The Social Network

At the Movies

This time, we spotlight The Social Network.

A pivotal moment occurs in David Fincher’s Facebook-centered work of historical fiction, The Social Network, when Divya Narendra discovers that Mark Zuckerberg has not only stolen his idea for a website, but taken it live and started accumulating users while Narendra thought the geeky programmer was still working for him.

The moment bears mention in this column because Narendra makes the discovery against the backdrop of Valentine’s Day concert put on by a Harvard a cappella group (portrayed by UCLA Bruin Harmony). On a certain level, this scene seems dismissive of a cappella on the whole; whilst at a show, a pair of girls openly ignore the performers in favor of reading their email. Narendra, meanwhile manages to preempt the entire performance when he stands up in huff and bolts from the show.

What’s cool here, though, is what a natural part a cappella plays in the scene, not only providing musical backdrop to the interactions at the fore of the screen, but establishing, but being represented as an integral component of the Harvard student experience—a part of daily life that contributes to the film’s context.

Furthermore, the way in which the characters—however briefly—discuss the a cappella group on stage is powerfully suggestive of the larger outlooks of their characters. Narendra questions the decision to sing All-4-One as opposed to classics by artists like Cole Porter. In this moment, Narendra’s philosophy on social networking appears parallel to his thoughts on the music—he’s not interested in a new innovative act, but rather hearing the classics done well. Similarly, he lacks much of the vision, and much of the intangible spark of Zuckerberg, while retaining the core ideas of a similar, good website. Narendra is late to the party on the evolution of collegiate a cappella repertoire, just as he ends up late in the race for Internet conquest.

All of this, plus, how cool is it that a film Roger Ebert called the best of 2011, and that won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, also had the uncommon distinction of including a real, live, contemporary, collegiate a cappella group in performance?