How ‘Silicon Valley’ Nailed Tech Culture to the Wall
Mike Judge has made a healthy career off understanding the workplace comedy. Office Space still rings true as the quintessential depiction of the corporate cubicle nightmare many people suffer through, even today. He’s no stranger to TV, either, having been the man behind the wildly successful King of the Hill, somehow making the oddities of down-home suburban life funny and entertaining. His most ambitious project to date, though, is barely two seasons in: HBO’s Silicon Valley.
Judge makes no apologies for his hyper-realistic representation of what it’s like to function in an everyday workplace. But with Silicon Valley, he may have outdone even himself. The tech industry in San Francisco and the wider Bay Area has come to define the entire region. The middle class has essentially melted away to make room for massive companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. Median rent has skyrocketed, and in order to function in this brave new world, a six-figure salary is the bare minimum for survival. It’s a culture that practically begs to be parodied, and Judge does nothing short of absolutely nailing it to the wall.
To the uninitiated, the over-the-top nature that floods Silicon Valley‘s premise may seem like something of an exaggeration for comedic effect. But in many ways, the show is almost frighteningly accurate. Tech billionaires with self-awareness on par with that of small children, average schmoes peddling around their ideas for a new app like a Los Angeles waiter pushing a script, and incredibly smart people struggling to get a foothold thanks to their lack of sociability are just some of these examples. It’s hilarious to watch and even funnier when you realize that the Bay Area tech culture is exactly as Judge paints it on this show.
The real mastery comes in Silicon Valley‘s Google-esque fictional conglomerate, Hooli. The office itself is almost a parody of what we imagine a tech office to look like, replete with razor scooters, vague New Age wisdom, and a strict hierarchy of programmers and developers jockeying for the next billion-dollar idea.
That’s where our hero Richard originates, eventually leaving to strike out on his own with nothing more than a small startup seed and his closest friends. He comes up against all the issues he would existing in the real world: merciless competitors determined to steal and repackage his ideas, fiascos and copyright issues with naming and branding his company, and of course the terrifying reality of being accountable to his main investors.
On paper, it doesn’t sound like something that should work as well as it did in Silicon Valley‘s first two seasons. Somehow it has, acting as a mirror to a tech community that could use a healthy dose of self-awareness. For those existing outside the elite of that world, Silicon Valley is a vehicle for showing just how those same elites are perceived by the outside world. We see things like the ruthlessness of a CEO being voted out of his own company (a la Steve Jobs circa 1985), and soon, Season 3 will show us the fallout. It’s the mirror this community needs right now in order to fix itself, and what better way to go about that than in a comedy format?
Wall Street billionaires have been heavily maligned as the boogeymen of cinema and TV since our last major financial crisis. But out west in California, a whole new tier of this world exists in the tech community, and until Silicon Valley, it had received a pass from Hollywood. Now we have a comedy that serves to do what Judge does best: Let the monotony and inherently ridiculous nature of the American workplace show itself for what it truly is.
Silicon Valley will never brand itself as a social justice warrior out to stick it to the man, and that’s certainly not what we should expect. What it is out to accomplish is similar to what Office Space did in the late ’90s: To shine a light on what we define as the 9-to-5 life today. Back in 1999, it was the soul-sucking cubicle. Today, Silicon Valley shows us that we’ve swung far into the other side of the spectrum and into some whole new territory. Ten years from now, we imagine Judge will be back to do the same for that era’s workplace too.
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