If there is one thing that San Francisco Bay Area’s Silicon Valley neighborhood is known for more so than any technological innovation or lawsuit, it is the coveted Old Navy hoodie. Regardless of one’s placement on the corporate ladder, this cotton-blend, machine-washable dream is a guaranteed first step to success—just ask Mark Zuckerberg.
Dubbed a utilitarian uniform that stands proudly as the face of efficiency and productivity by Silicon Valley elite, the hoodie has become a gendered symbol of tech success and the face of STEM at large. This subtle sexism has found its way into classrooms, corporate culture and even HBO.
For its fourth season in a row, HBO’s “Silicon Valley” capitalizes on preconceived notions of tech success through the eyes of four white men and a token minority. Though an engaging enough show to pass the time during spring cleaning, the monumental flaws of “Silicon Valley”’s narrative, even if they are debatably satirical, must not be ignored.
By consolidating the entire STEM community into a single narrative rooted in white privilege, pissing contests and buyouts, “Silicon Valley” has found itself stuck in an infinite loop riddled with errors.
“Silicon Valley” follows the trials and turbulences of Richard Hendricks, an awkward boy-turned-adult genius who is sending waves through the tech world with a lightning speed compression software which he (tragically) named Pied Piper while living in a corporate outcast’s incubator. Henricks’ product was created during his spare time working for Hooli, the show’s equivalent to Google. The viewer is shown what it takes to be successful in a town that thrives on intellectual property and throws millions of dollars around like a sport.
As one could predict, the cast of “Silicon Valley” is primarily white and almost exclusively male. Thomas Middleditch (“Search Party”, “Joshy”) stars as Richard, the guy who refers to his laptop as his girlfriend and writes code while blasting electronic dance music for hours at end. T.J. Miller takes a break from his recent string of animated films to provide free housing and guidance to Richard in exchange for 10 percent of Pied Piper. The rest of the cast is comprised of Zach Woods—most known as Gabe from “The Office”—Martin Starr (“Freaks and Geeks”, “Knocked Up”) as the token Satanist, Kumail Nanjiani (“Portlandia”) as a token minority and Amanda Crew (“Charlie St. Cloud”) as the single female. Though an objectively packed line-up, the composition and storyline provide enough room to encourage a flop.
The point is, “Silicon Valley” soars on the wings of white privilege. Not only do these men receive free rent via incubator in a million-dollar property, but the storyline is essentially one long guessing game of who gets to be chief executive officer (CEO) this month. As a singular example, one guy who has been lovingly nicknamed “Big Head” keeps receiving promotions for doing nothing. For an entire season he literally sits on the roof of a building with friends. This running joke continues to the point where Big Head has no idea what is going on but ends up on the cover of tech magazine, WIRED. Keep in mind, this is the same character who video conferences his dad about board decisions because, obviously, he is handed executive roles without any degree of business comprehension.
What is overwhelmingly evident throughout the plot of “Silicon Valley” and becomes incredibly prevalent at the end of the third season and into the fourth is that the plot is not about the vision at all. Instead, it is about a series of tantrums in which a small company pivots, giving up millions of dollars at every turn, in the pursuit of evading big business yet actively seeking corporate sponsorship. These men are making reckless and ill-informed decisions simply because they have the freedom and ego to do so. Corporate buyouts happen in an instant for the sake of proving a point—one millionaire to another using Richard and Pied Piper as pawns.
It is the incessant lawyering that disrupts “Silicon Valley” more than anything. Where the rhetoric could easily move toward the intersection of creativity and technology in the modern age, a drinking game could be made out of the times “intellectual property,” “licensing” and “shareholder costs” are mentioned by the same circle of corporate lawyers.
As an update, nothing from the upcoming fourth season of “Silicon Valley” is any different.
It is not to say that “Silicon Valley” is not an enjoyable show to pass the time. It is that the severity of the subliminal messaging embedded within these 30-minute episodes poorly contributes to a greater cultural discussion on inclusion, innovation and growth in technology. In completely avoiding a much more inclusive and engaging plot, “Silicon Valley” is a lackluster response to one of the most exciting conversations of our time.
The fourth season of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” premieres tonight at 10 p.m. Tune in and let Leah know your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.