Beyond the 120 Days of the Silicon Valley Dolls

Photo by Wonderlane | CC BY 2.0

“No fun, my babe… no fun…”

— Iggy Pop

Silicon Valley is a waterless ghost, a companion of the Angel Investor Moroni floating over stale tributaries of Perversion, Prudery, and Surveillance. And, to match the strangely puritan outrage over Late Hollywood’s games of ersatz decadence (Weinstein beating off into a planter sums the whole scene up perfectly), there is now a similarly-arthritic explosion over Silicon Valley’s uncool orgy milieu. The Glitter Dome is a shadow of its former satanic self, as Kenneth Anger recently observed. I guess Silicon Valley holds a celebrity mystique for some, but insider accounts of its nasally-louche hot tub parties only bring to mind Breslin’s immortal dictum that being boring is a more than a sin – it’s a felony.

Vanity Fair offers us an excerpt from Emily Chang’s new book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, an expose of the techie swinging scene. Sadly, it will certainly outsell Yasha Levine’s upcoming book on the Valley’s collusion with State intelligence agencies and the military, Surveillance Valley. But judging from this snippet – under the ridiculous title, “OH MY GOD, THIS IS SO F—ED UP”: INSIDE SILICON VALLEY’S SECRETIVE, ORGIASTIC DARK SIDE” – we shouldn’t expect too much in the way of depravity, vice, wickedness and Hell Passions. Unless further and far darker revelations appear (and perhaps they will), Silicon Valley’s bondage lite culture, wife-swapping cliques, and ecstasy-popping cabals won’t even give Berlusconi’s bunga-bungas a run for their money. Not to say that there isn’t nastiness; there is, but of the decidedly polyneoliberal persuasion.

If the Valley’s agents swing, their bosses garrote. Remember that beneath this petit-bourgeois shittiness lurk the panoptic plans of the Minerva Initiative, Google spyware, Amazon’s wandering DPs, and the dead women of Yemen: Business-as-usual is always more pornographic than the outré extracurricular kind. Sexualized violence utterly rules a mainstream whose excesses, weakly denounced as aberrations, are simply the clearest manifestations of a ruthless and implacable worldview. This truth inspired the Madman of Charenton to map out the anatomy of state power in unreadable detail and it made a grave for Pier Paolo Pasolini. The New Year we have so pathetically begun will see plenty of variations on this almost classical theme.

According to Ms. Chang, the ratio of men to women is 1 to 2 at the swanky parties of the Valley, far less than the Strangelove Ideal. Women are a commodity (but everything is a commodity) and even high-powered start-up women CEOs are treated as objects (like their employees?). High-fiving faux-nerds compare notes, create blacklists, and trade Intel on their conquests as if they were the very NSA with whom they contract. The rules of the game here demand that all naughtiness be consensual, a founding rule of capitalism, for the worker must sell his labor power on the open market and not by the point of the sheriff’s sword. But we are speaking of speculation here, not work; of apps, hashtags and phantom commodities, not goods and services. We are speaking of partners, not workers. Tears are one of the few things that always find their natural price.

The interviewees in the article are usually anonymous ‘entrepreneurs’ who either defend their lanky and morbid culture, or are shocked by its excesses. Every one of them is unsympathetic in the extreme; their gormlessness looks laundered and willful in the end and their revelations are nothing but insular ticks. Among the Valley’s many deep lessons: Appearances Are Deceiving! The shining dividend form conceals the same awkward louts previously of the Untouchable class. Rudely-offered kisses interrupt the schmoozing; threesome assumptions fade into the daylight like transport ships. Rich-boy promises of equality, boundary-shifting, outside-of-box thinking, ideas-generating and diversifying prove to be as vapid as the dust of the tech hub’s suicidal landscape. Dry disappointment has filled the silicon void to make up for the absence of liquidity. Outside, the poor remain unforgiven for being naïve; their reward for innocence in the face of a canny world is a plea bargain or Hepatitis C. When the layman wants what his silicon double wants, desire leads to prison. Silicon Valley is truly free because, to quote Durrenmatt’s aging Nazi, freedom itself is a crime. In a criminal society, one must be a criminal, wrote de Sade.

Milksop lingo aside, the raving misogyny of Brotopia is no different than the world outside it – except for the money of course, which is all the difference. The victims quoted in the article never disagree with the free-market phalangism of Surveillance Valley’s fuzzy ideology. But unlike Sade’s Juliette, the Valley’s scorned protest their role, which will only lead to them to follow her sister Justine, struck by God’s lightning and then ravaged post-mortem by party-goers. Sade’s ironic Manichaeism has returned in the Krupp-like liberty of the Valley’s skinny-bearded playboys, sans irony. Tepid cruelty hides the true monstrousness of mass unemployment, furious capital centralization, obscene polarities of blood and gold hanging over a vulture economy, the barbarism of high-speed financial transactions, and military operations that maintain a republic of panic rooms. The ‘cuddle-puddle’ – a typically cutesy term for techie love-ins – will always be exclusive. Moloch describes himself as monogomish to the Valley kids, but he’s a slut for the Third Estate.

It remains to be seen how the IT paradise will devolve and how its grinny fascism will metastasize. The Peter Thiel variety doesn’t hide its dark fantasies of technocratic suzerainty; Musk probably sees himself as a Ford-Edison-Fuller fix (both Thiel and Musk are obsessed with immortality, like all vampires); the internet-as-utopia scam is upheld by state contractors like Amazon and Google, major islands in the DARPA-created information veldt. Their parties will doubtless get raunchier and may even give Jeffrey Epstein a little competition one day. This is probably good news for free-market fundamentalists like Alan Dershowitz (the Sadean lawyer missing from the Château de Sillinge) or British royals trying out the skids. The world outside, however, promises fewer miracles. 

‘Speculation, speculation!’ she mechanically repeated, struggling with her doubts. ‘Ah! the idea of it fills my heart with disturbing anguish.’

— Zola, L’Argent

The Activity Feed is a fever of voices, of analytics and confessions compressed into a flat ocean of hysterical informational projects. Paramemories, split images, pallid impressions of life routed from terminal to terminal, a one-way scrim of agoraphobic public agents. Asymptotes, paranoia-trending in Russian Dolls, digital rabbit-feet and the rites of encryption… new superstitions appear constantly in the psyche of centralized computing. Finally, the newsworthy is purely newsworthy – a sheer advertising campaign without the burden of a product. Yet the model and outcome remain binary, despite all attempts to escape dualism and entropy. Viz., in 2012, nearly 64,000 Black girls and women were reported missing across America (“I felt gross because I had participated in making out with him and then he kept trying to find me and I kept trying to run away and hide. I remember saying to him, ‘Aren’t people going to wonder?’, Jane Doe at “a party on the edge of the earth” at the home of a wealthy venture capitalist[1]). 1,600 women were murdered by men in 2015 (“This is a private party where powerful people want to get together and there are a lot of women and a lot of people who are fucked up… Somebody fucked up, somebody crossed the line, but that’s not an indictment on the cuddle puddle; that’s an indictment on crossing the line. Doesn’t that happen everywhere?”, says ‘Founder X’). “The future of relationships is not just with humans but A.I. characters,” Esther Crawford, co-founder of Molly (“NY man convicted of killing 2 prostitutes may have killed more, prosecutor says”). Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter: “…If you thought like everyone else, you can’t invent the future” (Women with shadow lives and the predators who follow them into the dark.) “I certainly wasn’t coming on to him,” she asserts. “I kind of leaned back, and he ordered me an Uber, and I was like, ‘I gotta go home.’” (80% of women farmworkers experience sexual harassment). “A married V.C. admits he might decline to hire or fund a woman he’s come across within his sex-partying tribe. ‘If it’s a friend of a friend or you’ve seen them half-naked at Burning Man, all these ties come into play,’” (“Police had found Harris’ brutally beaten, decomposed body earlier that day. She had been sexually assaulted”). Hush! Caution! Echoland!

Sexual power, like labor power, is being fused into neo-medieval formations. The Founders of Silicon Valley and its environs – both male and female – step into history by a black stream robbed of any semblance of appearance beyond a last known whereabouts, torn apart by the atavistic everyday philosophies of job and knife, the only-beloved of Santa Muerte, reliques in hostile little rooms. The pure algorithm of misogyny is institutionalized removal, not a career disappointment or some sniveling unicorn demanding a return in harlot’s red.

Rage at reading the words of the venture capitalists and their ‘glamazon’ sisters in articles such as Ms. Chang’s comes as easy as the want of a girl. Class is dismissed, at least for some. You understand, one simply has to learn how to operate within one’s sphere. Locale is no passive player but a market force which supplies its own demand from places along the highway, vacant lots, Reservations and battered shelters, the beat of Lou Ford and the SV150 (which adds 30 to Sade’s perfect figure). Failure produces different results in different fields, each according to its need. My darling, we are not in the same boat at all.

Gasps of joy or spurts of middle-class shock have a life-span significantly shorter than a SWIFT transaction. In Silicon Valley, only children know the parable of the scorpion and the frog. Hecate is furious. Will the Divine Marquis ever rest in peace?


[1] The unattributed quotes without hyperlink are all from Ms. Chang’s article.

Martin Billheimer is the author of Mother Chicago: Truant Dreams and Specters of the Gilded Age. He lives in Chicago.