Hollywood’s big bet on the bad entrepreneur

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Hollywood’s big bet on the bad entrepreneur

“I’m not a bad guy,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) insists at the end of the 2010 film “The Social Network,” which defined the cultural backlash for young tech billionaires. Zuckerberg’s thoughtful lawyer (Rashida Jones), an inventive character who works largely to judge Zuckerberg’s personality, assures him that he doesn’t think he’s a jerk: “You just happen to be the one. Working so hard.”

Twelve years later, this ambition for the tech titans has been resolved. The new consensus is that there is really something wrong with these people. Consider the new Showtime limited series “Super Pump,” which chronicles the rise and fall of Uber founder Travis Kalanick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). As Kalanick arrives on the tech scene, John Zimmer, the measured founder of rival Lyft, diagnoses Kalanick’s problem, and his superpower: “You’re not human enough.”

“Super Pump” (based on the book by Mike Isaacs, a reporter for The New York Times) comes amid a wave of series about bad entrepreneurs – figures that exemplify the fallacy of start-up hype as they sway investors. Bankrolls are tempted to have ideas that turn out to be stupid, wicked or fraudulent. In Hulu’s “The Dropout”, Amanda Seyfried plays Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who wears a black turtleneck and pretends she has developed technology that can diagnose diseases with a single drop of blood. Is. In Apple TV+’s “Wecrashed,” Jared Leto plays the oddly nerdy WeWork founder Adam Newman, a $47 billion valuation for a group of co-working spaces that he says creates a global consciousness. – Installation movement.

Even Shonda Rhimes’ Netflix series “Inventing Anna,” focusing on Soho grifter Anna Delvey (Julia Garner), feels sympathy. Delvey, whose real name is Anna Sorokin, floats through the millennial start-up scene with her irreverent European accent, collides with pharma bro Martin Shkreli and Billy McFarland, Fyre Festival rookie, as she tries to convince investors (but mostly fails). That he is a German heiress who has started an exclusive club in his name.

The range ranges from the tedious (“Inventing Anna” makes Delvy’s high-wire deception as monotonous as a bus ride to Rikers Island) to the insanely bizarre (when Seyfried faces a mirror in smeared lipstick, she The Joker-origin-story brings the energy to Silicon Valley’s Most Notorious Girlboss). Seeing them together, they create a shared universe in which scandal and entrepreneurship mix in a chaotic picture of American collapse. Sprinkled through the show are film stars sporting rich weirdos, maximalist title cards collapsing financial transactions, private-jet tantrums, questionable hair makeovers, vomit-inducing staff parties, and numerous self-inflicted comparisons to Steve Jobs. .

The story lines of companies are always treading into each other. In “The Dropout,” Theranos partners discuss a new app that “lets you pay for cabs on your phone”; In “Wecrashed”, Newman watches on television as Kalanick is kicked off Uber’s board; In “Inventing Anna”, Delvey’s lawyer works from a WeWork.

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Central figures often appear like mirrored images: while Kalanick assembles eccentric employees who want to break stuff, Newman invites his confused employees to “build tomorrow.” And as Holmes artificially lowers his voice to project a masculine presence, Delvey uses a voice-modulating app to impersonate the German manager of his non-existent trust fund. Their arcs all resemble electrified versions of Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, where utopian dreams give way to wild spree before ruin.

Most of these topics are already intimately familiar. Although stories of corporate excesses have long fascinated the media and entertainment industries, they have never hit the headlines as quickly (and as rapidly) as they are now. Since Holmes’ claims were exposed as fiction in The Wall Street Journal in 2015, for example, her downfall has been characterized by a book-length exposé, several podcasts, a feature-length HBO documentary, a slew of ironic fan gear The online market has been restored. Dropout” and, maybe someday, a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, which remains in development.

“The Social Network” covered the origins of Facebook in just two hours, but this new entrepreneurial class is being recaptured through hour-long episodes that drop week by week. Even when these speculative tech bubbles cast doubt, they serve to increase their own bubble, as streaming services shovel in prestige limited series to lure viewers in and out-competitors. Multiply cash. They feel calibrated to play the market the same way: secure testing intellectual property on a recent scam, recruiting very famous people to impersonate players, speeding up the story into a limited-series schedule (binge-watching). long enough to promote, brief enough for busy celebrities to shut down and justify the budget), so hope customers don’t cancel after closing.

While HBO’s “Succession” cleverly infuses its poorly-commercialized story with the regenerative powers of a sitcom, toppling and resetting its chess board every season, the limited series beholds for its inflexible arc. It proceeds like a morality game, with a determination indicating lessons learned. These shows process the same era in exactly the same way, and they come to similar conclusions. One is that the line between scammers like Delvy and titans like Kalanick is thin, and the entire system of power is involved in their rise. As one “Inventing Anna” character puts it, speaking with the calm clarity of a Shondaland oracle: “Everyone’s running a game here. Everyone here needs to score. Everyone’s hustle in here.” “

But while “The Social Network” implies that Zuckerberg was brought down by the dizzying stakes of the start-up scene, these shows show that some people are drawn to that scene. Therefore They are cruel egoists. SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son said the system rewards them – “go crazy”, advises Newman – as long as the company’s valuation rises. Trouble comes only when the erratic behavior of the executive attracts negative press attention and threatens to shake the market and shake the fortunes of the stakeholders.

Often the bad behavior concerns the abuse of women. As Apple’s Tim Cook (Hank Azaria) warned Kalanick (the man who thought it was a good idea to call a reporter a “boober”), women are the “canaries in the coal mine” of corporate dysfunction. Whereas “The Social Network” argues that Zuckerberg started Facebook out of accidental (and largely exaggerated) misunderstanding, rampant sexism is now projected as a defining quality of the tech industry—a weakness that can be blamed on bad luck. Threatens to bring down men and sometimes, picks up evil women. In “The Social Network,” women are relegated to the role of crazy girlfriends or attractive interns, and while this may reflect Harvard and Silicon Valley stereotypes, it also reinforces it. A refreshing development of these new stories is that women are also allowed to develop into world-historic narcissists, often under the guise of countering that fundamentalism.

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The episode title, per Holmes, rises to praise “Old White Men” but also establishes itself as a feminist triumph who speaks honestly about women raising women and, laughingly, “impotent”. syndrome”. “Wecrashed” gives similar time to Newman’s woo-woo wife, Rebekah Paltrow Newman (Anne Hathaway), who announces at a company retreat that women should help men “reveal their calling in life”, She then reveals her calling through her husband’s company, sacking employees with “bad energy” and starting a WeWork school to train children in conscious entrepreneurship. And Ariana Huffington’s version of “Super Pumped” is played by Uma Thurman as a suspicious operative, who flatters Kalanick—”Travis and I share a relationship that’s rarely found in this world built by men. goes,” she purrs—and rises up. The company sinks in, as do the other women.

Uma Thurman as Ariana Huffington in Travis Kalanick Story – It sounds like a Hollywood word salad, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. Part of the draw of these shows is the curiosity gap they create when they give a movie star a name in the news. Although we may be overly familiar with Elizabeth Holmes, we haven’t seen her story projected by an actor before, and Hollywoodization promises to reveal something that journalism can’t always supply: what, exactly, is wrong with her. Yes, its insight. Seyfried plays Holmes as earnest, driven, vulnerable, and over-critical before becoming chill, manipulative and autocratic. I don’t know how true that picture is, but I suspect that with an actor as perceptive as Seyfried, Holmes may seem a lot more complicated than he actually is.

The absurdity of venture capital has been dwarfed by the spectacle of cryptocurrency recently, and now crypto stories are being churned out into content faster than their predecessors. Within days of the arrests of Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, who had been dubbed the “Bonnie and Clyde of bitcoin” and were accused of planning to launder billions, the story was picked up for a series. It is being developed by Forbes Entertainment, the production arm of the financial magazine, which recently asked Morgan, as a Forbeswoman columnist, to offer “expert advice on protecting a company from cybercriminals” on its website. was permitted. It’s the latest twist in Hollywood IP gambling: Help build the myth, then pretend the fall.

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