Eli is my youthful alter ego, introduced back in June in “How Eli got his name.”
RR: So, Eli, we haven’t talked in a long time. I just saw a movie that made me think of you—The Social Network.
Eli: Made you think of me? Hey, I might be a nerd, but no one’s ever accused me of being a computer nerd!
RR: So you’ve at least heard of the movie, but I wasn’t thinking of that aspect of it. I guess it was the college setting for one thing—although 2003 Harvard seemed more depraved than UC Santa Cruz back in your day, circa 1968. Harvard almost made Santa Cruz seem idealistically hedonistic.
Eli: Yeah, I can see that. Make love not war.
RR: But the other thing was the portrayal of over-the-top materialism. The movie doesn’t moralize, but the story is a devastating critique of life at the beginning of the 21st century, when people will sell their souls, without even realizing they have a soul, to make it big in some start-up enterprise or another.
You guys seemed to have seen that coming and fled to the hills. But this movie is dealing with more than greed, and even with more than money as power. It’s money as the only arbiter in life. In one scene the main character (can’t really say hero), Mark, the founder of Facebook, is sitting at a nightclub with Sean, the founder of Napster, who is kind of an evil genius whispering brilliant and twisted advice into Mark’s ear. At the nightclub Sean tells Mark about some other young entrepreneurial type who started up Victoria’s Secret and then sold it to Limited Brands for four million dollars five years later. Before long, it’s a world-wide brand worth 500 million, and the founder jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. They find his body washed up on a Marin beach a few days later.
Eli: Wow, like it’s really that much harder trying to survive on four million dollars than on 500 million!
RR: Right, but for them money isn’t just a means to an end, but the only scorecard that they can imagine. So, if you made four million when you could have made 400 million, you’re a total loser.
Eli: So we weren’t so crazy when we bailed out of the pursuit of money altogether . . .
RR: Yeah, maybe not. That’s what made me think of you. Like Yeshua says, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” But then there’s more to it, besides the money thing, which is the what-if thing. (I’m borrowing “what-if” from the latest VeggieTales movie, which I saw a couple of nights before The Social Network, btw. Not that I watch that many movies.) We’re wired in the 21st century to constantly wonder if we’re getting the best possible deal, the ultimate bang for our buck, the one right and undeniably great option out of all the options that are out there . . . and it makes us crazy.
Eli: OK, so do you have a remedy besides the one I discovered back when I dropped out of it all and took refuge beneath the cottonwoods by Las Huertas Creek?
RR: A remedy? I don’t know, it seems like we’re dealing with the yetzer ha-ra, the evil impulse, something inherent in us humans that has to compare, compete, get ahead by beating someone else, or feel beaten ourselves. At the end of the movie, they tell you that Mark, the Facebook guy, becomes the youngest billionaire on the planet. So, he must be the winner, but it doesn’t feel like that in the final scene. He’s still thinking about what he doesn’t have. There’s always something there when we look in that direction.