T.J. Miller and the Worst Part of Celebrity PoliticsPhotos courtesy of Getty Images Comedy Features T..J. Miller
T.J. Miller is the best thing about Silicon Valley and the worst part of celebrity politics. He gave an interview to the Huffington Post the other day. As Entertainment Weekly summarized:
In a new interview with HuffPost, the actor criticized his former castmates for not donating to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
I want to savor the wrongness of Miller’s outburst. Let us pause for five minutes, to think about that series of words. Tonight, when I am enjoying my usual post-dinner entertainment—watching looped YouTube videos of Oldsmobiles crashing into each other to the soundtrack from The Devil Wears Prada—I will consider that belief, and wonder about the worldview that could have crafted it: If the cast of Silicon Valley had really cared, Clinton would now be President.
Really, think about that.
According to Miller, he asked the cast of Silicon Valley how much they donated to Clinton’s campaign before the 2016 presidential election. “Everybody in the cast said nothing,” he recalled. “They hadn’t given a dollar. What did they think was going to happen? How had they not joined a fight that they had such strong opinions about? Meanwhile, I gave the maximum contribution to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, not even really being a fan of hers, and further, paying money to pay more taxes. And we lost. So now we have to win.”
But Miller has a point. Not only has the cast of Silicon Valley failed to raise the dead, it cannot deliver Wisconsin. Except at the highest levels, acting is basically a form of weaponized poverty that entertainment moguls use to sell prestige TV and Netflix subscriptions to homeowners in Flagstaff. But who are we to mock the pretensions of successful, famous actors? They have done so much for us.
As Miller is correct to argue, successful actors possess a kind of omnipotence. During her time in the limelight, American sweetheart Mary Pickford stopped World War I and most forms of carnival disease. In the 1960s, everybody’s kid brother Mickey Rooney prevented the Great Leap Forward, simply by force of will.
Indeed, why didn’t this particular TV show hold back the tide? Historians will wonder. God knows I have. Silicon Valley could have acted, and didn’t, and to quote Edmund Burke, “Hate the player and the game and the people who don’t play the game; in fact, hate everyone.” Instead of Snapchatting with superfans, why didn’t this specific cast of actors simply push the continents closer together during the 2016 election? That way, the number of people on the North American mainland would have been automatically increased, which might have given Hillary a slight edge.
In fact, why didn’t Miller’s co-star Martin Starr simply command the atomic bonds which hold all matter together to assume new, fairer shapes? Going a logical step further, why didn’t Zach Woods and Thomas Middleditch fuse into one prophetic super-being and bring in the Age of Utopia, where beast will no longer sup on the flesh of beast, and lion shall be wed unto lamb? They had the power, according to Miller. Why didn’t they pencil that into their day-planner?
HuffPost confirmed that Miller did donate the maximum amount allowed, while the Center for Responsive Politics found that members of the cast Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, and Zach Woods were not listed as donors.
This is what Miller actually believes. The candidate and her team and her message are not at fault. The universe hinges on the choices of a single set of television actors. After all, agency only belongs to the famous and their pets, spouses, and their restaurants, fashion lines, and God knows what else.
During the campaign, Team Clinton raised $1.2 billion. According to Bloomberg, that effort consisted of a “sophisticated fundraising operation included a small army of wealthy donors who wrote seven-figure checks, hundreds of bundlers who raised $100,000 or more from their own networks, and a small-dollar donor operation modeled on the one used by Obama in 2012.” Trump raised approximately $646.8 million.
The Internet tells me Thomas Middleditch has a net worth of $1.5 million. Miller’s treasure pile is about $4 million. Including the late Christopher Evan Welch, there are thirteen cast members on Silicon Valley. Let’s assume that Middleditch’s net worth holds for the other twelve. That’s $18 million between the whole group. Throwing in Miller makes $22 million. Say they decided to donate the whole megillah last year.
Do you know what that would have bought? Ten days of airtime in September 2016. Secretary Clinton spent $66 million, or three times what Trump spent in the same month.
Maybe it’s not just about money. Maybe depriving Clinton of any blame for her loss deprives her of agency. Maybe it’s the nature of our society to place all the blame on individuals, instead of blaming institutions, which hold so much power. Maybe—just brainstorming here—just throwing ideas out—imagineering, really—if you spend $1.2 billion much against a six-foot-tall toddler with poor impulse control and you still lose, maybe money isn’t the problem, but how you spend it and what you stand for. Could that be it?
If Miller was right—if this isn’t total make-believe—then why didn’t he do more? If entertainment culture had the strength to steer the course of national politics, then why doesn’t he bear some of the blame? If Clinton was doomed thanks to the indifference of famous people—if this contest really was about whether Hollywood cared—then why didn’t Miller help to make the culture gentler and fairer?
Consider when Miller hosted the 2015 TechCrunch award show. He had a chance to do his part for the caring, sharing, cosmopolitan cause. Did he?
During the ceremony, someone tried to take Miller’s photo. He used the moment to instruct them on progressive principles. Listen to how the master salesman artfully persuades his audience with dashing, Gandhian eloquence.
That’s the perfect time to take flash photography. That shows how tech savvy you are. There’s three buttons you can choose: flash on, flash off, or auto, a.k.a. being kind of a rude bitch.
I hate to transcribe such flowing wit into mere written letters, but I must continue:
Miller: And the Crunchie for not constantly stepping in shit goes to Travis Kalanick. So does the Crunchie for constantly stepping in shit. Guys, if you’re worried they’re here, talk to Sherv, he’s down with it.
Miller: Is that Sherv? How are you doing, Sherv? Wait did a woman just say that’s me? Hey, look, Asians aren’t supposed to be this entitled in the United States.
According to the Nitasha Tiku of The Verge, this was the moment when the audience groaned.
Miller: And that’s why you guys will never be as loved as Los Angeles. It’s all too precious, you can’t joke about it. She’s yelling that she’s Shervin Pishevar. Are you fucking nuts? That guy has seeded the most successful companies in the tri-state area and I’m talking about California, you bitch.
Holzwarth: Did you just call me a bitch?
Miller: I did not call you a bitch. I called Shervin Pishevar a bitch, but you seem to think you’re him.
Every time a wealthy dude gets upset about Hillary not being President, an angel investor gets their wings. What does Miller think would have happened, if Silicon Valley had thrown their titanic weight around?
In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. The famous isolationist Senator William Borah allegedly said, “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler-—all this might have been averted.” None of the other factors mattered—not the Treaty of Versailles, or the Depression, or the First World War, or the hideous debt imposed on Weimar. Nobody but William Borah of Idaho, Atlasing the world up on his back. I ask you: was it more likely that Borah was the keystone of creation, or that a single Senator was in love with his own reflection?
Of course, back then, our crude science had yet to discover the immense influence that actor-comedians had in political affairs. Thankfully, we now have a better understanding of the mysterious powers that command the tides and decree the fates of men. Just think of this: If only TV’s Erlich Bachman had been in charge, all of this could have been averted.