Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Accidental Billionaires

I'm probably the exception, but I thought that the weakest part of The Social Network was the dialog.  With the exception of Andrew Garfield's Eduardo Savarin and Rashida Jones's lawyer, everyone sounded the same.  I chalked that up to their otherness - Jones appeared in framing scenes rather than the main story, and Garfield's natural accent is English rather than American.  Whatever the reason, this distinctiveness made me find Savarin more sympathetic than the rest of the young men involved in the founding of Facebook.

Savarin does not come across quite as well in the source material.  He was Ben Mezrich's main source for The Accidental Billionaires, and serves as the narrator as well.  Saverin met Mark Zuckerberg at a fraternity event and they bonded over the pathetic nature of the party.  A few months later Zuckerberg created The Facebook - a database combining photo databases from the Harvard dorms, crashed the university's system, and altered how we keep in touch.  He's the brains - Savarin is the money.  An econ major who'd used a weather algorithm to make hundreds of thousands of dollars on the commodes market, he's not really up on the technical aspects of Facebook, but he has the cash to bankroll the startup and the business savvy to start the legal battle against the Winklevoss twins who'd asked Zuckerberg to develop a similar database for them.

That division of labor seemed to work until the semester ended and they ended up on opposite coasts.  Savarin had an internship in New York, and even though he gave it up before lunch on his first day, he remained there, soliciting investors.  Zuckerberg took the company to Silicon Valley, where he met Napster founder Sean Parker and immersed himself in programming, with breaks for raucous parties and occasional meetings with angel investors.  Saverin felt squeezed out, withdrew his funding, and another lawsuit began.

The Accidental Billionaires is largely a synthesis of he said/he said transcripts.  Mezerich examined court filings and interviewed some of the participants - but not Mark Zuckerberg.  Perhaps this is why Zuckerberg appears more sympathetic than his compatriots.  He's a cypher, but at least he's not a jerk.  Saverin talks about him, but never seems to know what is (former) friend actually thinks, and compared to Saverin's social-climbing, money-hungry insecurity and the Winklevoss twins' entitled arrogance, the almost personality-free programmer wins Mr. Congeniality by default.  He's a geek, but unlike the thin-skinned Olympic athletes and the socially awkward financier, he's comfortable with who he is.

Saverin is a striver, who seems more focused on status (and joining one of Harvard's exclusive clubs) and has the sort of misogynistic streak that comes from ignorance rather than hatred of women.  His offhand comments about unattractive female classmates and "Asian girlfriends" are rather distasteful, and not the sort of comments I remember my geeky college classmates making (although, to be fair, they might not make them in front of an actual girl).  His final scenes are rather pathetic, showing an almost unimaginably wealthy 20-something, trading on his fame to pick up "hot Asian girls" and his membership in the Phoenix club to impress students at his alma mater.  Zuckerberg seems to have remained so uninterested in his image that he still dresses like a 15-year-old, but maintained a long term relationship with the former classmate he married the week she graduated from medical school and Facebook went public.  I doubt he's a saint, and he might even be a jerk, but if you take money out of the equation, he still won.  And I wonder if that bothers Saverin even more than having his Facebook shares diluted.

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