The Social Network and the White Stripes

Scenes & Songs is a feature focused on the intersection of music and film, or in this case, TV. Each installment intends to examine movies and shows that involve significant musical subject content, distinct soundtracks, or maybe even just an excellent song used for a specific scene. View all

Scenes & Songs is a feature focused on the intersection of music and film. Each installment intends to examine movies that involve significant musical subject content and/or distinct soundtracks, or maybe even just an excellent song used for a specific scene.

Last week, I watched The Social Network. It was very good. While the general focus on music in the film has (rightfully) been on Trent Reznor's score, this post is about the movie's excellent opening scene and the song playing during it: "Ball and Biscuit" by the White Stripes.


Yes, it quickly recedes into the background to minimize any distractions from the rapid-fire, masterfully crafted and even better executed dialogue, but "Ball and Biscuit" is an inspired choice nonetheless. The Social Network is and will continue to be important for exploring one of the pivotal events of a generation, for as crazy as it sounds, Facebook is a defining moment of the 2000s and likely for our lifetimes. It is the most emblematic representation of one of the most significant aspects of present day society: ever-evolving technology and the resultant changes in interaction, connectivity, business, and forms of self-expression.

Trying to capture something as broad and sweeping as the spirit of the times is often done most successfully through the small details, which brings us back to "Ball and Biscuit." Musically, a cut from Elephant by the White Stripes is as good a choice as any to evoke 2003 when Facebook was born. This is particularly true for a story set at a college. I know from personal experience (I started college in the fall of 2003) that the White Stripes were a favorite of many students then.

Besides being a signifier of the zeitgeist, I think the song itself connects to the narrative of the film. In The Social Network, we learn that so much of what drives Mark Zuckerberg the character is the need to be dominant and prove he not only belongs, but is the best. He is clearly smart but has a lot of self-doubts from not being rich or popular. This duality makes him such a fascinating character. And all of this is tied to how he feels about women. He perceives success will impress them, and in turn, validate him.

The White Stripes – Ball and Biscuit

I think "Ball and Biscuit" hits this struggle right on. There is something undeniably powerful and masculine to the sounds of the blues riff, the explosive guitar solos, and Jack White's voice. Listening closely though, the words seem to belie the fact that the narrator's ability and potential (as a lover) are not completely reciprocated by the female he addresses. He clearly has some swagger, but certain phrases and the repetition of them give the idea that he may be trying to convince her, and maybe himself too.

Much like Mark, the narrator conveys a strange mix of confidence and desperation. I think you can read some of the lyrics as Mark in a nutshell. Being the third man and the seventh son could reference how Mark views himself as an outsider. When he says Erica slept with the doorman, it seems less about the truth and more about the fact that she even knows other guys – or that Mark's her third man, figuratively speaking. The seventh son gets more at circumstances of birth, circumstances beyond one's control, that made him at least a little less accomplished than members of Harvard's more illustrious families, like the Winklevosses (or Winklevii, if you prefer). Thus Mark obsesses about final clubs and condescends on Erica's Boston University education. I think Mark's drive to impress Erica is summed up by the line, "Right now you could care less about me, but soon enough you will care," especially considering the film's last scene. Finally, "Read it in a newspaper, ask your girlfriends and see if they know," almost exactly foreshadows elements of two later scenes.

Of course, the song has its own meanings independent of the film, and I am probably reading more into the lyrics and their ties to Mark than anyone involved in making the film would have intended. However, I do think it is a great pairing and it does bring a new dimension to viewing The Social Network and listening to the White Stripes. I dig that. Let me know what you think. Regardless, I highly recommend this film, and it can't hurt to revisit Elephant and the rest of the White Stripes' catalog either.