IN A 2010 INTERVIEW with the Writers Guild of America, Aaron Sorkin canonized himself. Specifically, when asked what had attracted him to his new project — the David Fincher collaboration, The Social Network — Sorkin responded:
What attracted me to it had nothing to do with Facebook. The invention itself is as modern as it gets, but the story is as old as storytelling; the themes of friendship, loyalty, jealousy, class and power. This is the story that Aeschylus would have written or Shakespeare or Paddy Chayefsky. Luckily for me, none of those guys were available, so I got to do it.
His response is funny, literate, irreverent, sentimental, and more than a little braggy — in other words, very Sorkinian — and its casual bravado is meant to enable the line to pull a kind of double duty. We’re supposed to laugh at the improbable genealogy but also to take it seriously. And in that way, it’s an expert pitch meant to justify an earnest dramatic film about something so trivial as the social network we use to share pictures of cats in socks. The great Greek Tragedian, the Bard of Avon, and the explosively talented screenwriter of Network would probably not have wanted to write about cat videos, but they would, of course, all be interested in writing a movie about “the themes of friendship, loyalty, jealousy, class and power” — that’s what they did. It’s not a bad argument, and it actually does characterize the film, which is a little more complex than it might otherwise seem. But his response is not just about Facebook. Sorkin notably does not name-drop famous plays or even their conflicted heroes. He shouts out playwrights. It’s not necessarily that The Social Network is like the Oresteia, or that Mark Zuckerberg is like Hamlet, or even that the social context of Network has echoes in the present. No, it’s that I, Aaron Sorkin, am a little bit like Shakespeare, right?
Sorkin is one of the only commercially bankable and socially conscious screenwriters now working; his writing style is fast, fluid, and instantly recognizable, and, since leaving television for feature films after his exodus from The West Wing, he has become possibly the most sought-after screenwriter in Hollywood. So while David Milch and Matthew Weiner might be likelier candidates for the screenwriting Shakespeare of the quality TV generation, if there is a contemporary canon, Sorkin is in it.
No matter how justified, though, Sorkin’s line is all the more Sorkinian because, while it reads like the off-the-cuff bon mot of a great wit, the kind of thing he manages to give his characters regularly, it was by no means off-the-cuff. It’s a written line of dialogue. He repeated it, complete with the “Luckily for me, none of those guys were available” punch line, to Charlie Rose, Nightline, an audience of undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, and a number of other news outlets during the press tour for The Social Network. Press junkets, of course, demand such repetition. But as the recent YouTube supercut of re-used lines from his film and television work will attest, Sorkin is a great writer but also a great repeater. “Well that was predictable,” “More and more, we’re getting less ...read more