In my previous post on The Social Network, I suggested that Facebook’s (i.e. Mark Zuckerberg and Co.’s) pricey (minimum cost, $100-million dollars… to needy Jersey schools that is) and highly orchestrated public relations blitz now playing across the mediascape at exactly the moment of a slanderous mainstream narrative film’s opening, was a “documentary.” I’d like to revisit that now.

John Grierson defines a documentary as the “creative treatment of actuality.” Bill Nichols reminds us that every doc has a voice: reflexive, authoritative, poetic, etc. Given documentary’s roots in time based media (film and video), we have historically thought of the crafting of such an argument through artistically arranged fragments of filmed reality as a linear enterprise. But for the sake of Zuckerberg, let’s grow this to encompass a network: a “documentary” that sits multi-spatially, as well as temporally, on and about the web and within all the media that converge there. As Facebook unrolls its creatively voiced but highly authorized, ah-shucks he has a girlfriend and a foundation, interpretation of Mark’s sorry story, we see a new kind of documentary coming into being alongside the very social networks it covers, shamelessly uses, and owns: the creative and also corporate controlled, multi-platformed, expertly networked, and then user-ventriloquized treatments of reality.

I’ve written extensively here about the mis-steps of the usually celebrated terrain of convergence: the too easy, sloppy, ill-conceived contemporary media moves between documentary, fiction, and hybrid back again. To my mind, Social Network is a textbook case for why I’d rather wait for what can be best delivered by a plain old doc, and is already being delivered all over the mediascape, thanks to Facebook (or is that Zuckerburg and co?)

In fictionalizations of contemporary real-life, even with great screenwriters and directors in charge, and fine actors playing the parts, or perhaps because of them, the complexities and contradictions of the real social networks of daily living, business codes, and personality get conveniently and conventionally condensed into types (nerd, socially adept entrepreneur, playboy), themes (unsatisfied sexual desire, male bonding), and (three act) structures that gut people and activities of the confusing, amorphous messiness that defines real life—and makes it so pleasurable to watch in a good documentary (and so hard to live well). David Fincher’s highly professional, achingly familiar story of hubris and fall uses the idea of the internet’s “cool” (as opposed to mainstream media’s tepid) as a narrative short-hand that also describes the failings of normative big-media narrative in a time of digital storytelling.

Obviously, documentaries place types, themes and structure onto life as well. They are representations that follow the dictates of their own genre histories and protocols. However, given the huge power of Mark Zuckerburg and Facebook, I for one would rather watch him (or his living, articulate friends and colleagues and their various media machines) try to put a narrative spin on their unfolding lives, business practices and excesses, then watch Sorkin and Fincher turn it into their generic boomer morality tale. Luckily for me, as much as I really didn’t enjoy Social Network, I have relished in the highly produced and carefully structured Zuckerburg “documentary” being simultaneously released across the digital arena in The New Yorker, The New York Times, on the Simpsons and Oprah, too!