Silicon Valley's Secret, Vicious Lust for Hollywood Fame

Motivations are supposed to be pure in Silicon Valley. Facebook, for example, was developed to make the world a better place; its billions of dollars in revenue are just a happy accident. And when a Facebook scion eagerly promoted her titillating new reality show, she was roundly condemned as a terrible sellout—by people who were themselves dying to sell out.

Greed insists on disguises, and Northern California's robber-barons have long made a point of trying to elevate themselves above the non-value-adding Philistines back in New York. Their bodies are temples, their food is ethical, their non-business activities are numerous and sophisticated, even the way they viciously rip one another to pieces is, like, totally Zen.

When Randi Zuckerberg, sister to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, announced she'd be executive producing a reality show about the tech world for the Bravo cable network, she completely (if temporarily) obliterated this notion of Silicon Valley exceptionalism. And of course the backlash was immediate. Among the numerous and widely circulated takedowns of the less-known Zuckerberg was this one, from longtime Valley journalist Sarah Lacy. The whole thing is a fairly relentless and breathtaking read, but here are some choice bits:

She has sold her industry and her generation out, and there's little any of the real entrepreneurs can say other than sit there, mouth agape, wondering why the hell she would do this. I hope she made plenty of money off the deal, because as far as I'm concerned she's sold her Silicon Valley soul for fifteen minutes of fame on basic cable... How on earth can Randi Zuckerberg... sleep at night?

Here's an important bit of context: The person who wrote that herself wanted to make a reality TV show about Silicon Valley, we're reliably informed. When she was setting up her widely and purposely conflicted site PandoDaily, Lacy tried to recruit staffers with visions of her own reality-show dream. It was described to us as a competition that would pit tech startup against tech startup, all in front of the cameras, and all as part of a sort of roving tech-money circus that would end with a final champion round in the very serious, soulful, not-at-all-sold-out city of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The obvious way to reconcile Lacy's angry attack on Zuckerberg with her own fantasies of lights and cameras is to assume she envisions her own reality show as very, very different from Zuckerberg's reality show. So much less filthy, you see. Zuckerberg's preview reel showed "people drinking, shirtless in clubs... parties, bimbo women, an obsession with money and things... like 'The Jersey Shore,' only without the tans." Lacy's show would presumably focus on much more substantive issues around startups, like say data-sharding optimization strategies and REST API design fundamentals, and never ever include titillating video clips in the preview reels.

But the broader story behind this incestuous tech-industry kerfuffle is that Silicon Valley still pretends it is intellectually and morally above Hollywood, even as it needs and wants Hollywood as it never has before.

Twitter is valued at more than $8 billion despite historically scant revenue, in part thanks to Hollywood celebs like Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Oprah Winfrey, Ashton Kutcher, and so on.

And while Google has turned from a "don't be evil" post-post-graduate school into something much more ruthless, it has found plenty of heart to exempt celebrities from the invasive rules that govern other users. In other words, Google wants performers like Lady Gaga and Conan O'Brien to sign up for its services and dance for its employees, but it doesn't want their irreverent, explicit energy actually mucking up its products.

It's sort of like how Mark Zuckerberg fought and fought and fought against having the origins of his company made into a lightly fictionalized movie — even saying "I wish that no one made a movie about me when I was alive" — before taking his whole staff to see exactly that movie. In other words, the same entrepreneur who stared down Google and sloughed off big acquisition offers from the likes of Microsoft had to throw up his hands and surrender to reality when it came to the lure of celebrity and storytelling. Hopefully all of Silicon Valley's wannabe Zuckerbergs will soon learn to do likewise.