Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Washington DC: With great power comes great toxicity
I’ve been thinking most of the morning about the relationship between the three centers of power in American life: Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Washington DC.
The three used to be distinct. Silicon Valley was in a cold war with Hollywood, who hated Silicon Valley right back for disrupting highly paid middlemen and enabling piracy. At the same time, I’ve watched Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires turn into simpering fan-boys if the opportunity to get a selfie with a mid-tier Hollywood star arises.
There is something so irresistible about the fame and the glitz of Hollywood that so many Valley leaders find unable to resist. Why do you think actors who know next to nothing about technology get invited into so many deals? Why does seemingly everyone jump at the shot to do a self-mocking cameo on HBO’s Silicon Valley? Why does every tech conference need at least one movie or tv celebrity?
Hollywood and politics have also had an interesting history. Hollywood has both been used as propaganda for the nation’s political interests, and political interests have sought to gain power by making an example of Hollywood, the most obvious example being the communist witch hunts. Hollywood stars have endorsed candidates and taken on issues, and a few times, won major political office.
And DC and Silicon Valley? We’ve spent much of Pando’s existence detailing Silicon Valley’s “political awakening,” and the inherent contradictions between “disruptive” players who pretend to be all about evading regulation and shining a light on backroom deals, while in reality, they spent millions lobbying to get the rules changed in their favor and enter into their own…. Shady backroom deals.
But as the world becomes more flat, software eats everything, and a billion more catch phrases make time and space shrink between the rich and powerful, these three ecosystems are increasingly all up in one another. It’s impossible to distill the good from the bad here. It’s dizzying.
Consider one of the more innocuous examples: How Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have utterly changed the landscape when it comes to film festivals and television, altering what type of projects can get greenlit, how they get released, the level of reasonable creative control, and what is a market rate to be paid.
Consider the most insidious: The role the combining of these ecosystems played in electing Donald Trump. There’s no doubt his television show played a huge role in his popularity, recognition, and appeal. Without the Apprentice, he would have been little more than a joke and a standard movie and commercial cameo from the 1990s.
And as we’re learning more and more everyday, social media played a role in electing Trump too: Facebook reportedly even went as far as embedding employees within the Trump campaign.
Donald Trump may be the first warning of what happens when the power of all three of these ecosystems is harnessed by one individual. They are able to ignore facts, truths, and reality, because they can influence the dissemination of information and the power of entertainment to twist the truth.
There’s also the role that movies have played to shape ecosystems, twist the depiction of something until it becomes reality. Wall Street was meant as a cautionary tale of the finance world, and instead lead to a generation of Gordon Gekko wannabes flocking to New York. So, too, did the completely bullshit account of Facebook’s rise, “The Social Network”, play a role in the rise of the bro culture in the startup world that followed.
So here’s a small piece of good news that just became public: A movie based on the story of Susan Fowler is making the rounds of Hollywood, to be written by Allison Schroeder, the screenwriter behind Hidden Figures, and produced by former Disney production executive Kristin Burr. There is not a studio attached yet, but certainly, it’s a timely discussion in Hollywood given the stories about Harvey Weinstein, notes Deadline Hollywood.
A discussion in the regular column by Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr:
Peter, this movie doesn’t have all the graphic accusations of ham-handed propositions allegedly made by Weinstein, who fell as precipitously as did Uber’s Kalanick. This Uber movie seems worth telling onscreen. Do you think anyone will make a movie about what just transpired in Hollywood over the past four days?
[PETER BART ANSWERS] The story you cite is very relevant for this reason: Whistleblowers hold the key to defeating sexual harassment. Victims have to come forth and tell their stories. And companies that harbor a locker room mentality – Fox News as well as The Weinstein Company – have to live up to their responsibilities. This is all the more difficult when Donald Trump himself champions “locker room” chatter. But here’s the good news: Companies that have looked the other way on sexual harassment are paying a heavier price than ever before. Look at the outrage over Harveygate. Or the problems Rupert Murdoch is facing in the UK in his efforts to control Sky – the regulators are disturbed by the legacy of Roger Ailes at Fox News.
That Travis Kalanick is being mentioned in the same breath as Weinstein can’t be good for Uber, which is trying mightily to re-brand itself including a feature on HR head Liane Hornsey in the Journal. In it she-- astoundingly-- says there was no point in her reaching out to Fowler or hearing what she had to say because she was an “ex-employee,” a tone-deaf comment that has been roundly mocked already.
It’s fascinating that as these three ecosystems have come into greater collision-- their reach, their platforms, their power, their personalities, and their capital all becoming greater in the process, so too is it magnifying the personal failings of the men running these ecosystems. The toxic masculinity, the power games, the enablers… and the women who are coming forward and exposing them across ecosystems are becoming emboldened by one another.