Zuckerberg A Hero Or A Villain? Depends How Old You Are

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L: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images, R: Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic

The Social Network, the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s founding of Facebook, was the most popular movie in America this weekend. Was is the story of a socially-impaired jerk who abandoned all human connection for fame and fortune, or was it the tale of an ambitious genius who guarded his creation against those who would claim credit for it? The opinion divide, it turns out, may be generational.

According to anecdotal research by David Carr of the New York Times, young people of Zuckerberg’s (and NewsFeed’s) generation are more likely to see the creator as the hero of the Facebook story, someone who invented an Internet empire using only his own knowledge and will. Carr mostly talks to people professionally associated the  The Social Network — producer Scott Rudin, writer Aaron Sorkin and star Jesse Eisenberg — so it’s hard to tell how much of this is salesmanship. Still, it’s an interesting theory. Take it away, Eisenberg:

I was asked by older people again and again how I could play a character who is capable of being so mean, as if I were almost condemned by this role. [...] But young people never had that reaction.”

How does this interpretation square with NewsFeed’s own original research? Let’s check out our findings:

—From Roger Ebert (Baby Boomer): “The Social Network is about a young man who possessed an uncanny ability to look into a system of unlimited possibilities and sense a winning move. … He reminds me of the chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. There may be a touch of Asperger’s syndrome in both: They possess genius but are tone-deaf in social situations.”

—From TIME’s own Richard Corliss (Baby Boomer): “Zuckerberg … isn’t inhuman, exactly; more post-human, a series of calculating algorithms. He is his own computer code — complex, and to most of those who know him, unfathomable.”

—From The New Republic‘s Lawrence Lessig (late Boomer): “What is important in Zuckerberg’s story is not that he’s a boy genius. … It’s not that he’s a socially clumsy (relative to the Harvard elite) boy genius. … And it’s not that he invented an amazing product through hard work and insight that millions love. … Instead, what’s important here is that Zuckerberg’s genius could be embraced by half-a-billion people within six years of its first being launched, without (and here is the critical bit) asking permission of anyone.”

—From Salon’s Matt Zoller Seitz (Generation X): “[Zuckerberg] is a modern, white-collar version of a horror movie monster — a Lecter, a Freddy Krueger; a force against which the other characters are tested; a being whose relentlessness and technical genius overwhelm (and in some cases destroy) the lives they touch.”

—From The Awl’s Matthew Wollin (Generation Y): “Each day I pass the glossy posters vaunting that actor’s face who I recognize from somewhere as a prettified stand-in for the CEO of that company that’s supposed to be changing the way I think, his visage of slack-jawed moronism a lame-a** stand in for profundity as decided by some group-tested marketing-teamed tautology of whatever it is that passes for brainstorming nowadays … [and] I feel intensely ticked-off and spurred to action.”

Conclusions? It’s a small sample size, but it appear people of every generation think Jesse Eisenberg-as-Mark Zuckerberg is both a super genius and a little weird.

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