Film Commentary

Armond White gives The Social Network a negative review: Surprise surprise

October 5, 2010

A synecdoche of White’s review:

Like one of those fake-smart, middlebrow TV shows, the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality. It’s really a movie excusing Hollywood ruthlessness. That’s why it evades Zuckerberg’s background timidity and the mess that the Internet has made of cultural discourse. In interviews, Sorkin brags about the multiple narrative and Fincher has even invoked Citizen Kane—both are grandstanding excuses for Zuckerberg’s repeated masturbatory request for friendship—a mawkish George Clooney ending. Here’s the truth: Kane was not about a brat’s betrayal, but about a sensitive braggart’s psychological and philosophical shift inward. The Social Network is more like Hollywood’s classic film industry selfromance The Bad and the Beautiful. Yet that Kane-lite film never excused its bad-boy protagonist’s sins and ended magnanimously by converging his three injured parties’ points of view into one beautifully clarifying narrative. It admitted our cultural compromises; this is TV-trite. In The Social Network, creepiness is heroized.

Peter Sciretta comments:

You might recall that Armond White has been featured on this site [] previously. He is notorious for his contrarian movie reviews he files for the alt-weekly New York Press. His list also includes unfavorable thumbs downs for Inglourious Basterds, District 9, The Wrestler, In The Loop, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince , 500 Days of Summer, Avatar, Up in the Air, The Princess and the Frog, An Education, Star Trek, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hangover, The Dark Knight, Gone Baby Gone, Iron Man, There Will Be Blood, and Zodiac. Yet, he gives films like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Jonah Hex positive reviews? Even Roger Ebert calls White “a troll.”

For the sake of substantiation, Ebert’s “troll” accusation was, in reality, a “redaction” uploaded to his blog (Roger Ebert’s Journal) on August 14, 2009, where — in lieu of a previous post — he reneged on a fervent defense of Armond White as an “intelligent critic and a passionate writer“:

On Thursday night I posted in entry in defense of Armond White’s review of “District 9.” Overnight I received reader comments causing me to rethink that entry, in particular this eye-popping link supplied by Wes Lawson. I realized I had to withdraw my overall defense of White. I was not familiar enough with his work. It is baffling to me that a critic could praise “Transformers 2” but not “Synecdoche, NY.” Or “Death Race” but not “There Will be Blood.” I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll.

Ebert and Sciretta are right, in my opinion.  Armond White is an avid contrarian.  That’s to be sure.  But his intentions also smell of masochism.  White derives widespread exposure (perhaps even pleasure) from the apoplectic e-backlash of his reviews (he seriously didn’t like Gone Baby Gone?).  It’s not just a matter of bad taste, either.

It goes beyond that.

Ostensibly, it’s about enabling the notoriety (it’s exposure, any way you cut it), one that refutes the consensus palate of the critical elite.  It is the lifeblood circulating through the New York Press’ reasoning for giving him that gnarly, Scrooge McByline (one whose very name induces tachycardia, nausea and dizziness).

Armond is arguably responsible for countless intellectual aneurysms.  His reviews share many of the lucrative characteristics that are idiosyncratic to some of Glenn Beck’s pseudo-intelligent radio-cum-television sermonettes, a series of small, right-wing manifestos that spread subliminal hate and (dare I say it) ignorance.

There is a reckless obfuscation to his craft — some of it intentional, some of it the result of bad writing.  Not that I am self-professedly the next Don DeLillo, but (to opine plainly) Armond White is a very bad writer.

Please observe exhibit A:

Hollywood and the journalism industries—both cowed by the Internet breathing down their necks—have perfected a method to curtail individual response to movies, thereby dictating widespread enthusiasm for this shallowly complicated film. To Fincher and Sorkin, Zuckerberg represents a new cultural avatar who (like other snarky Internet avengers) must be worshipped, not held to account. They inflate Zuckerberg’s story as a “creation myth” (as one lawyer calls him), the better to concede victory to a tycoon of new technology rather than apply normal social or professional standards to his hostile relations with people.

OK.  Time to dissect the frog.

How have Hollywood and journalism industries “curtailed individual response” to movies?  Is White saying that the critical elite (or the viewing masses that have helped the film gross $22.4M in sales over the opening weekend) have been brainwashed by Hollywood ad campaign executives to falsely believe that certain mainstream films are good or bad by way of systematic suggestion (a la John Carpenter’s They Live [awesome movie by the way, Roddy Piper!)?

Also: Why would Fincher and Sorkin (two of the most reputable visionaries in the film industry today) set out to transform Zuckerberg’s public image to one of idolatry?  “Held to account” for what?  Wouldn’t anyone be thoroughly underwhelmed by any billionaire’s failure to morally account for some of the cutthroat maneuvers he or she employed in his or her career to become a ridiculously successful billionaire in the first place?

And what exactly is a “shallowly complicated” film?

How is that possible?  Does this film have a secret doppelgänger?  Is the one we see on-screen complex and profound and the subliminally suggested one we see in our dreams at night shallow and pretentious?

Or, is White calling Fincher and Sorkin’s rendition of the Facebook story a glorification of money, power and women (nerd-lean instead of gangsta-lean, of course) over moral accountability, notwithstanding how true or false the accounts in Ben Mezrich‘s nonfiction novel The Accidental Billionaires (2009) — the film’s source material — are?

The answer is that we just don’t really know what he’s saying.  And that’s OK.  Trust me, it’s not going over your head.  The illusion is that it is.  It’s a smokescreen for what he really wants to do, which is to attack Fincher and Sorkin; to refute the majority opinion for the sake of what precedes him, his reputation. Don’t believe me?

Please observe exhibit B:

Particularly egregious is a Royal Regatta sequence meant to ridicule the Winklevoss lifestyle. Fincher shoots it just like a Nike commercial break. He’s an affectless director who disregards the emotional impact of every scene and situation […]

Remember, White attacked Martin Scorsese in his review of Shutter Island by calling him a hack:

Shutter Island is a perfect example of Hollywood excess: It demonstrates a oncesignificant filmmaker decaying into a bigbudget, poorly-motivated hack.

(I smile every time White takes two separate words and condescendingly stitches them together without the use of a hyphen.  Verbicidal cases in point: “oncesignificant” and “bigbudget” [Shutter Island review]; and “selfromance” [The Social Network review].  What a selfimportant prick).

Now, let’s backpedal a bit to the opening excerpt from White’s The Social Network review:

Like one of those fake-smart, middlebrow TV shows, the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality. It’s really a movie excusing Hollywood ruthlessness. That’s why it evades Zuckerberg’s background timidity and the mess that the Internet has made of cultural discourse.

For starters: There is no such thing as a “fake-smart, middlebrow TV show.”  That’s what I call a vaporous, adjectival cluster-fuck.  Please identify a TV show that fits that description (if you’re thinking of The West Wing [as White likely was], then stop reading this post).  It’s a circumventing stab, in fact, at middle-class America.

Secondly, what does this terminology mean to you?  “…the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality.” 

Speciousness as a signifier means “superficially pleasing or plausible,” inasmuch as something is deceptively meritorious.  It’s fine to opine, of course, that The Social Network is specious.

Still, what does White intend to communicate when he (in essence) writes: the superficial meritoriousness of The Social Network is “disguised by topicality”?

Here’s an attempt at a translation: “The superficial credibility of The Social Network is disguised by ‘the attribute of being of interest at the present time’.”  In other words, I believe what White is trying to say is that the superficial, faux-cleverness of The Social Network is disguised by how legitimate and timely the subject of social media (a la Facebook) is at the present time — that is to say, this day and age.  Unfortunately, that is the best I can personally do for that sentence.  (This is an age of technology and software that is speedily obviating the stubborn old-fart analysis of Luddites like White.)  Ultimately, it’s impossible to adequately decipher what he is truly communicating.  All we know is that he hates good movies, and that it improves site analytics.

Now, let’s move a bit further in the excerpt in question:

The Social Network “evades Zuckerberg’s background timidity and the mess that the Internet has made of cultural discourse.”

Your guess is as good as mine as to what White meant by the term “background timidity” (and how that even remotely applies to Zuckerberg as both a character in the film, and as the real person).  Lastly, how the Internet is the sole culprit responsible for the mess of “cultural discourse” is beyond me.  I would suppose that any film, good or bad, perpetuates some form of cultural discourse (just as any social networking site might), but how such a vague idea applies to a review of a film about Facebook, or how cultural discourse (in whatever context that this term is meant to be sandwiched in) can be marred (in some way) by the Internet, is an intellectual crap shoot.  I’m absolutely astounded by how untamed White’s solipsism actually is.

So, I reckon you’ve had enough of bad, discombobulated writing (my penchant for verbosity included).  Here is an incisive breath of fresh air from James Berardinelli’s review of The Social Network (perhaps my default, go-to movie reviewer amidst the pick of the elite):

Much will be written about whether The Social Network is unfair to the real Mark Zuckerberg, but that seems to me to be a red herring. This is a narrative feature based on a true story, not a documentary, so expectations of real-world veracity should be taken with a grain of salt. The character of Mark Zuckerberg as represented by Sorkin and Fincher is fascinating and his journey is compelling, involving as it does so many aspects of the electronic era human experience: friendship, obsession, big ideas, betrayal, and lots of money.

[Featured image from 10 Zen Monkeys]

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  • Reply 2010 in review « In Harsh Light January 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    […] Armond White gives The Social Network a negative review: surprise surprise October 2010 3 […]

  • Reply Pablo Podhorzer February 17, 2011 at 5:54 am

    No, he does not rape films. Most of the American internet fan-boys (“amateur critics”) are so blind and inside their really close-minded mainstream milieu (yep, not enough good in English myself), that fail to recognize when they are manipulated. TSN is an auto-celebration of the Masters of the Universe, disregarding all the rest of human kind. In fact, it is objectivism, it is the new version of Ayn Rand. Think about it, Zuckerberg in this film is a slightly unlikable John Galt.

    I like Pixar myself, but TS 3 is already oo much. Sugar and more sugar, enough is enough. The point was already made in TS 2, so why another sequel? Some elements in Pixar are far from perfect. Granted, it is better than Dreamworks, but Pixar is more and more producing commercial and superficial films. If they continue like this, they will finish doing Cars-3-direct-to-Netflix-Streaming in no time.

    Armond White is a critic with ideas to be taken seriously, he looks outside the short-term bubble of newspaper and internet fan-boyism. He looks at movies related to the history of cinema, of all other movies. What he said about TSN,and about “The Lesbians Are Ok, I guess, at least they can sleep with men also” is not false. Their sitcommy character and their non-threatening stance hurt cinema. Make a comparison with the significant Hollywood films of the 1970s.We live indeed in obscure times.

    • Reply Richard Sanchez February 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm

      Pablo, thanks for your comments, a very interesting perspective that I hadn’t considered, and I respect your opinion a great deal (very well thought out, I felt).

      I think it boils down to a matter of idiosyncratic or individual taste, honestly, and whose analysis we more often-than-not find value and synaptic nutrition in. As we know inherently, that differs substantially from person to person.

      Still, even despite my upchuck-reflex dislike of Mr. White and the spiky comments he’s made in relation to Roger Ebert (whom I personally respect), David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Darren Aronofsky and his recent film (Black Swan), I simply do not fall in line with his views or taste in films. If you do, that’s cool. Personally, it’s not my cup of tea. Thank God for varying brands of tea and coffee!

      I’ve embedded the following quote in a previous post, but in case my readers haven’t seen it yet, observe what he said about Roger Ebert in a recent interview he had with /Film (

      “I do think it is fair to say that Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism. Because of the wide and far reach of television, he became an example of what a film critic does for too many people. And what he did simply was not criticism. It was simply blather. And it was a kind of purposefully dishonest enthusiasm for product, not real criticism at all…I think he does NOT have the training. I think he simply had the position. I think he does NOT have the training. I’VE got the training. And frankly, I don’t care how that sounds, but the fact is, I’ve got the training. I’m a pedigreed film critic. I’ve studied it. I know it. And I know many other people who’ve studied it as well, studied it seriously. Ebert just simply happened to have the job. And he’s had the job for a long time. He does not have the foundation. He simply got the job. And if you’ve ever seen any of his shows, and ever watched his shows on at least a two-week basis, then you surely saw how he would review, let’s say, eight movies a week and every week liked probably six of them. And that is just simply inherently dishonest. That’s what’s called being a shill. And it’s a tragic thing that that became the example of what a film critic does for too many people. Often he wasn’t practicing criticism at all. Often he would point out gaffes or mistakes in continuity. That’s not criticism. That’s really a pea-brained kind of fan gibberish.”

      Here, White adheres to a persuasive perspective, that is, the death of pedigreed film criticism in the face of countless self-anointed Internet-critics and TV-industry-reared film “gurus” who haven’t had the “training” to analyze films. And he has a point. In this fast-paced Internet-driven era (where information travels faster than the speed of a sent email with no attachments), we have to be wary about the intellectual state of critical analysis in the context of art. Otherwise, we face a culture of chronic misinformation. One loosely related example would be an individual that’s replaced the use of his collection of published, scholarly encyclopedias with Wikipedia. Oftentimes, bloggers fancy themselves thoroughbred film critics, music critics, tech pundits, or critics of society in general — without having the education or training for it. In this Internet Age, that is very dangerous.

      Despite those assertions, of course, White also (from my personal purview) succumbs to insulting and berating Ebert in what (at its common denominator) resembles a tirade (almost as a vendetta against the success of Ebert’s career that he finds appalling rather than a sound critique of the man’s qualifications and knowledge of film).

      Then he goes on to praise himself as a pedigreed god of film criticism.

      It’s rather masturbatory.

      That’s just not someone I can respect or support, film history scholar or not. Armond White doesn’t care to suppress that he’s abrasive (i.e., ” it was a kind of purposefully dishonest enthusiasm for product, not real criticism at all…I think he does NOT have the training. I think he simply had the position. I think he does NOT have the training. I’VE got the training. And frankly, I don’t care how that sounds, but the fact is, I’ve got the training. I’m a pedigreed film critic.”), but that doesn’t make it alright.

      I think he’s uber intelligent (a lot more so than myself, obviously), but I don’t share his taste in films.

      Moreover, I don’t feel that Armond’s penchant for going against the “status quo” or popular opinion in relation to any film under meta-critical scrutiny (e.g., qualifies him as an important iconoclast, especially one of Ayn Rand proportions whose John Galt was an idealistic counterpoise to the presently accepted socio-economical order. He, oftentimes, to me, only comes across as a scrooge. An “angry” person with something to prove; when he doesn’t need to prove anything at all. We know that he’s had the training, that he’s Uber educated.

      I don’t know that I’m an “Internet fanboy”, either (if you meant to include me into that camp, that is), or even a big fan of the “mainstream” (if anyone knows me personally, they’d know I’m quite the antithesis of anything overtly saccharine or designed by a committee of studio execs looking for the next big-ticket summer/winter blockbuster) — even notwithstanding my love of nostalgia-laden popular culture or pulp fiction [I am a nerd, after all]). Neither would I label myself as a critic (music or film), because if I earnestly tried my hand at reviewing films and music albums on this site, then yes, I’d be a dilettantish one. No doubt. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed an album or a film on this blog that I disliked, actually, which as a critic makes me a total fraud (brain laughing 🙂 ). I’m not a film critic … I’m more of an artist who has a lot of trouble understanding the efficacy of art criticism to be anything other than the utility or society’s need of a critical elite appointed by intellectuals to uplift or banish a work of art for its weighed strengths and weaknesses, measuring it with a certain number of stars out of 4 or 5, a “grade” (A+, A-, B-, B+), or a scale between 1 and 10. Art is so subjective … one man’s treasure is another man’s trash.

      Not that I have a general disdain for art criticism (as I do think it has a necessary place in our culture to force people to think outside the box of their workaday-cum-automaton lives). I oftentimes feel the need to criticize something on my blog.

      Nevertheless, I do feel that there is a pervasive sense of acrimony and malice in Armond’s reviews that are extraneous, which (specifically) go beyond sound critical analysis (which he is clearly capable of) and into a more poisonous and often childish level of insolence fraught with wry insults that masquerade behind the subterfuge of his self-touted education; and designedly-provocative style of writing. He often insults artists directly, in fact, in his reviews.

      Don’t get me wrong. I do respect his experience, his high education, and profound knowledge of film history (and thus his opinion); I don’t trust (to the least bit), however, his instincts when it comes to distinguishing a good film from a bad one. It’s simply a matter of opinion, not one of absolute knowledge, of course.

      If Armond considers Toy Story 3 an inane celebration of consumerism, then it baffles me to think that he’d praise Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, admiring it for its “visual style” (which, personally, was headache-inducing) — to me, it was a noisy, formulaic extension of a franchise that’s solely meant to coax box-office ticket sales from hardcore Transformers fans and sugar-overdosed teenagers looking for the next special effects extravaganza. To me, that sounds a lot like consumerism.

      At least with Toy Story 3, there was a clear narrative and editing philosophy that I could follow, and what I interpreted to be a satisfying and heartfelt, sincere experience (it was even nominated by the Academy, I think).

      And … he hated Black Swan. OK, cool. You don’t have to like Black Swan (personally, I thought it was brilliant). Now if he could just not insult Aronofsky in his review of it.

      It’s worth reiterating that I, by no means, feel my stance on the matter is “truth.” Just my opinion, which is worth 2 cents, at most. Sometimes I’ll love a film that a lot of reviewers hate, sometimes I’ll love a film that most reviewers praise. It’s all so scattershot and subjective to me that I can’t bother with measuring myself against the status quo, or whether or not I meet the criterion points of a fanboy. I’m just me.

    • Reply Mario A. Munoz February 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm

      I don’t doubt that Mr White has a perspective which he feels is justified, but that should not negate the perspectives offered by other learned and respected individuals. Does it stand to reason that he is one of the only ones able to see with eyes unclouded of bias and consumer posturing? What is the need of criticism in the first place?

      Who determines if a film has or does not have artistic merit? Is it based solely on the response of the viewer? Is it based on what themes are established and how original they seem? Is it based on how the film builds upon a narrative established by Hollywood in the last 10, 20, 50 years? If there were a way to examine film in a phenomenological approach, seeing how it resonates within an individual, would we be any closer to finding artistic merit?

      I tend to go back and forth on this point. Art is indubitably tied with the culture that surrounds it. The success of The Social Network or Toy Story 3 does not happen in a vacuum. Some feel that it is a result of cultural and commercial posturing, and they are free to see it that way. Others feel that there are other ways of measuring the artistic merit of a film (I offered some points of view in my own commentary on The Social Network–albeit I am not a trained film critic of any sort, but does that invalidate my opinion?)

      The real question that remains about Mr White is whether he purposefully goes against the grain as an affront to mainstream critical media. It would seem that way based on his track record. Of course, nothing can be proven, and he defends himself and his craft, and he has the right to do that. But I think it would also be a mistake not to question his delivery when it seems so vastly disconnected with, not only the critical masses, but the cultural ones as well (for the most part). Could it be argued that There Will Be Blood is not a good movie? Sure. But you’d have a hard time convincing me.

      But what do I know, I’m just an Internet fanboy.

      • Reply Lindsey Bucklew February 17, 2011 at 6:07 pm

        Not having seen The Social Network, TS 3, or Transformers for that matter, I can’t personally speak to White’s views of those films (though seeing only the preview of Transformers was enough to give me a headache). But reading his review of Black Swan revolted me…I can understand “not liking” the film because watching it is an extremely intense experience- but it seems impossible to dismiss the poignantly portrayed entropy of an over-achiever at the zenith of her career…But then again, he perhaps fails to connect with a Paranoiac’s warfare with self: he simply wages war with films that many other people esteem.

  • Reply ss9 February 17, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    pablo, fuck you and the horse you rode in on… the horse (ass), of course, being armond white.

    • Reply Pablo May 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion ss9. “Black Swan” was fun to watch, as kind of a student film. Now that I think about it, it seems that since “Pi” (probably his best) the guy is making student projects one after the other, with a lot of angst. Not unlike Gus Van Sant. At least Wheddon gives me pleasure with the teenage angst.

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