The movie about one perspective on the formation of Facebook, The Social Network, is up for an Oscar for the 2011 Academy Awards. For a while, many people believed this could win for best picture, and then when it was actually nominated, the chatter reached a new level. While this may be a more popular pick by the Academy, the The King’s Speech is getting most of the critical acclaim and is predicted to be the eventual winner Sunday night. All of the speculation and chatter reminded me of a few years ago and the hype around Slumdog Millionaire. I wrote about it here (please click, it’s worth it!). My basic point was that it made sense for The Academy to pick Slumdog that year because it was an outstanding film, but also because The Academy has an enormous, long-term strategic interest to promote the promise of Hollywood deep within India’s film-loving atmosphere, both for soft (cultural) and hard (cost-savings) reasons.
The same principle, slightly modified, will be at play on Sunday night. It’s possible that The King’s Speech is a “better film,” but it’s pretty hard to deny that many elements of the times we live in are captured in The Social Network. The competition to get into college and perform once on campus. The rising power of software coders. The economy driving more of the young into new ventures. The harsh realities around forming equity partnerships and raising other peoples’ money. Moving from Boston to the Bay Area. House parties. Being social. Justin Timberlake. The motivations, hopes and dreams teased out in The Social Network have tapped a feeling that is happening around the country, not just in Silicon Valley. It’s a big trend — bring real life identities online — and it is just the beginning.
If the Academy decides to hand out the hardware for The Social Network, it will have some interest to do so as well. Facebook is a relatively young institution, but will probably be so foundational that The Academy has to factor it in during its deliberations. Hollywood has a vested interest in making sure its connected with Silicon Valley, as their box office ticket sales lag. Or, it could be that The Academy takes this moment to remind the world that Facebook and social isn’t all-mighty, and that editorial and expert curation matters just as much, and especially when it comes to donning awards on motion pictures.
Either way, by including The Social Network in there “Best Picture” list, The Academy made a power-play marketing move: Validate the dream of Silicon Valley in modern culture, but also reserve the right to reject it, if needed.