In Tumblr’s alternative canon, ‘The Social Network’ is a gay love story

Dec. 8, 2022, 11:04 p.m.

“I take off my hands and I give them to you but you don’t want them, so I take them back and put them on the wrong way, the wrong wrists.”

“Yes yes yes I do like you. I am afraid to write the stronger work.”

“I’ll take care of you. It’s rotten work. Not to me. Not if it’s you.”

“It’s a summer day, and I want to be wanted more than anything else in the world.”

The above lines (from Richard Siken, Virginia Woolf, Euripides and Frank O’Hara, respectively) are some of the quintessential quotes of “web-weaving,” a sub-genre of posts popular on the social media website Tumblr. Web-weaving essentially consists of compiling a wide range of media — including film stills, song lyrics, poem excerpts and paintings — and coalescing them under one theme to create an immersive experience of a given emotion. For example, a web-weaving post might be themed broadly around urban loneliness and include stills from “Midnight Cowboy,” Edward Hopper paintings or poetry from Franz Wright.

One quality to note about web-weaving is that it is identifiable with the queer community, often because most of the artists or artworks referenced — Richard Siken, Mary Oliver, “Moonlight,” Frank O’Hara, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” James Baldwin, “Angels in America” and Oscar Wilde, among others — are queer. Most practitioners of web-weaving (often Tumblr users with usernames such as tenderoranges, farmgf and houndsoflove1985) are themselves queer too.

Web-weaving has grown to develop its own alternative queer canon. While many works in the unofficial web-weaving canon are explicitly queer, there are some that come as unexpected curveballs.

While “The Social Network” is ostensibly a film about the founding of Facebook, it is one of the most revered pieces in the world of web-weaving, where it is known as the heartbreaking love story between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. When stills from the film are woven with quotes from “Angels in America,” Saverin’s intense longing for Zuckerberg suddenly comes to the fore, and it’s almost impossible to ignore Saverin’s unwavering loyalty to Zuckerberg and his pain at Zuckerberg’s eventual betrayal.

In this post, queer works such as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Moonlight,” Virginia Woolf’s letters to Vita Sackville-West and Richard Siken’s poetry are woven alongside other works, such as Pablo Neruda’s poetry. Stills from “The Social Network” are incorporated to create a cohesive interpretation of the theme, which is captioned as, “I’m sorry that I love you like this.”

Succession,” the popular HBO drama about a New York media and entertainment conglomerate, has also been interpreted to include a queer love story, this time between Tom and Cousin Greg. The line “See if you can wrestle me into the ground, Greg” is often accompanied by song lyrics from “Man to Man,” by Dorian Electra.

“Hannibal,” the NBC drama about a cannibalistic serial killer, has been read as queer too for reasons I can’t even fully articulate yet.

Ultimately, web-weaving is fundamentally about desire: whether desire emerges in explosive outbursts or lingers in long, subtle glances, every action is about desire or reshaped into desire. When Eduardo Saverin smashes Mark Zuckerberg’s laptop into pieces, it’s about desire. When Nick Carraway devotes passages and passages to Jay Gatsby, it’s about desire. And when Richard Siken begins a poem with “You’re in a car with a beautiful boy,” you know what will follow will be about desire.

Part of the impulse to search for desire might come from the historical tradition of excavating queerness in coded works, where desire is often kept under layers. In a way, web-weaving does a certain fascinating sociological work of finding queer voices throughout history and linking them to contemporary media. In particular, it also reinterprets historical works that weren’t previously considered queer and emphasizes the hidden queer content within. It’s a type of excavation especially well-suited for the internet age, when queer media is much more accessible than it has ever been and social media sites provide more tools for sharing these types of connections.

Whatever you obsess over, whatever you find yourself circling around over and over again, often just points toward what you need to say. A search for expressions of love, longing, queerness and desire is nothing new; web-weaving simply carries this tradition online.

Lydia Wei '24 is an Arts and Life columnist for the Daily. She loves blackberries. Contact Lydia at lydiawei 'at' stanford.edu

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