Alex Steer writes:
Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?
That’s the first line of The Social Network, one of two hotly-tipped films fighting it out for the Best Picture award at tonight’s Oscars, and it’s about change. I am writing this before the show begins, so before the post-match analysis begins (although by the time this is posted you will know the winners), here’s a thought about the two Best Picture frontrunners.
The other is The King’s Speech, and on the surface it couldn’t begin more differently. It starts with a radio announcement:
Good afternoon. This is the BBC National Programme and Empire Services taking you to Wembley Stadium for the Closing Ceremony of the Second and Final Season of the Empire Exhibition.
The Social Network begins with a look forward: a driver of change shaping the balance of power, pointing towards an uncertain future. The King’s Speech seems to offer us a look back to the reassuring institutions, technologies and fashions of the past. It’s been a criticism of the big movies of the last few years (as of contemporary fiction and science fiction) that it is focused on the rear view, and is losing a sense of the future. Is The King’s Speech part of that backward tendency?
I don’t think so. Look again at that opening line. A closing ceremony, a final season, a fading empire. The King’s Speech, like The Social Network, begins with change. The film’s entire premise is based on the struggles of two men (King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue) to defend an ancient institution – Britain and the crown – against threatening forces of change. As in the most interesting and uncertain futures, the challenges are several: the abdication of Edward VIII, the rise of Hitler, the dawn of the era of mass radio communication, the declaration of war.
The Social Network is a story not of resilience but of disruption. Its creation mythology for Facebook involves a group of outsiders finding a way to beat the conventions of an elite social institution, the Harvard Final Clubs, through sheer ingenuity. In doing so they create a phenomenon that disrupts and reconfigures the social connections between people across the world.
So both this year’s frontrunners are films about finding new ways to communicate in times of disruptive change: one about a leader challenging itself, another about a challenger taking the lead. Whichever takes the statue (and by the time you read this, you’ll probably know), both reflect widespread mixed feelings of uncertainty and opportunity, and both have lessons for organizations, brands or individuals wondering how to take control of their futures.