In ‘Super Pumped’, Uber Founder Breaks His Own Rise

In a scene from Showtime’s new anthology series “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber,” Travis Kalanick, founder of the controversial ride-sharing company, walks into the boardroom as his song “Rhymin & Stealin” hits Beastie Boys playing in the background music.

For the next two-and-a-half minutes, Kalanick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his right-hand man, Emil Michael (Babak Tafti), continue to tout investors, as a superfood of iconic duos as Batman and Robin, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein flash across the screen.

The high-energy sequence suggests the heroic lens through which Uber’s leaders see themselves. The fact that viewers interpret the scene so differently speaks to the shift in perception that Silicon Valley and its ambitious world-changers have experienced in popular culture.

First, we found them to be primarily innovators, if often innovators. (Remember “Pirates of Silicon Valley”?) Next, are the clumsy but highly capable upstarts. (Remember “Social Networking”?) Then we poked fun at them. (Remember “Silicon Valley”?)

Now, they are powerful facilitators – and pivotal points for screenwriters.

David Levien, who, along with Brian Koppelman and Beth Schacter, is a presenter, writer and executive director, said: “The ability to self-mythologize and occupy a place in our society that the god once occupied, utterly fascinating. producer of “Super Pumped,” which premieres Sunday.

The passion has been evident for a long time in the work of Koppelman and Levien, who (along with Andrew Ross Sorkin, columnist for the New York Times) created the Showtime financial drama “Billions.” . When that series came out in 2016, it wasn’t hard to sell the viewing public to the idea of ​​treating predatory speculators as villains. But in a sign of the times, their villains this season take on the messianic talk of Silicon Valley; he is a self-proclaimed good worker who will not hesitate to level anyone who stands in the way of his grand vision.

Their latest foray into the world of vacuum capitalism, “Super Pumped,” is an early arrival among a number of series and scripted films targeting the giants of the world. Big Tech’s reality series, including two about recently-convicted Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes: “Dropout,” a mini-series that premieres next month on Hulu, and “Bad Blood,” a movie made by Adam McKay. presently. (A Alex Gibney HBO docuseries about Holmes, “The Inventor,” airs in 2019.) Also planned are Apple TV + mini series “WeCrash,” about office rental startup WeWork, also launches next month and a recently announced HBO series about Facebook, “Doomsday machine. ”

When it took over Uber, “Super Pumped” (based on the non-fiction book by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac and co-executive producer) chronicled one of the companies. the most disruptive and profitable start-up of the 21st century. Beginning with the company’s founding in 2009, the series spends seven episodes following the rise and fall of Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and former CEO, who was pressured to resign in 2017 after the company was hit by a series of lawsuits and privacy scandals. about workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

“We wanted to look not only at why culture got them where they are,” Levien said of Silicon Valley’s elite, “but also what they did and are willing to do to get there. get and keep your place”.

Schacter added: “Disruption is often the ground in which monsters thrive. And we want to make sure every episode builds on that, so we don’t just drop people into type.” This guy is a bad guy. “You have to watch the whole journey to understand it”.

WHEN “VALID SILICCON,” HBO’s satirical series about a group of clumsy emerging programmers, which premiered in 2014, Big Tech remains heroically present in the public imagination. Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, has been canonized a virtual saint. Billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg still visit magazine covers and visit the White House for reasons unrelated to defending themselves before Congress.

The founder cult has been taking shape ever since, and rarely has it been as spectacular as that for Kalanick. Less than a decade ago, Uber is seen by many as an interesting – if flawed – solution to various urban transport woes. But as Kalanick’s ruthless tactics came to light, the petty images of conquest were increasingly replaced by images of taxi driver suicides and price gouging. Those tactics include a Safe ride surcharge it is, the employees said, primarily a for-profit game,”God see“Tools that allow employees to track the location of riders without their permission and”The Greyball Show” that allows it to block law enforcement officials from booking trips.

However, Koppelman said they didn’t set out to make “Super Pumped” a simple villain origin story.

“We want you to understand why Travis works so well in his world,” says Koppelman. “We want you to see moments where his power of personality and intellect can convince people.”

Neither the writers nor Gordon-Levitt have been in touch with Kalanick, who is unrelated to the series. When the writers had questions, they consulted Isaac, who reported on 5 years of research and interviewed more than 200 sources. (Kalanick declined to participate in Isaac’s reporting and declined to comment for this article.)

“We wanted it to be based on the research and the book, and not be swayed by personal emotions in one way or another when interacting with him,” Levien said.

Gordon-Levitt says that while tempted to judge Kalanick, having learned more about him – including speaking to those who work with him – he has come to see him as the product of a culture. obsessed with victory.

“From what I could gather – from the book and from the people I spoke to – he was always convinced that he was doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s something that probably all of us humans do at different times, when we focus on a certain goal and we get Machiavellian. We thought, ‘This goal is too good, and if I have to make other compromises along the way, it’s worth it.’

“Ideal room” and Diet of Silicon Valley hardly makes for a most naturally compelling drama. So the creative team added in flourishes like a colorful green font that highlights key moments and animated power-ups for the main players. Best of all, it has an upbeat soundtrack to go along with Uber’s quest for world domination.

“It’s fun, it’s fireworks, and in a way, it’s theater,” said Gordon-Levitt. “I really applaud Brian and David for being able to raise questions about these bigger issues in the world while devoting most of their energy to putting on a great, fun show.”

Though all the characters get in traffic in the usual Silicon Valley glitz, Gordon-Levitt’s Kalanick is the one who most forcefully embodies the culture’s self-deprecating, objectionable clichés. starting a business. At one point in the series, Kalanick’s mentor, venture capitalist Bill Gurley (Kyle Chandler), says of Kalanick: “The best thing about Travis is that he’s going to run through walls to win. The worst thing about him is that he thinks everything is a wall.”

That’s a great line. It is also taken from real life. “It’s Mark Cuban taking on Travis,” explains Gordon-Levitt. (Cuban has approved an investment opportunity in Uber, a decision he said he regrets). “It’s a real quote. He told me that; he told that to Brian. ”

Gurley’s mission is to curb Kalanick’s destructive excesses. As depicted in the series, those include turning a blind eye to – and even encouraging – an obnoxious office culture that casts aside the law when it constrains his ambitions and brags about the sexual conquests Uber has made for him. (In a 2014 interview with GQhe seems to refer to his growing sex appeal as “Boob-er.”)

Last Gurley organize a coup removed Kalanick from the company, but only after supporting Kalanick for many years.

“Travis is Icarus,” said Chandler. “And Bill is trying to explain that Icarus doesn’t go too high or too low. He always keeps him in the middle. ”

But just as Uber has sunk into a fraternal culture, men aren’t the only ones wielding power and influence in “Super Pumped.” (It’s a state of mind, in a way.) Travis’s greatest mentor is, perhaps, his business-savvy mother (Elisabeth Shue). Arianna Huffington (Uma Thurman), who joined Uber’s board in 2016, has been at the helm since Travis met her.

As Uber’s first female board member, Huffington helped look at the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations. She was later criticized for some of her public statements in which she described the harassment as not a “system issue”, and to protect Kalanick. In the end, Kalanick was pushed out and Huffington left the company two years later, in 2019.

Thurman, who plays her with a Greek accent refined through hours of listening to recordings of her talks, said she’s not trying to convince viewers for or against Huffington.

“She was a brave, creative thinker,” says Thurman, who met Huffington many times and always found her “strong-willed.” “She’s funny, smart and pragmatic but also dominant in every shot. I’m a very encouraging woman to play someone with so much confidence and wisdom.”

MISSING THE CLASSIC CLASSIC TRIP, the story of Uber doesn’t end with the death of the protagonist – or the company. Lying, spying, breaking the law: It all paid off.

Despite a reputation leak that has put his personal reputation in shambles, Kalanick is, by all accounts, doing very well. A billionaire, he is managing director of a company that focuses on real estate development is difficult and is Build a ghost kitchen empire in Europe.

The outlook for Uber is similar. Following a disappointing initial public offering in 2019 under Kalanick’s replacement as chief executive officer, Dara Khosrowshahi, the company’s market capitalization fluctuated but ultimately remained stable at a valuation level. worth more than $70 billion. Uber has about 118 million monthly active users around the world.

Meaning, the Silicon Valley types may be increasingly the villains in popular culture, but they seem here to stay.

“The most compelling part of the story is not just Uber or Travis itself, but the larger cultural trends that led to Uber becoming inevitable,” Gordon-Levitt said. “When entrepreneurs are solely responsible for profits and profits, you get these companies that grow incredibly fast and achieve incredible success, but at what cost?”

It’s a question that “Super Pumped” hopes to continue to explore in future seasons, which will focus on other moments in business history that changed the cultural landscape. (Showtime announced last week that the series has been extension for the second seasonwill focus on the boom years of what was once called Facebook – now Meta – specifically the relationship between Mark Zuckerberg and chief executive Sheryl Sandberg.)

Will Big Tech ever put people above profits? Can disruptors succeed without compromising their morals? Can good and greed co-exist?

Is it possible to become an ethical billionaire?

“Maybe not?” Schacter said. “Guaranteed.”

“Have we met one yet?” she continued. “Is not.” In ‘Super Pumped’, Uber Founder Breaks His Own Rise

Fry Electronics Team

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