By Dennis McNulty
It was there on the newsstands, staring out at me, just before Christmas. I still haven’t signed up for Facebook, partially because I’m a little worried about the latent potential of large mounds of data and partially because I know that I would probably become completely addicted to it. But there was something compelling about that image: Mark Zuckerberg’s blank, almost symmetrical face on the cover of Time magazine—magnetic, calm, unsettling, unreadable. Person of the Year. It seemed significant that a bastion of the old ways was paying tribute to the king of the new ways. The top-down distribution of information by self-appointed gatekeepers versus the flattened hierarchies of networked distribution. Physical objects versus invisible information on magnetic storage devices. People 1.0 versus People 2.0, as Zadie Smith would have it. But things are never that simple. I bought the magazine and read the feature.
Zuckerberg intrigues people, me included, because his motives are unclear. He doesn’t seem to be interested in money or coolness. In David Fincher’s movie The Social Network, Zuckerberg’s portrayed as a young guy trying to find a way to hook up with girls. As incredible as Aaron Sorkin’s script is, this was patently not the case in reality—but it’s clear why Sorkin felt he needed to create this motive for the leading man. Otherwise, where’s the plot? How can we identify with a character who makes choices for no discernible reason? You can imagine Jesse Eisenberg, the actor who plays Zuckerberg, standing on set asking Fincher, “Okay, so what’s my motivation?” and Fincher looking at his feet and saying, “I’ve told you before, Jesse, we don’t have any idea what your motivation is.”
Studying ancient Greek and Latin, as Zuckerberg has, usually means studying the ideas that were formulated in those languages, the ideas that form the basis of the society in which we live. Initially, Martin Schoeller’s Time cover shot reminded me of the award handed out to actors at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards—a mask that is in turn based on the masks used in classical Greek theatre. It’s static, almost symmetrical, impassive. I began to think of Zuckerberg as the king of a vast virtual city-state.
But after reading the Time feature, I found myself coming to a different conclusion. I was intrigued by the descriptions of Zuckerberg targeting key people who were very focused on their own projects and ultimately converting them, persuading them to aid him in creating his vision of a world connected and re-ordered by Faceboook. What strikes me now is how Facebook, in its desire to re-engineer society, in many ways resembles a cult. Its software provides an ever-increasing number of users with a series of rituals and the language to accompany them—poking, writing on walls, friending and de-friending. However, if Facebook is a cult, it’s one where the figure of the charismatic leader has been replaced by one with a calm, inexpressive stare, a face-void to be filled with your own data.
Dennis McNulty is an artist based in Dublin, Ireland, whose practice is concerned with memory, potential, and flow. His work emerges from research, suggesting possible narratives through the overlapping of pieces in various media. McNulty’s extensive exhibition record includes representing Ireland at the São Paulo Bienal and participating in solo and group exhibitions in Ireland, Northern Ireland, France, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Colombia, and the United States. His 2011 works The Crash, Facetime, and Carbon Dating were commissioned by CCAD and Bureau for Open Culture for the exhibition Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, presented at CCAD from January 27–March 12, 2011.
Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.