Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Silicon Valley: Satire

Irreverent Satire

I count it as a fault that we respect and trust so few of our nation’s leaders. A non-stop news cycle has tarnished the reputations of men and women once held in high regard. A few politicians, teachers, coaches, and priests without any moral compass have been tossed into a hellish pit of their own design by preying upon others. Police officers have been caught on video as they hunted down unarmed citizens, and too many citizens have been tempted to embezzle from their bosses. These seem to be common and prevalent, thanks to news in need of yet one more sensational, titillating tale of moral bankruptcy. In fact, most of us are pretty decent, but the news narrates a different story.

So we’ve come to a point where we hold our breath, waiting and wondering when the next Lance Armstrong will be proven a liar or the next Speaker of the House will be as guilty as the man he maligned while in office or when the next political rising star will be unable to “keep it in his pants” and fall from grace or when the next beloved family man we thought to be a celebrity worthy of admiration will be found to have date-rape drugs in his pocket.

And that brings me to the current state of comedy: irreverent satire, often sexual and definitely insulting. One HBO program, Silicon Valley, will serve to review satire and a classic archetype: the innocent.

Silicon Valley’s target is the struggle of a clever guy named Richard in possession of a great idea. He strives to bring his idea to the world and make some money doing it, but his nature places obstacles in his quest. He is, by nature, trusting and honest. He is reluctant to believe others may not have his best interests at heart. Worse, he doesn’t understand that many others will and do take advantage of his naivetĂ©. They have no problem raiding or stealing his intellectual property.

Richard is an archetypal innocent. He’s like the country boy confronting harsh urban realities. He has his hopes dashed more than once by cleverly disguised angles in contracts he’s signed, agendas he can’t imagine, and opportunists of every gender and motive.

With each of these conflicts, John Altschuler, Mike Judge, and Dave Krinsky, the show’s creators, suggest most people share a single affliction: narcissism, a flaw more noteworthy and more hurtful when in the company of wealth and/or power. The show also skewers those who would use legal means to prevent Richard and his team from controlling Richard’s great idea in order to capitalize on it for themselves.

Finally, the show mocks the corporate world mercilessly. Self-aggrandizement and ruthlessness seem to be the true heart of CEOs everywhere. One recently even hinted that killing the person in his path could be the simplest solution to his problem. His personal army of lawyers were not inclined to defend a charge of murder.

The same CEO and other captains of industry featured in the series have little regard for people like Richard. He’s an artist, an intellectual, a man of ideas. He hasn’t dirtied his hands in the cut-throat arena of corporate commerce, and therefore, poor Richard has little worth.

Corporate clones try to beat Richard, but he rises again and again to claim justice for himself and his idea. With every conflict, he loses some of his innocence and optimism, but not all of it. Because he retains some of that innocence and hope, he remains the heroic figure, dwelling just outside the circle of more sophisticated and often corrupted human nature. That's where the object of comedy dwells whether he is Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, or Richard. He’s kicked around, laughed at and used, but he rises every time.

We welcome him back to the front lines, trusting he will vanquish the enemies surrounding him. We also welcome him into our own circle because, after all, we've been derided and mocked ourselves. Rather than forcing Richard into the eternal role of outsider, we embrace him because we identify with him. We’d like to believe that we are as good-natured as Richard, and we’ve certainly been outside the circle of human nature. We learned to be a bit cynical--as Richard is learning to be. We see ourselves in Richard, laughing with him, not at him.

Reading Challenge:

Read Silicon Valley.

Writing Challenge:

Explain how your favorite comic character appears outside the circle of acceptance and by what means he or she is brought inside.