Why the geeks of ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ are the new American bros Tech-geek nostalgia seems to be in the air, from the circa-1983 engineers of AMC’s excellent Halt and Catch Fire to the circa-2014 app hustlers of Mike Judge’s breakout HBO comedy hit Silicon Valley. They’re totally different on many levels: Silicon is a
Why the geeks of ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ are the new American bros
Tech-geek nostalgia seems to be in the air, from the circa-1983 engineers of AMC’s excellent Halt and Catch Fire to the circa-2014 app hustlers of Mike Judge’s breakout HBO comedy hit Silicon Valley. They’re totally different on many levels: Silicon is a contemporary satire, while Halt is a fictionalised drama about Texas’Silicon Prairie. In a way, tech culture is the last stand of the brotopia fantasy. Both shows are elegies for the closing of the nerd frontier, the idea that a band of brainy manchild misfits could go west, invent something new, then sit back and fist-bump over their piles of cash.
Silicon Valley has a house full of aspiring software tycoons, where the code word for old people is “MySpace guy.” The best running joke on this Entourage-for-geeks is that all these dudes are essentially interchangeable – it takes a few episodes to start telling them apart, which is part of the point. They’re so in love with the idea of becom- ing Wozniak-and-Jobs, Page-and-Brin, or Zucker-and-Berg, they have no individual personalities left to claim. So there’s something tragically deluded about Silicon Valley, even when it’s funny.
These guys bumble from humiliating meetings to lavish corporate parties featuring the likes of Flo Rida or Kid Rock. But wherever they go, nobody notices them in the sea of black-turtleneck boys. As one guy sadly observes, “Every party in Silicon Valley ends up like a Hasidic wedding.”
The ambitious Halt and Catch Fire is set at the start of the personal-computer revolution – the Mac is just a year away from turning the TRS-80 world upside down. The frustrated engineer (Scoot McNairy) mourns his failure to get rich quick off his ideas. So he tosses back a few in his kitchen while blasting Creedence’s “Lodi,” watching his kids play with their Speak & Spell. Then he meets a slick smoothie (Lee Pace) who wants to collaborate on a crazy tech scheme to reverse-engineer the first IBM PC. And there’s a foxy female genius in the mix – the series begins with a sex scene that’s very basic-cable, though not at all BASIC. Halt and Catch Fire is set in a moment where the old world and new world are colliding, except there’s no way to predict which of the old ways will survive and which will be for-gotten. But like Silicon Valley, it taps into a primal American male sadness: the fear of being obsolete, of getting left behind when the game changes, whether you’re locked out of IBM in 1983 or Google in 2014. In a sense, these guys aren’t so different from Ginsberg on Mad Men screaming that computers have come to sap men’s vital essence. They’re just fighting off the terror that their fantasy world is outdated, rather than the future. But somehow the fantasy never seems to die out – and neither does the terror that goes with it.