In the film The Social Network, writer Aaron Sorkin insinuates that one of the central drives in Mark Zuckerberg’s development of Facebook was the hot-blooded pursuit of women.
A little embarrassed, Zuckerberg denies this. And to counter the claim, he has publicly promised not to see the film. When he appeared on Oprah last week to announce a $100 million gift to the Newark public school system, the media queen cannily called the film “unauthorized.” It’s a refrain Zuckerberg has repeated for months now.
“I started Facebook to improve the world and make it a more transparent place,” he told TheWrap.com’s Sharon Waxman in July at a media conference in Sun Valley.
“This movie portrays me as someone who built Facebook so I could meet girls.”
Much is being made of the filmmaking ethics that allow Hollywood to create a character out of Zuckerberg, who is still only in his twenties, and who will soon become internationally famous according to Aaron Sorkin’s rendering of him — Sorkin’s Zuckerberg is complex and sympathetic, but unflattering.
“It’s a new kind of license to turn a real-life 26-year-old whose most life changing decisions were made as a teenager into an incarnation of Silicon Valley killer instinct, undergrad dorkdom, impatient brilliance, and middle-class Jewish-American aspiration fighting the Wasp Establishment,” New York Magazine’s Mark Harris wrote about the film. “Sorkin’s version of Zuckerberg is a young man pounding on the door, driven by his desire to get in” — to places of power and acceptance — but also, “away from the Jewish fraternity that symbolizes his lack of access to the inner circle.”
Let’s assume for a moment that Sorkin’s version of Zuckerberg contains some strand of truth. And that there was a time when a brilliant, geeky Harvard student hopelessly fantasized about sex, just not with a Jewish girl.
In one of the film’s early scenes, Zuckerberg and friends are partying at the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, on “Caribbean Night,” when they observe a group of Asian-American young women dancing in a cluster.
“There’s an algorithm for the connection between Jewish guys and Asian girls,” one of Zuckerberg’s friends says wryly. “They’re hot, smart, not Jewish and can dance.”
Sorkin would have us believe that in the eyes of some Jewish men — or at least, you know, those run-of-the-mill Harvard scholars — one of the best things about being an Asian woman is that she isn’t a Jewish woman. If this were pure fiction, it might sting a little less, but unfortunately it isn’t: Zuckerberg, who might be the most eligible Jewish bachelor in the world met his current girlfriend, Chinese-American medical student Priscilla Chan on erev Shabbat at an AEPi party during his sophomore year.
In a single sentence in a recent New Yorker profile of Zuckerberg, one of the few in-depth interviews he has ever conducted, writer Jose Antonio Vargas shattered the hopes of single Jewish women everywhere and gave the Jewish world yet another reason to fret over the its future by suggesting Zuckerberg is on the road to intermarriage.
“Friends expect Chan and Zuckerberg to marry,” Vargas wrote in the Sept. 20, 2010 issue. He also noted that the couple moved in together in early September — which Zuckerberg announced on his Facebook page, of course, — and that they will vacation together in China this winter, a trip Zuckerberg is preparing for by learning Mandarin.
But ladies, don’t pin your hopes on the word “expect” just yet. Because there is a more sinister undercurrent to the film’s assumption that for some Jewish men, and perhaps Mark Zuckerberg, being a Jewish woman is a turn-off.
Last year, during an interview with young, newcomer producers Gabe and Alan Polsky, who produced Werner Herzog’s remake of The Bad Lieutenant and are the heirs to an energy fortune, the question of whether or not they would marry within the tribe was met with vexation and displeasure.
“I don’t even want to breach that [topic],” Alan Polsky said hastily. “I don’t want to get into that question; I’m not going to say anything.” “And,” he added, turning towards his brother, “I don’t think you should either.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Gabe explained, “Jewish girls were very difficult growing up…”
“Where we grew up, they were very spoiled,” Alan conceded.
They said the Jewish girls they knew were “clique-y.”
“Very clique-y,” Alan said. But he admitted that coming from immigrant parents, they often felt out of place. “So I think we have a tendency to be overly skeptical.”
Phew, because, read another way, their remarks could be seen as an indictment of the Jewish woman nobody likes: the whiny, spoiled, entitled, high-maintenance, overly-dependent-on-her-parents Jewish American Princess, or “JAP.” We’ve all met her; the overindulged sorority girl who drives a more expensive car than most working adults and tends to start conversations by commenting on the brand of your handbag or asking if those are seriously the new Tory Burch shoes.
If college-age Jewish girls are doomed to the JAP stereotype, adult Jewish women face another: the smart/strong duality that inevitably leads to The Jewish Mother. And that stereotype comes with another set of flattering adjectives like domineering, overbearing, controlling and smothering, but cannot exist without its equal and opposite: the weak, silent Jewish male. All of these, obviously, are egregiously unfair — alright, except for the overbearing Jewish mother part — but they do exist in the culture, and the notion is front and center in The Social Network.
In the film’s memorable opening scene, the exquisitely articulate young woman whom Zuckerberg is dating dumps him after he insults her in a million different ways. He retaliates, on his blog, with a dig about how her family changed their name from “Albright” to “Albrecht”.
If all Jewish women were JAPs, it makes sense why someone like Zuckerberg, who in real-life is known for his modest lifestyle and disinterest in wealth — and in the film, his resentment of privilege — wouldn’t want to tie the knot with a Jewish girl. Zuckerberg is more interested in changing the world than possessing it.
Which sounds like some Jewish women I know. In fact, you don’t have to look far to find Jewish women who are at the top of any number of fields to realize just how wrong the JAP stereotype is: Anne Frank, Golda Meir, Madeline Albright, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Ayn Rand, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Esther… the list goes on and on. Which leads me to believe that it isn’t Jewish women that are the problem. It’s that Jewish men like Mark Zuckerberg and Aaron Sorkin are hanging out with the wrong ones.