Silicon Valley promises a peek into one of the great mysteries of American life: the day-to-day realities of surviving in a techie nirvana. Everyone knows superstars like Steve Jobs, but surprisingly it has taken a while to get a look at the worker bees, the grinders, the smartest hackers around except for all the other hackers. And it looks like King of the Hill‘s Mike Judge has figured out a way to do it as critics are raving and locals are saying it gets it right. Well, then there is Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, but he will come later.
Discounting 1999’s Pirates of Silicon Valley, staring Anthony Michael Hall as Bill Gates and Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs, and the recent attempt at a movie about Steve Jobs- Jobs– with Ashton Kutcher, nobody has attempted to show meat and potatoes hackers. War Games is arguably one of the first attempts, although Matthew Broderick gets the girl, so its realism should not go unchallenged. Creator Mike Judge has fortunately had experience as an engineer in the Valley in the late 1980’s, so if anyone seems qualified to say how it goes, it could be him.
An interesting observation about Silicon Valley itself: as it keeps growing more successful and more powerful, Hollywood will, and already has, begun following its stories of success and failure. Geeks and techies will have to stop being stock characters, hacking the ever hack-able government mainframes as easily as booting up a pirated copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops, and will be given personalities and then real motivations. When in the end of a movie the hero is making billions and starting companies to build the Matrix or go into space, or whatever, there are stories to be told. It has already begun with The Social Network, the ultimate rags to riches fantasy, if you consider dropping out Harvard starting at the bottom of the ladder. Critics raved and audiences ate it up. It was that first taste of the new and fantastic land, this Silicon Valley, where all the iPhones come from. China? Never heard of it.
What The Social Network, Jobs, and Pirates of Silicon Valley lacks are relatable characters. The men in these movies might as well be demi-gods with unfathomable powers and the know-how to claw and scratch over the best minds in the world, sitting on money to make anything happen and, in terms of accumulation, doing it in the blink of an eye. Silicon Valley‘s characters are at least people plugging away, never knowing if they can match the success of others around them, never knowing if they are truly secure. These are characters the country can relate to, even if no one outside of techie nirvana really understands what they do for a living.
Elon Musk does not know who these people are, and it bothers him. The creator of Paypal and Tesla Motors, and one of the aforementioned demi-gods, had this to say: “I really feel like Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley,” he rumbled, ”You could take the craziest L.A. party and multiply it by a thousand, and it doesn’t even get f—- close to what’s in Silicon Valley. The show didn’t have any of that.” In terms of what that all actually means, it is a revelation. It is proof of the existence of completely different realities from our own, like multiple universes, and maybe, in one those universes, everybody gets to be a demi-god too.
Elon Musk then offered to take Mike Judge to Burning Man and Judge responded, “I would not claim to know Silicon Valley better than he does. Maybe I’ll go to Burning Man with him and smooth it over.” This may be a good idea, or the worst idea he has ever had in his life. But circling back around to the reality of 99.9 percent of people in existence, critics are raving about Silicon Valley and declaring it a big success, there is a very good buzz, it looks accessible to people of all types, and is on HBO tonight.
Commentary by Andrew Elfenbein
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyelf