The much hated B-word

November 15th, 2010

After watching The Social Network, a middling biopic (sort of) of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, I thought the eight most hated words in English are: “I am a businessman and I am human”. Right from the first shot, Jesse Eisenberg (Zuckerberg) is portrayed as a typical nerdy Harvard kid, who has an all-consuming passion for excellence at the expense of human relations.

Let’s admit it, we love facile sinkholes. As soon as someone tells his profession (gynecologist or surfer or concert pianist), our mind conjures some images ‘associated’ with it. When someone says he is a businessman, we immediately think of him as an arch manipulator, mean, cold, maximising profit is the only driving force of his life, showy to the extent of irritating (Exhibit A: Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia). Hollywood being the most-obliging industry, Eisenberg’s character ticks off all these boxes. He is dismissive of his girlfriend in the first scene and those tics are to be seen throughout.

“If you could have, you would have created Facebook,” says Zuckerberg derisively to The Winklevoss Twins and Divya Narendra, the trio who accuse Zuckerberg of stealing their idea. This Aguirre-kind of smugness is really misplaced and it becomes apparent when you read about the real Zuckerberg. In reality, Zuckerberg is a Mammon devotee (who isn’t?) but his personal traits are certainly not so abhorrent to portray him as a moustache-twirling villain. While David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin have created a masterful drama, they also end up doing a great disservice to the business fraternity.

Bill Gates donated $28 billion for charity and Google’s founders (Larry Page and Sergei Brin) are going beyond the realms of search engine. Google just invested $5 billion in wind energy and had also recently brought out a self-driven car prototype. All of this is crammed onto inside pages and page one material is this: When Apple ‘harassed’ a tech blogger of posting  the pictures of iPhone 4 prior to it hitting the market, there was a virtual outrage. If law of averages is taken into account, at least three-fourth of those posting comments will have an iPod. While we discount our propensity for hypocrisy, we expect businessmen to stick to a strong moral ethic.

If there is a poster boy for this depraved image of a businessman, it has to be Gordon Gekko (played with seductive relish by Michael Douglas) in Wall Street. His ‘greed is good” speech in the 1987 cult classic has apparently inspired lot of kids to end up being one of those ‘fat cats’ on Wall Street. While Oliver Stone raked in the moolah with a half-decent movie that was lapped up by the lowest common denominator as 80s’ answer to Citizen Kane, the damage was irreparable. When the sequel (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) released a couple of months ago, the image of Gekko was still resonant. The brick-size phone might have been replaced by a sleeker one but the sneer on Gekko’s face didn’t budge.

While the sequel was a snore-fest I had bigger problems with the film. Oliver Stone nails a Goldman Sachs-like investment bank to the wall but lets off the homeowners, whose bottomless appetite for that second and third home led to the recession, too easily. Oliver Stone had to keep that myth of slimy businessmen alive, after all.

PS: Eisenberg’s lawyer tells him in the movie’s final scene that only a ‘demon’ could have created something like Facebook. Now, really!

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