Secretariat + Social Network: Wondering What’s Real

Last week, I watched two films based on “true” stories about two extraordinary historical events (where opportunities for leadership abound). One is about a horse and a woman. One is about a young male and his brain. One story is finished. The other is just beginning. Of course, I’m talking about Secretariat and Social Network.

Being a horse fanatic, I remember being glued to the TV watching Secretariat handily win the 1973 Triple Crown. Others have won the Triple Crown since, but no one has broken his record. I’ve never seen a horse like him, can’t say that I ever will again. I was too young to know back then the powerful back story of his breeder and owner Penny Chenery Tweedy. The film took a few dramatic licenses yet was a beautifully told tale about a what I call a “break-out” woman, ahead of her time.

Since the now 88-year old Mrs. Tweedy appears in a cameo shot, one can assume she was comfortable with the film’s homage to the great animal. Rumor is that Diane Lane, the actress who portrays Secretariat’s champion, may be nominated for an Academy Award. (Personally, I think the costume designer should get a shot, both for Ladd’s costumes which so characteristic of a well-bred horse woman of the 70ies  and for the costumes of Secretariat’s trainer Lucian Lauren …. played by John Malkovitch in the coolest more ridiculous outfits you’ve ever seen.)

The next day, I watched, riveted to the Facebook story. Some say the spirit of Social Network is accurate. Others beg to differ. Controversy abounds on this one. Regardless of one’s point of view, Social Network is virtuoso film making.  It offers insight into a completely different kind of brillance, leadership, or lack thereof.

Of course, none of us were there when the very personal events of the film unfolded….. On the other hand, I have been around more than a few VC’s and watched the inner workings of more than a few high technology companies, the culture, the rhythm of speech, the arrogance, and the challenges of birthing something possibly new. It’s not easy. This real world is not black and white from any perspective, only shades of mud and cream that occasionally turn to green. I have to report that the spirit I saw in Social Network echoes the reality I’ve experienced. As for whether the brilliant Mr. Zukerberg, Facebook’s founder and the main character in the film, is or isn’t the characterless  boy in adult’s clothing that he is portrayed, I have no genuine way of knowing. I certainly hope not.

Watching these two compelling yet different stories, I see two different cultures played out. One, the completed story, shares a tale of  lives positively impacted by persons of strong character taking calculated risks, informed by intense amounts of love, and possessing a great deal of courage. We can look and with hindsight be certain: Secretariat inspires.

On the other hand, who and what Mark Zuckerberg will one day become in light of what he is, that is, to me, the far more interesting question than any posed by the drama ofSocial Network. A genius in progress who changed the world for the better? Let’s hope. There remains much to unfold from this young life.