In a move that gave me a feeling of toxic déjà vu from the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 in California in 2008, Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill has passed both houses of the state legislature and is headed to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, where he is expected to sign it. The legislation is aimed at limiting what can be taught in classrooms about sexual orientation and gender identity, and also gives parents the right to sue schools or teachers if they believe what is being taught is unacceptable.
It reads, in part, that such curriculums “may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
If that sounds almost reasonable on a quick read, don’t be fooled. It is not. Cynically called Parental Rights in Education, the bill indeed does not explicitly ban the word “gay” from classrooms — as DeSantis has smarmily noted — but that doesn’t change the intent. The vague but menacing language is clearly focused on chilling any mention of L.G.B.T.Q.+ lives. It’s overreach in search of an actual problem. Worse is that it appeals to a real fear of some parents that they are being prevented from raising their kids as they see fit.
They are not, of course. But the bill plays well with certain vital constituencies in the Sunshine State, like similar moves with those opposed to teaching critical race theory. Let’s call it what it is, trans- and homophobia. We went through this nonsense decades ago. As the mother of four kids, I’m truly disheartened to see this emotional issue manipulated for political gain.
And now coming out of the shadows are the bill’s proponents with new, even worse messaging and a clearer insight into just what this is all about. Public officials are pulling out all the stops, including spouting a particularly twisted accusation that opponents of the bill are grooming young children for sex.
That includes DeSantis’s own press secretary, Christina Pushaw. “The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an ‘Anti-Grooming Bill,’” she tweeted. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8-year-old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”
One lawmaker said it was in response to a “trend” of young people coming out as L.G.B.T.Q.
There’s not enough time to unpack those loads of demented and ignorant nonsense. But one wonders how those in tech who have heavily touted the benefits of living in the state, especially Miami, will react to this kind of clearly vile homophobia. A major Florida booster and former Silicon Valley venture investor, Keith Rabois, whom I interviewed recently on Sway (but not about this bill), has tweeted his apparent support of it. (He’s all for readin’, writin’ and ’rithmetic for the youngs, as am I, but whatever.) Meanwhile, other prominent techies who loudly moved there have been pretty silent.
Well, not me. Vox Media has pulled from Florida its tech-focused Pivot conference that Scott Galloway and I hosted for the first time in Miami last month in favor of a less prejudicial location. We have great regard for many in Florida and had hoped to expand our live event there substantially, but this legislation is — how can I put it delicately? — appalling. So I get to vote with my feet on where to put my own investments. It’s called capitalism, folks. And this is how it works, Christina; I didn’t make the rules (you did). In any case, you all can decide for yourselves by reading the full text of the bill here.
Brian Koppelman is a showrunner, writer, producer and director, whose work includes Showtime’s “Billions.” He told me about his new show, “Super Pumped,” about the bumpy founding of the ride-hailing service Uber, also for Showtime. I’ve edited his answers.
The tone of the show, in what I have seen, is over the top and more satirical than I expected — well beyond the nonfiction book by The New York Times’s Mike Isaac, which the series is based on. Although the reality of Uber’s founding was certainly bizarre. How did you decide upon your approach to the story?
That’s just it, the reality was over the top. If you lived through the events as they were happening, by working in tech or covering it, you may have had time to progressively adjust to each wild new revelation that emerged around Uber. But when we first started developing the show, we were coming to this material fresh. And so much of it was shocking. Take the opening scene in the series: We start “Super Pumped” with Uber adding what it called a “safe rides” fee that was ostensibly put in place to protect riders and keep drivers safe. But, as depicted in Mike’s book and reflected in other great reporting, really the fee was just going to Uber’s bottom line. It was a safe-rides fee that made no one safer. That’s the kind of company we were dealing with, at least during the period we cover in the show. So the events almost satirize themselves. The way we chose to play with style, form and tone reflects the charged atmosphere of Silicon Valley a decade ago.
What do you think of the Hollywood shift toward tech moguls being criticized rather than lionized? What makes for good drama here?
Stories about the pursuit and acquisition of power are inherently dramatic and always have been, and the people at the top of the tech industry have amassed enormous, world-spanning power. So “Super Pumped” is a modern take on an ancient theme: a story about people who want to be kings and move to depose the sitting kings and convince the world that they have a right to rule. And this story really happened. Uber did topple the taxi industry. Hannah Arendt wrote about the “lost treasure of the revolution” — the idea that the spirit of a revolution can never be sustained because overthrowing a system always means replacing it with a new one.And so, it’s always worth looking at what happens when upstarts unseat entrenched powers.
How would you compare and contrast the machinations of Bobby Axelrod of your hit show “Billions” and Travis Kalanick, a co-founder of Uber and the show’s main protagonist? What do you think should be done about tech’s power? And how do you let innovation thrive without causing damage?
One big difference between the hedge fund characters in “Billions” and the characters in “Super Pumped” (aside from the “Billions” characters’ being completely fictionalized) is that the “Billions” characters don’t build anything. They invest, they grow their portfolios, but they don’t build. The people we depict in “Super Pumped,” like Travis, Austin Geidt and Garrett Camp, had a specific vision of how the world should change. And they went and built it. That makes them worth studying. But it also raises questions about the price society should pay for the changes it wants. As for what should be done about any of it, that’s a determination for ethicists, journalists and sociologists to make. David Levien, Beth Schacter and I work from a place of curiosity, of questioning. We just want to look at it and try to pose the same questions you’re asking now.
I asked this recently of Adam McKay — as a maker of traditional shows, what do you think is going to change for the next wave of creating content? Do you think there is promise in NFTs or the metaverse?
That’s a question for a different kind of expert. But one sure thing, as the history of storytelling demonstrates over and over, is that storytellers will use every medium available to tell their stories. And audiences will always want stories. The building blocks may shift. The medium may change. But stories go on and on.
Lovely & Loathsome
Lovely: The debate over the future of cryptocurrency and what regulation is needed for the nascent industry got an important and thoughtful boost with the executive order by President Biden this week. In a measured report that weighed the risks and the benefits, Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets directs a range of federal government agencies to study digital currencies and recommend new regulations and policies.
It’s a big deal for the next generation of the digital age, known as web3, which encompasses everything from cryptocurrency to NFTs to the metaverse, because it has essentially been made legit by the president’s order and might bring in more people who have been waiting on the sidelines. In other words, much like when the internet broke through in the 1990s, the White House has declared it’s time to jump into the crypto pool. One of the more intriguing ideas is for a digital version of the dollar — and like clockwork, Senator Ted Cruz had his usual dumb, reactionary hot take via tweet on what is a complex and developing issue.
Loathsome: Speaking of the Florida bill, I have to pick on the flip-flopping of Disney C.E.O. Bob Chapek, who has shown himself to be persistently ham-handed on issues (see: ScarJo streaming debacle). With 80,000 employees in Florida, Disney is a powerful force there politically, but Chapek inexplicably felt he did not have clout and seemed to say in a memo that he was not explicitly against the bill for all kinds of odd and complex reasons. Chapek “botched an internal email to Disney employees,” as the Times wrote. “He was seeking to explain Disney’s public silence on anti-L.G.B.T.Q. legislation in Florida that activists have labeled the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. Instead, Mr. Chapek’s nearly 1,000-word memo poured gasoline on the fire, and the hashtag #boycottDisney was soon trending on social media.”
That is not a hashtag you want out there when you make charming movies like “Encanto” (which is now playing on an endless Bruno … no … no … loop in my house, by the way). Then, at a shareholder meeting, Chapek stepped back and said he was against the bill. “While we’ve been strong supporters of the community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” said Chapek, who said he also spoke to DeSantis. “We were opposed to the bill from the outset, and we chose not to take a public position because we felt we could be more effective working behind the scenes directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
Oof, especially as it came after Chapek’s immediate predecessor, the much-respected Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger, tweeted his opposition to the bill on Twitter. That’s called leadership, which Iger, who vacated his chairmanship in December, talked about eloquently in a recent live Disney exit interview I did with him on Sway.