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About this blog: I grew up in Palo Alto and now live in Mountain View with my husband, daughter and two corgis. After about a decade grappling with the law, first as a law student at UC Berkeley and then as a litigator around the Bay Area, I left ...  (More)

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Hollywood's Idea of Innovation in "Jobs"

Uploaded: Aug 20, 2013
Last weekend, I went to "Jobs," the Steve Jobs biopic, at Palo Alto Square with my mother (who has been part of the tech industry in Silicon Valley since 1984). I wanted her to tell me what she thought of the depiction of the Valley during the '80s and '90s. The biopic was so thin, there was nothing to do discuss afterward. It could have been enjoyable—if it were a made for television movie.

Surprisingly, the problems were not because of Ashton Kutcher who managed to adopt a number of Jobs' mannerisms. Rather, the screenwriter seemed to have a lot of trouble deciding whether he was telling the story of Jobs the man or Jobs the visionary.

The script ultimately focused itself around a number of Jobs' aphorisms. We get bits and pieces of the most interesting aspects of Jobs' life—his auditing of a calligraphy class in college, his trips to India, his acid trip, his refusal to acknowledge his daughter— without getting any real insight into the man. In the end, Jobs sacrifices a fascinating true tale for a cheap Hollywood revenge story.

How ironic that a movie about one of our great innovators was so hackneyed and schmaltzy. Or maybe it's not so surprising because Hollywood itself so rarely innovates—except when it comes to special effects, which are often produced by tech companies.

Most of the drama in Jobs simply copied the thrust of another Hollywood film, Aaron Sorkin's "The Social Network." While I'm all for brutal honesty in books, art and film, there's nothing honest about a biopic that lacks insight into its subject.

Recently I've noticed a trend related to Hollywood's difficulty with both Silicon Valley and innovation. It's become popular for the media outside Silicon Valley to critique the Valley's claims of "innovation" and its various failures, include what some people perceive as a failure of philanthropy. I'm thinking of such writing as George Packer's essay in The New Yorker and Rebecca Solnit's piece about the Valley in The London Review of Books and elsewhere.

These are interesting, thoughtful, worthwhile pieces, but they are not insider's stories, they are critiques from just outside Silicon Valley. It's dubious, from my perspective, that such critiques could actually lead to a solution. A sustainable solution to a problem comes with the insight that insiders possess.

As Solnit points out, Silicon Valley has very little interest in filmmakers, artists, publishers, or historians—the people who might best be able to tell and preserve what's most interesting about it from inside. Most artistically inclined people can't afford to live here. This in spite of the fact that significant financial resources, technological know-how, creative mindset and entrepreneurial spirit make Silicon Valley completely capable of transforming and dominating industries like film and publishing, both of which rely heavily on technology. (Consider, too, Seattle-based Amazon's new art gallery, Amazon Art).

The first step, in my opinion, is making the Valley more welcoming to filmmakers, artists and writers. Communities that fail to actively record their own history in a meaningful or interesting way are condemned to have their stories be told and potentially misremembered by outsiders. "Jobs", for example, did not have the cooperation of Woz, and that might be one reason there's so little psychological insight or connective tissue between the events in the movie. Instead, Woz consulted on the biopic penned by Aaron Sorkin, due out next year. I'd wait for Sorkin's version rather than sit through this movie.

What did you think of "Jobs"? And what could Silicon Valley do to better support creativity in fields other than tech?

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by member, a resident of another community,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:53 am

I thought the film was very long, and completely agree with the statement that it turned out to be a cheap Hollywood revenge story. Jobs deserved better treatment.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by member, a resident of another community,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Woz agreed with you on the script. He said in his review of the film in GIZMODO, "And I was turned off by the Jobs script."


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Thanks for reading and pointing me to Woz's review.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Dave, a resident of another community,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I've gotta say...Steve Jobs was like a A-Rod of marketing. The innovation was really the other guys. He just kind of refined things. Wozniak was the real person who should be idolized and be in movies. He is laid back and cool. Jobs actually laughed at me one time for playing loud music in the car next to him...and for that I laugh back at his homeopathic cures. OK that was mean. But Wozniak is the man, Jobs was meh. I can say that I owned the first Mac from 1984 and it was cool!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Dave, a resident of another community,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Oh I should totally add something more. I watched the 2 episode pilot of Knight Rider recently. I didn't even realize it was supposed to have taken place in Silicon Valley (probably a week after it's name was changed from Valley of the Heart's Delight). Even funnier, I spent years trying to never go near Gunn High again, and I work across the street now. I've even worked at the Xerox PARC campus. I feel so old yet so young.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Hi Dave,
Yes, the movie stresses that the innovation was other people's innovations and Jobs' real talent was recognizing and capitalizing on other people's talents. I tend to think that this is how creativity and innovation in general works-- we're all constantly recognizing and riffing on each other's brilliant ideas-- but the movie is simplistic in this regard. It suggests Jobs is the great thief while everyone else was independently creative. I doubt it. I don't know that Wozniak or anyone else comes up with their ideas in a total vacuum without influence from other creative minds. That's an insight that the moviemakers missed. Another irony that I left out of this post is that Hollywood misuses the copyright system to dominate other people on the grounds that what it does is "original" and therefore deserves special protection (see also SOPA).


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Bill G. , a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm

So Amazon has an Art Gallery? Fantastic. Why don't we just give up on Art, literature, philosophy . . . communication, physical contact, breath, et al

I'd rather eat glass than watch a movie about the 'creative' life of Steve Jobs


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Bill - Yes, Amazon has its own art gallery. There's an interesting piece about it in The New Yorker: Web Link. As that piece points out, "Amazon's cultural ambitions are what set it apart from other large online retailers"-- it is also, in my opinion what sets it apart from many Silicon Valley businesses. I don't think Amazon is good for small, independent bookstores, but at least it has some interest in books and art. Silicon Valley should be doing its part to provide true competition or we'll just be stuck with whatever Amazon does to the fields of publishing and art. (I would not be surprised if Netflix does change film/tv entirely).


 +  Like this comment
Posted by member, a resident of another community,
on Aug 23, 2013 at 9:31 am

I found this interesting: Jobs Movie Enters Second Weekend Far Behind Previous Films Featuring Tech Giants -

Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 23, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

You mention "Silicon Valley has very little interest in filmmakers, artists, publishers, or historians ..."

I think it needs saying that the reverse has been true too, especially of entertainment and major news media. They usually seek glib characterizations of any specialized topic; insight really isn't their trade. Even professional history can be disappointing (more below).

I've paid attention to silicon valley since Hoefler coined the phrase in 1971. (Starting 1975, I was in the Homebrew Computer Club where Woz. & Jobs first promoted their Apple I). Also got a little award some years back for a nutshell silicon-valley history (Steve Wozniak was among the judges). It's a topic of personal interest.

Outside media have usually demonstrated indifference to Valley details. I saw first saw the phrase in non-trade media about 1979 (in Time, if I recall), breezily citing "Southern California's 'Silicon Valley.' " The dot-com boom (one of several since the original semiconductor start-ups of 50 years ago) brought outside attention, and new myths. People blurred the phrase's meaning (from the original semiconductor industry, started in Mountain View in the 1950s), while those unaware of semiconductors' diverse uses dubbed this the birthplace of the "computer industry" (way wrong), and later, with growing software activity here, other pundits presumed THAT was what it had always meant.

And only after the phrase went pop did people entangle it with the peninsula's far longer history of technical manufacturing (Varian, Sylvania, Hewlett-Packard), dating back to the 1920s. Thus, the embarassing situation of MV's own city officials ignorant of the town's historic role:

Web Link

Several years ago, a historian at or around Stanford published a purported silicon-valley history. I flipped through it at Books Inc., saw no index entry for Don Hoefler (who both launched the phrase and reported on its industry for 15 years). I didn't buy the book.

(Some of this, and more on the region's tech-industry history, I posted earlier as a comnent to the May 2012 Voice story linked above.)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Izzy, a resident of another community,
on Aug 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Even with the mixed reviews, I can't wait to go see this movie.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Hi Max,

Absolutely- for most of its history, nobody in arts or letters has shown much interest in Silicon Valley. In the last few years, the dramatic changes to culture as a result of technology has forced the media to get educated and with media attention has come a bit of artistic or literary interestâ€"and now, of course, the inevitable backlash. I'm sure you've seen the documentary Something Ventured? If you've written a book about Silicon Valley history, I'd love to learn about it.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 23, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Izzy,

Definitely, you should go see for yourself- what works for one person may have nothing to do with what works for another. For my part, I kind of wish I'd just waited for the Aaron Sorkin biopic.

A member notes this film didn't do very well compared to previous tech movies- while I think that's because of mixed reviews, it may also have something to do with the literary backlash I mention above connected to magazines like The New Yorker. Let me know what you think once you see it.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Anita:
No book, sorry! (It was a "concision" exercise, packing the most local history into very few words. Not unlike some chip-design challenges :-)

I'll dig up a link or the whole thing -- shorter than my comment above -- and forward it.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anita Felicelli, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 23, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Max- Ha! Yes, please email me a link or the whole thing. I enjoy reading different accounts of Silicon Valley.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by reader, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm

I wonder what the remembrance of Steven Jobs will be in 50 years?
On another thought, Maybe someone here can write a play about him and his influence and put it on locally.

For those interested, the new yorker article reference is here;

Web Link

and the london review of books diary is here:

Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Prefer the documentary, a resident of another community,
on Aug 31, 2013 at 6:29 pm

After seeing this movie, I happen to come across the PBS documentary "One last Thing" - I wish I had seen it before I went to the movie! I would have stayed away. If you want to know how Jobs' friends etc. thought of him - you should see that one.

On creativity, one can think of silicon valley as the environment that fosters creativity in all things "high tech".


 +  Like this comment
Posted by member, a resident of another community,
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

It was interesting to read this in FORBES today:
Web Link

"What prompted Sculley's long, contemplative answer? Sculley clearly didn't appreciate Ashton Kutcher's recent Steve Jobs biopic. ("For those of us who knew him well, [we're] scratching our heads what they were thinking of when they wrote this movie," he said earlier in the day.) Nostalgia, fueled by Jobs' passing, surely plays a role. ("I was with him when he would cry, I was with him when he was scared.") Chalk it up mostly, though, to the passage of time. "The older you get, the less inhibited you get," the 74-year-old shrugged to me after the panel. Either way, the audience appreciated the candor. The man who fired Steve Jobs received a spontaneous wave of applause."



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