My friends and I met for a film screening of Japanese action flick "Alien v. Ninja" at The Silent Movie Theatre in West Hollywood. The theater is playing all horror movies for the month of October, and this movie was part of a gorey Japanese double feature.
I was catching up with my friend April, whom I hadn't seen in awhile, and the topic came to movies that were currently playing.
"Have you seen the Social Network?" I asked.
"No," she said. "Have you?"
"No," I said.
I hesitated before asking the next question. Then I timidly tried:
"Do you want to?"
"No," she said.
"Thank god," I sighed. "I thought I was the only one."
I don't have TV, and so maybe I would want to see the movie if I did--trailers of a new hunky young actor portraying a college student in psychological pain against the backdrop of one of the country's best and oldest universities. But what I have seen/heard of the movie does not tempt me--NPR critics revering the movie as a tour de force portrait of a genius, Entertainment magazine profiling the "sexy geek" actors who are not really computer programmers, but actors. I even saw a giant billboard with a close-up of star Jesse Eisenberg's face, with the word "PROPHET" typed across the top in giant letters.
Which got me to thinking, since when did founding a billion-dollar company make one a prophet? Prophets are typically people with a direct connection to the divine, who go out and help masses of people during their lifetimes. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whom "The Social Network" is about, has touched millions of lives, but has it been from a place of divine connection or self-sacrifice? I think not. In fact, the kicker is, he didn't even invent social networking, even though so many people think he did. In the couple of years before the launch of Facebook, MySpace and Friendster, which were simpler versions of Facebook, already existed. Zuckerberg is not a prophet, but a CEO who hired better programmers than the first two.
April and I agreed that there were a plethora of other people we'd rather see profiled in a feature film. How about Liu Xiaobo, the jailed activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who's been tirelessly fighting for freedom of speech in China for years? Martha Graham, inventor of modern dance? Al Gore, politician-turned-global-warming activist? Cornel West, racial justice advocate? The list goes on and on. But a profile of a person who happened to opportune upon the right trend at the right time? I think not.
You may roll your eyes and say,"'The Social Network' got great reviews. How many great reviews did 'Alien v. Ninja' get?" The answer is, I don't care. It was an elegantly done, low-budget martial arts movie with ninjas in black pleather costumes that would rival those of Batman and Catwoman. It opened me and my friends up to an entire new genre of film, and it made me realize that there is genius and magic happening all over the world, outside of the big studio system.
The Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk almost recently went on hiatus due to a lack of funds. It was saved by area businesses that realized it was a vital part of Los Angeles culture. The Silent Movie Theater was packed when I saw "Alien v. Ninja." But it could have been empty. Independent artistic venues always seem to be struggling in the face of big business.
The audience in that theater bonded in a way that never could have happened at an AMC movie theater--we screamed when the alien stuck tentacles into a ninja's flesh, we howled and clapped together when he was finally killed.
It is easy to forget how much vibrant culture and genius exists outside of the top 10 blockbusters, or the New York Times bestseller list. But it is there, always there. It is up to everyone to take the road less traveled by when it comes to culture. Because it will make us smarter. It will make us more interesting. And above all, it will make us connect in a way that we never can over Facebook.