Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gentlemen never sue

The name of Theodore Roosevelt (class of 1880 at Harvard) is invoked at the very beginning of the movie The Social Network. The actor playing Mark Zuckerberg confidently, if a tad bizarrely, informs his girlfriend that TR’s membership in the Porcellian Club is what ensured his eventual accession to the presidency of the U.S.

Theodore Roosevelt – who as a Harvard undergraduate spent on club fees and clothes in two years a sum of money that would have sustained the average American family of the time for six years* -- is in some ways (but only some) a fitting patron saint for this movie, whose themes of money and class would not have been foreign to him. However, the only character in the movie that TR would really have understood is the rower who is reluctant to sue Zuckerberg because that’s not what “gentlemen of Harvard” do. The rest of the movie -- including the computers, the drugs, the parties, and the sexual situations – would have been, it is pretty safe to say, either incomprehensible or shocking (or both) to TR. That’s not a criticism of The Social Network, of course, but it is an indication of how much certain aspects of the world have changed in the last 125 years.

As for the movie on its own terms: it’s entertaining – especially the scene in which the actor playing Larry Summers appears – but I would take most of it with a few grains of salt.


*Kim Townsend, Manhood at Harvard: William James and Others (paperback ed., Harvard Univ. Press, 1998), p. 259. For TR's views on masculinity, race, etc., in historical context, see Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity (Vintage Bks., 2005), pp. 355ff.

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