College, Cops & Computers

07Jan11

FacebookNew Year’s Day is the day on which many people embark on self-improvement programs. Not me. On January 1, I subjected my self-esteem to a beating by going to see The Social Network, the 2010 movie about the founding of Facebook by a brilliant Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg, who has gone on to become the world’s youngest multi-billionaire.

The movie is actually quite good. It captures the incredible irony of the socially inept Zuckerberg creating the world’s largest and most successful social network. Jessie Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg, and the physical resemblance is striking. If you’ve ever seen the real Zuckerberg interviewed, you can see that Eisenberg captures his mannerisms and awkward demeanor to a T.

The Zuckerberg character is portrayed as a fascinating but at times arrogant and self-absorbed jerk. In the opening scene of the movie, his girlfriend dumps him after an exasperating conversation in a Cambridge bar. Before she gets up and walks out she tells him that he’ll probably go through life thinking women don’t like him because he’s a nerd. But that won’t be it, she says. “The real reason is you’re a jerk.” Only she uses a stronger word than “jerk.”

Going in, I wondered whether, after seeing the film, I would still want to be on Facebook. The movie in no way changed my already ambivalent attitude toward the world’s biggest social networking site. It also left me with mixed feelings toward the privileged Ivy League world as portrayed in the movie. But after spending two hours in awe of what Zuckerberg and his band of brilliant computer whiz kids achieved, it was hard not to feel just a little inadequate.

As I walked to my car and drove home from the Lowe’s Liberty Tree Mall Theater, I couldn’t escape the feeling that that a good 20 points had just been shaved from my IQ. I needed an antidote, and fast – something to simultaneously restore my IQ and my self-esteem.
COPSI knew just the ticket. I got home and headed straight for the TV. I tuned to G4 and watched back to back episodes of Campus PD. Campus PD is a lot like Fox’s COPS – the granddaddy and still the best of the reality TV shows. And if you think the people on COPS act stupid when they encounter the police, let me assure you that there’s nothing dumber than a house full of hammered college kids as the Campus PD arrive to break up a loud frat party.

With each falling-down freshman, sloshed sophomore, juiced junior and slurry senior featured on Campus PD, my IQ rose 5 points, as watching these dorm-room dolts try to interact with police rapidly counteracted the ego deflating effect of observing the genius kids in The Social Network. It’s difficult to imagine any of the students featured on Campus PD as future billionaire computer geniuses, especially after watching a few of them upload the dinner they had downloaded earlier in the evening.

So while others were nursing hangovers and making vows of self improvement, my New Year’s Day was a lesson in both humility and hubris, a reminder that every rose has its thorn and for every slick Hollywood movie about a genius college kid, there’s a reality TV program showing college kids taking stupidity to a new level.

Happy New Year, and remember: You have the right to remain silent.

[This column originally appeared in the January 6, 2011 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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