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« In Which The Properties Of Liquid Shrimp Are Notable At Best »

Vikings of Our Day


Silicon Valley
creators Mike Judge, Dave Krinsky & John Altschuler

In HBO's Silicon Valley, the tech industry is a lot like Rome before the fall. As unassuming techies gain millions by selling apps to Google, the pilot episode leads us through a world of monster parties held in cavernous mansions and filled with awkward people. In one courtyard, a baffled Kid Rock plays to largely unmoving crowd of coders whilst, in another, strangely bearded men hypothesise on whether the properties of liquid shrimp, for $200 a quart, are consistent with ejaculate.

Palo Alto is like Rome, then, but largely without the hedonism. At the heart of Silicon Valley are four programmers, Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Big Head (Josh Brener), Bertram (Martin Starr), and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), who are archetypal computer nerds living and working in a tech “incubator” and hoping to create the newest, weirdest app to finally make it big.

Indeed, the “incubator” is largely a frat house for nerds whose residents write apps like Nip Alert which provides the nearest location of a woman with erect nipples. Unlike fraternities, however, this bravado doesn’t quite fit – Richard and his co-workers are clearly the tiniest fish learning how to swim with the sharks. By day, they surf dating websites specialising in Asperger’s and by night, when a stripper calls round at the house, they scatter like lightening offering excuses that range from “I need to make a playlist” to “I’ve overcooked some water.”

These are awkward men, then, distinguished by their “somewhat ghostly features,” who are reluctant colleagues and only sometimes friends. Importantly, and perhaps most interestingly too, they are poised at the very beginning of something huge, living together out of necessity as technophiles flock to Palo Alto and raise rents way beyond the programmer’s living wage.

Show runner Mike Judge, best known for creating Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, and the near canonical Office Space, is committed to documenting the pitfalls of the programming Gold Rush. After Judge graduated from UCSD in 1987, he moved to the area of Northern California already known as Silicon Valley and began work at a start-up video card company. Quitting after just three months, Judge is vocal about how much he hated his time there, likening the company’s culture, his colleagues, and their ethos to the Stepford Wives.

Twenty years on and in Silicon Valley the platitudes of the Steve Jobs generation have gone into overdrive. One fictional tech company, Hooli, regularly baits its employees with slogans and banners as Judge artfully shows how these institutional platitudes seep into the culture.

Early in the pilot, Richard attends a terrifyingly accurate TED talk in which a venture capitalist rails against the prescriptive learning of the education system. “The true value of a college education is intangible,” a detractor yells back. “The true value of snake oil is intangible as well,” he replies, receiving a witless and congratulatory laugh from the audience. In the new tech world order, every batshit concept has its own inspirational platform which largely goes unchecked.

It is Richard, however, who is the heart of the show as he designs a website called Pied Piper which helps artists identify copyright infringement. This idea seems laughable to many of Richard’s rivals: as one colleague mutters, nobody on the Internet cares about stealing anymore. However, whilst making fun of Pied Piper, a group of engineers realise that Richard has developed a compression algorithm that has the potential to make whoever refines it a billionaire.

The repercussions of the technology are endless, they venture, and Richard is forced to make a choice which, from the way his body reacts, could be the first of his life: should he sell his algorithm and buy a lifetime of liquid shrimp or should he accept a smaller sum from a company willing to let him be CEO of his own venture?

By the end of the pilot Richard is suddenly leading his own company. This decision sets up the rest of the series and the anticipated takedown of the Silicon Valley mentality which will presumably rob Richard and his friends of their ethics one by one. The decision to strike out alone also sets up the dilemma of aspiration that must be the show’s main focus. “For thousands of years,” the programmers mourn, “guys like us have gotten the shit kicked out of us. But now, for the first time, we are living in an era where we can be in charge and build empires. We could be the Vikings of our day.”

Judge knows, however, that the revenge of the skinny white man is not a concept that can run and run. Through his knowing takedown of the TED industry, his send up of the charitable projects and “spiritual” gurus guiding many of today’s CEOs, Silicon Valley represents the absurdities driving the innovations of the modern age and, in its opening episodes, shows the potential to grow into a large scale interrogation of big business, “ethical” living, and the inferiority complex driving the surprising successes of the geeky white male.

Rachel Sykes is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Nottingham. She last wrote in these pages about Hannibal. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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Ramazan 2015
May 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRamadan 2015

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