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The Persecution of the Winklevii: On Vanity Fair’s Profile of the Winklevoss Twins, And Why It’s Okay to Empathize With Them

tyler cameron winklevoss 300x300 The Persecution of the Winklevii: On Vanity Fairs Profile of the Winklevoss Twins, And Why Its Okay to Empathize With Them

Sympathy for the (Kinda) Blue-Blooded Devils: Should you feel bad for the Winklevoss Twins?

Today, Vanity Fair unleashed a profile of Facebook’s would-be founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, written by novelist, former I-Banker, and (full disclosure) Observer freelancer Dana Vachon. It’s nothing short of wonderful, and as all narratives that cast the Winklevii in even the most marginal of sympathetic lights, oddly disconcerting.

Because for all intents and purposes, you’re not supposed to feel bad for the Winklevoss Twins, right?

Here we have two tall, bronzed Adonis-like athletes who come from a great family/genetic pool, have expensive educations, and as we all know by now, the $60M they got for ostensibly not inventing something they didn’t invent, which has yet to satisfy them in any palpable way. Because as we also know by now: they have not stopped battling for justice, and for money, and for the sin that transpired between them and Mark Zuckerberg—who once promised over IM that he’d “fuck” the Winklevoss Twins “in the ear”—and The Twins.

And yet: you can. How?

1. Amanda Winklevoss. You know who gets a bunch of press? Randi Zuckerberg, the Tequila-shootin’, showtune-singin’ sister of Mark, who basically put up with her as long as he possibly could at Facebook before she went off to start her own marketing business, which was before a New York Times profile that made her look totally inept at marketing, was released. Has there ever been a less-deserving recipient of one of the highest accomplishments in the history of nepotism? Let’s answer that for you: Maybe, but she’s definitely up there.

Meanwhile, throughout all of the Winklevii’s press blitzing—even when they’re doing it to us—there’s one person you’ve never heard about: their sister, who died at the age of 23 on a movie set after going into cardiac arrest in 2002.

Amanda had just made a documentary on 9/11, said the piece, and had hoped to introduce herself to filmmakers. It had been raining heavily, and friends in her company who saw her reach for a cable as she fell speculated that she may have been electrocuted. Others who knew her “vehemently slammed” police reports that the death was drug-related. But Cameron and Tyler told me that their sister began suffering from depression when she was 20, and like many she found escape in drug use, which, on that June night, resulted in a cocaine overdose and cardiac arrest. “When you have a lot of talent you don’t necessarily have to be gracious and consider everyone,” said Tyler. “She’d go into a room and treat everyone the same. It’s rare you see that.”

“We’ve outlived her by almost a dec­ade,” said Cameron. “But I always view her as older. I still find myself thinking, What would Amanda think about this? Throwing a question up against this mental image . . . ”

Is it a sob story? Sure. But is it a real one, and one that they don’t trot out or exploit for sympathy nearly as much as one who assumes the worst about these two would be prone to thinking they do? It is, on all counts. If the inclusion of the story here seems to void that, we’d argue to the contrary: it sheds light on a part of them that probably could’ve been to put to better, craven purposes of publicity long ago that wasn’t. Consider that.

2. The Winklevii Character Bias. Yeah, yeah: we’ve heard it, too. The Vanity Fair profile covers the Winklevii claim that their family isn’t one with Old Money Blue Blood cash, that they’re only one generation removed from family wealth, etc. But everyone with a brain and a set of eyes knows otherwise: these guys have it good. Genetics, great family, great education, great life, and if the worst things about their life are that they’re maligned out of a few zeroes and the claim to having invented Facebook, the Winklevoss Existence still isn’t that terrible. This is commonly accepted and totally fair, as an assessment.

But from the perspective of a Winklevoss—something nobody bothers to take, because why the hell would you?—that’s an unfair profiling in and of itself, a point they’re not immune to but also, have yet to spell out explicitly for fear of (fairly) being lynched in the press. They are, however, savvy enough to illustrate for Vachon, as their car is profiled for searching by Mexican border guards:

“Scrutinizing our actions, not what we look like and the fact that we’re Americans,” Tyler added. “If they were waving us through despite that we made this mistake, that’s a problem. I’m upset about that.”
“I’m totally O.K. doing this,” said Cameron. “We deserve this.”
“I guess what I’m saying,” Tyler continued, “is the process to become a customs officer must be rational and logical and devoid of ignorance because Mexicans guarding this line with Mexican surnames and allowing or disallowing guys who have American passports would not be possible if the same type of attitude that we’ve faced from judges were applied. These guys would be knocked out because of the way they look or because of a movie or something.
“That’s the irony here.”
“Do you think they’re recording every conversation?” wondered Cameron.
“Probably,” Tyler said, like he actually didn’t think so but didn’t feel like going into it.
“Like, do you think that they’re recording this conversation right now?”
“Probably,” said Tyler. “And so this is the large problem: that nobody’s talking about actions. Everybody’s talking—dwelling—about the kinda guys involved.”
“‘What do they look like?’ ” asked Cameron, of himself and Tyler. “‘Square-jawed.’ Like, ‘Where did they go to school?’ ‘Where are they from?’”
“The spotlight’s on the aggrieved party.”
“Life . . . ” Cameron sighed.
“And you can go to, like, airport security?” interrupted Tyler. “People who are Muslim should be allowed to be security guards—right? There’s a difference between being a fundamentalist and being al-Qaeda and being Muslim. It’s absurd to think otherwise. But certain people have not even reached that standard of thinking with regards to us.”
“I think I got a lot of color today,” said Cameron.
“We rowed and there was a lot of sun,” said Tyler.

Yes, they still sound like very fortunate idiots. But they’re very fortunate, idiot-sounding people with a point.

3. The Winklevii Narrative. Aaron Sorkin—who wrote the screenplay for The Social Network—gets quoted in the Vachon profile to characterize his view of them as characters. This is the man who created the image of these two people that will likely be seen more than any other:

“I’ve had plenty of people ask me why the Winklevosses can’t just be happy with $65 million and move on,” says Aaron Sorkin, who in writing The Social Network all but created the Winklevii in the mass-mind. “I know they’ve seen the I.M.’s Mark wrote while he was building the site that say, ‘I’m going to fuck the Winklevosses in the ear.’ These guys were built to win—they’re not just gonna ‘move on.’ They’re not going to see that the game’s over and Mark won in a rout.”

They’re painted as characters whose nature indelibly programmed them to proceed against Facebook relentlessly, regardless of whatever the reality of the Facebook situation is. Whether or not Sorkin’s take is the correct one or not—and much of the thrust of Vachon’s profile considers this—it’s the one most people hold to be true: These guys just can’t give up. They are cast as the interchangeable antagonists (literally, as they’re played by one actor) to the film’s protagonist, who is a sniveling little dick who prides himself on being such.

And yet: the story is inherently positioned to root for Zuckerberg, because he gets away with something. In this light, The Social Network looks more like a heist movie—and the Winklevoss like the heist movie villains, those being stolen from—than any other genre. Of course, in any heist movie, the law is skirted, and the powers that be are overwhelmed by achievement on a heroic level. But at the end of the day—in Ocean’s Eleven, for example—they’re still thieves. Likable thieves, and good guys, but thieves. Sympathy for those being stolen from never occurs to the audience, and shouldn’t; it makes a more difficult, murky story to tell. And yet, this is how they’re known to the world at large, now. From the Vanity Fair profile, as the twins sit in a bar with Vachon in Tijauana:

“Are you the twins?” he asked of the identical creatures before him.
“Which twins?”
“From the movie! Are you for real? Or are you the actors?”
They denied it, absurdly. “Yeah, you’re the fucking twins,” said Felipe, studying their faces, then pulled off his cigarette like a student of smoking in film.
“That’ll kill you,” said Tyler.
“Everything will fucking kill you,” said Felipe.
“Who is your favorite character from The Social Network?” asked Cameron. “Who do you like the best?”
“The No. 1 character is definitely the guy who played them, right?” said the young man, unhelpfully. “He was a baller ’cause he’s a millionaire now—he’s the owner.”
“Do you think that’s the most important thing?”
“He fucked a lot of people up, right?”
“What do you think of the people he fucked up?”
“If I was them?”
“What would you have done?”
“I would fuck him up.”
“If he was in Tijuana, if he was here, what would you do?”
“Man . . . ” Felipe fathomed the dark enormity of his experience. “Here is crazy, Dog.”
“Crazy thought?” misheard Tyler.
“Crazy, Dog,” Cameron corrected him.
“But in a perfect world,” asked Tyler, “how would you fix it?”
“In a perfect world?” said Felipe. “There is no perfect world.”

There certainly isn’t.

Read the rest of Vachon’s profile at Vanity Fair.

fkamer@observer.com | @weareyourfek

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