot of me rambling about my thoughts on him without telling you why it gets to me so much. I suppose the first and general thing to understand with me is that I love hero arcs. This is a consistent factor among most of my fandoms. Most people don’t like heroes. They find them petulant, arrogant, self-righteous, whiny. The exact same words are used over and over again with my favorites. But I don’t think there is any purer form of example of the human condition than a hero. That’s what I’m interested in with fiction. What does it tell me about what it means to be human? Heroes are not white hats. Nor or they black. They are perpetually grey, trying to do something, worried they’ll fail, wanting to prove themselves, not confident but faking it very well, always trying to make something of themselves, trying to feel grounded in something, and the instinct of it. The instinct of it gets to me. To a certain (substantial) extent, Harry is simply another example of that. What makes Harry different from the rest is that childhood factor, the push and pull of it, the desperation to be an adult and, most specifically and obviously, a man, and these are gendered books, the implications are not to be ignored.
But I’m looking at Harry as an adult looking back on a childhood, not as a child being a child. When I was a kid, my favorite character was Hermione. Typical smart girl attachment. Looking back on Harry now, loving him now, it’s a sort of odd mix of “this is a good lesson for children, that they should be brave” and “this is a good lesson for me, that I should be brave” and “THERE ARE NO WORDS FOR THE THINGS THAT I AM FEEEEEELING” and a general sort of appreciation for how remarkable this character is. Look, anyone who follows this blog knows that I am anything but a JKR stan. But Harry? This boy is her crowning achievement, and I don’t mean that in terms of the series or the world or the money or the franchise or the effect, I mean the power and the consistency of this man. Everything he does is consistent and makes sense and even when I want to punch him I understand exactly why he does what he does. Because at the end of the day, Harry doesn’t feel properly. Eleven years in a cupboard, seven in a war. He doesn’t work the way normal people do. That’s why he has these huge emotional revelations rather than emotional progressions; that’s why he jumps into things; that’s why he can’t process emotions and just explodes; that’s why he needs to be a hero just as much as everyone else needs him to be a hero. This boy was laid down in book one and he remained consistent and steady in his growth from then on, and it’s actually, for me, the most amazing thing about these books. Because sometimes people are shattered and broken from childhood, but they want to make something more of themselves with whatever it is that they’ve got, no matter how much they stumble or fuck up along the way, and Harry does exactly that.
“When you start to know someone, all their physical characteristics start to disappear. You begin to dwell in their energy, recognize the scent of their skin. You see only the essence of the person, not the shell. That’s why you can’t fall in love with beauty. You can lust after it, be infatuated by it, want to own it. You can love it with your eyes and your body but not your heart. And that’s why, when you really connect with a person’s inner self, any physical imperfections disappear, become irrelevant.”—Lisa Unger (via quote-book)
“The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you.”—
I just read the aforementioned Date an Illiterate Girl article again between classes becauses I felt it itching at my brain like an opiate addiction.
Let’s make our “typefaces” bold, ladies. Insist upon it.