Monday, February 7, 2011

Are “public figures” public property? The Social Network gone wild?

On Sunday Morning yesterday, Aaron Sorkin—who wrote the screenplay to The Social Network movie—said that he had never met Mark Zuckerberg, and really didn’t know all that much about him, and in fact, he said, the movie wasn’t “a biopic about Mark Zuckerberg” but about something bigger (social networking, society, et cetera).

Why then did he use Mark Zuckerberg’s name? Why not a made up name? It was pointed out that the movie didn’t always accurately portray Zuckerberg’s real life, so why not make up a name, even scramble it up some: Smark Tuckersmerg. Sure, we'd all know the *wink wink* behind it, but at least it would be slightly fictionalized.

Silly me was under the impression that Aaron Sorkin worked with Zuckerberg, that they’d met, discussed, talked, something. We’ve all seen the “unauthorized biographies” about celebrities—some writer makes a buck or two or more off the back of a public figure and readers lap it up. Imagine . . .

Could someone decide they wanted to make a movie about this ole reclusive writer named Kathryn Magendie (suspending belief here that anyone would be interested *laugh*) and write whatever they wanted about me? Maybe interview a few people, watch a few video clips, follow me around in Target one day, read my blog/website/fb/twitter feeds, and then if that wasn’t interesting enough, they’d fill in the spaces with whatever made for a better more exciting movie, even if it was something hurtful to my friends or family or to me? Kind of scary, isn’t it? You could go to the movies and watch some actor play the part of You and not even recognize Yourself, not even be able to say, “That’s not true/I didn’t do-say-be that.”

And further - would the person the movie is "about" receive compensation for their life, or a version of it, portrayed on the screen? Do they receive a cut of the proceeds from the movie? Did Zuckerberg?

Are "public figures" completely Public and open to any kind of treatment we want to throw at them? Is it really fair to say, “Well, they brought this on themselves. Besides, they’re making so much money, who cares what they think. They wanted attention and now they have it, by golly dang!” Or, isn’t there some kind of line we must draw between a public figure’s private life versus their public persona? And, someone's use of it for their own gain?

And where does a person cross over into "Public Person" versus a "Private Citizen," and ironically, is the social network the end of any privacy for anyone at all? Are we all Public once we open a twitter/blog/facebook account and post about our lives and loves and friends and family?

Mark Zuckerberg can shake this off, and perhaps this kind of attention brings him even more “fame,” but watching that Sunday Morning segment, I felt uncomfortable at the arrogance of Sorkin, the shrugging his shoulders at how he used Zuckerberg’s “life” to make a buck or two or million. How Zuckerberg could go to the movies to watch himself and perhaps not even recognize himself. How his real-life beautiful long-term girlfriend must have felt when she was completely left out of the movie as if she didn't even exist, because it didn't serve the right dramatic purpose.

I suppose it's not a new thing to profit from a "public figure's" life, but I still feel that sense of uncomfortable unease, especially if there’s money at stake where words and actions and personality and Real versus Not Real can be skewered. As a fiction writer, I've heard the dangers of including "Real Life People" in our work, for we risk Cousin Pooter Head's wrath, Aunt Petal Pink's embarrassment, or worse, Neighbor Old Man McDonald could sue. I suppose if you are backed by big money, or the potential to make it for waiting wallets, anything is game, right?

What do you think?


Kelly Bryson said...

I think it's rotten. I hadn't realized that it put Zuckerman's name on a life that was only very loosely based on his-glad I didn't see it!

And Kat- I had the worst dream last night, complete with zombies crawling/running up the abandoned mines that my subconscious apparently believes are under our house and a nuclear holocaust. Thought of you and your crazy dreams when I woke up:)

Kittie Howard said...

I saw that segment, Kat, and, like you, felt cheated. If Sorkin wins an award my eyes will cross.

I couldn't agree more with all you wrote. Yes, a certain line has been crossed. We the public don't own those who have a certain fame, from politics to Stephen King. It's a form of slavery, actually, to think we should know what X had for breakfast, X knowing it and eating what looks politically correct in print. I think laws in the U.K. and Europe do a better job of protecting a person's privacy without holding them accountable for very public actions.

Are are you going to write about your great-great grandmother? Such a rich heritage is a treasure...but only if she would approve. I think Sweetie is your spiritual sister.

john bord said...

Public vs Private, a line few acknowledge when they have $ in front of their eyes. The ethics has been discussed but no set standard has been put forth so people set their own and the hell with others. The paparazzi is a great example of this.

In the age of cyber space, privacy is slowly disappearing, the networking, the wiki leaks types and the information type white pages, public records.

Ethics is not discussed much any more and most do not want standards except for the situational standard that they can change at a moments notice.

Publish a book..... hmmm. Any suggestions or publishers in mind?

Angie Ledbetter said...

Thankfully, I probably won't ever have to worry about such things. But it is rotten to use someone's story/history and not have secured permission. (Like you said, tho, he probably enjoyed the extra "fame.") :)

Like the new tweaking you did on ya blog format! huggage

JEFritz said...

I don't much like it either, but then I've never been a fan of using anyone's life, even a public figure, as fodder for news or entertainment. Sorkin may not have made the movie to profit off of it, but it wasn't his story to tell. Like you wrote, he could have came up with a new character or stuck to the facts. Otherwise, it just comes off as exploitative.

Terri Tiffany said...

I agree--it is only recently that I heard they hadn't even met. As an actor, I would want to meet the person I'm portraying if I could.
Love your rocking chair pic! I want that chair:)

Debbie said...

On the one hand, it drives me nuts when celebrities that live every day on the money they earn from being in the public complain about it. So, take that to heart when you become so famous that you are being followed in Target - that comes with being a great writer!
But, I don't think anyone has a right to "create" someone's life like that. And Zuckerberg developed Facebook - he isn't in our faces:)

Kathryn Magendie said...

Even public figures should be afforded some privacy - especially when it concerns their own home and their "personal private lives" -- they may be "paid to entertain" but does that extend to people poking and prying into every area of their lives?

If you think of celebrities (and there are always exceptions! those who crave and crave and crave attention) as people who have a Job, and their Job is to act or sing or play an instrument or whatever - when their job is over, it's time to go home and relax in their undewear if they want to, but how can they relax with people peering in the windows?

But whether we think someone is a Media Whore(male or female) and deserves what they get, or someone who started out wanting attention and then became a case of "Oops, be careful what I wished for!" - Mark Zuckerberg seemed to live a quiet life out of the "lime light" until he became a billionaire - somehow we equate "Making lots of money" with "you owe us stuff because we're making you lots of money by 'investing' in your 'product'(even if that product is the person) - whether that be FB or movies or tv or fashion or ?"

Just me rambling and thinking 'aloud' -

love reading your comments!

rosaria said...

A very interesting question here. A public person is a clear target, I guess, and unless he's been hurt by this portrayal, he's stuck with all the stuff people write about him/her.

I bet, though, the movie generated additional free publicity.

I suppose Facebook is a phenomenon that was bound to inspire a biopic, albeit fictionalized.

Hanny said...

I'd watch your movie! But then again, you could just lie and say that there already is a movie based on your life. I'll pick Return of the Jedi for mine, and say that Luke was based off of me. I do have an FX Lightsaber after all.

Gaston Studio said...

I think this is the very reason why some famous people buy huge places outside of Hollywood and NYC, so that they can have a modicum of privacy and attempt to live more 'normal' lives. And they do have the right to sue if they so choose.

It seems to be that this thing has also been heightened by our so called network news anchors who spend the first five minutes of the "news" hour telling us about Lindsey Lohan or Charlie Sheen or whoever instead of telling us about the real news: what's happening in Washington that will affect our health care system, our judicial system, etc. and what's happening politically in the rest of the world. when Egypt is in turmoil, for example, it's completely irrevelant to me what Lohan might have shoplifted. In fact, it's irrevelant to me at any time!
It appears that the majority of us have become sensation seekers and so they will do anything to make headlines, including writing an unapproved screenscript about real people. Me, I turn the channel.

Texas Playwright Chick said...

OMG - I have been living under a rock! I don't watch enough tv,news or enough of anything on the boob tube to have realized it wasn't a biographical film. *ditz out*

I wanted to see this movie because I thought it was truly based on research about the dude that started FB. Not on a some made up idea of a screenwriter that didn't bother to really do the work behind it all. Geesh!

Ha! Well, I think it totally sucks, that's what I think!

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Mei said...

Hey, could you be my ghost writer... I dream to write a book about my friend Bipolar... but my english are crap... you know me well... :-) Mei

ps: I like a good talk with you one day, will send a message to you soon! :-)

Mei said...

Haha... not to worry, not you! :-) its second time i follow her give up once, just don't understand why keep visit me now and then and leave very nice commment and not follow back, I give up this time, will not follow her anymore, some people are so real... sometimes! LOL...

Kathryn Magendie said...

And so it goes on - the other side of "exposure" - the scary part. Zuckerberg has tried to stay private, but there's always The Crazies:

lawd. scary stuff.

Carolyn V said...

I think it would be awful not to have the life of the person portrayed correctly. Plus what about the viewers who are trying to learn more about this person. It's definitely not cool!

Susan R. Mills said...

Yes, it makes me uneasy too. It just doesn't seem right.

Toyin O. said...

Very interesting thought, thanks for sharing.

Jessica Nelson said...

Wow...this shocks me! I'd heard it was biographical but it's not? That's horrible! He should've fictionalized a name, not used Zuckerbergs. Tsk, tsk on him. Grrr.

Deb Shucka said...

I didn't know, but I'm not surprised. When a life is about making money, it seems nothing is sacred. This is a really thoughtful and well-reasoned piece and deserves more exposure if you're so inclined.

Marguerite said...

Great post and pics, but sure looks cold over there! I agree with you about Sorkin, but that's Hollywood for you. And yes, once you are on Facebook, your life really is an open book, which is exactly why I'm not on there. Cest la vie, cher!