Catfish, Social Network and Artistic Representations of Digital Culture
There are two films coming out soon that seem to be some of the initial attempts to create narratives specifically from social media, namely the culture that exists within social media and in general online. Both seem to adhere to the William Gibson dystopia version of online culture having negative implications, but to their credit, these new movies use these darker elements as vehicles to describe ancillary aspects of digital culture. The darker elements, in essence, revolve around suspense (Catfish, which is essentially a distorted homage to Hitchcock) and economic struggles (the Social Network, which seems like a younger version of Wall Street, judging by the trailers)
The first of these, Catfish, discusses the “realness” of online relationships courted via Facebook and other social media channels. What is real? What constitutes emotional connections? What is the truth? The trailer itself even asks these questions and they resonate in the actions of the protagonist, who spends the majority of the trailer developing a relationship with Megan, a character that is never seen nor heard from except for the protagonist. The use of social media here does not appear to be merely aesthetic; the Facebook buttons, the Google Maps Street Views, these are the symbolic structure of our generation and they have indeed been mapped on our physical world.
The second, the Social Network, is familiar to many of us as the story of Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook fame and his rise to power. I think what it does that might be of interest to students of digital culture is the relative unexpectedness of its success; it exceeded all expectations instantly. This immediately establishes the notion that the network (or indeed one can even substitute the culture here) is greater than the individual. Indeed, no group of individuals can control it to any effective degree; it is greater than the sum of its parts. It demands aggregation, but most importantly it demands decentralization. The angle that the movie pursues appears to be one of pure cutthroat capitalism, but the surprise at which this service expanded is resonant even today.
In fact, the most poignant part of the trailer is the photo montages at the very beginning, which speaks to the construction of self online (how we want to be portrayed) and indeed are willingness to be represented online (merely being there is a social act, a social statement). It also speaks to Facebook’s earliest “killer app”, which was the sharing of photographs.