Does Silicon Valley Have a Sense of Humor?

Slate's weekly roundtable.
April 9 2014 12:46 PM

The Culture Gabfest “My Little Dictaphone” Edition

Slate’s Culture Gabfest on The Unknown Known, HBO’s Silicon Valley, and the speed-reading app Spritz.

Listen to Culture Gabfest No. 290 with Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner with the audio player below.

And join the lively conversation on the Culturefest Facebook page here:


The sponsors of today’s show are and Audible. Go to and use the promo code “CULTUREFEST” for your no-risk free trial and bonus offer. Get a free audiobook from Audible’s collection of more than 150,000 titles and a subscription to a daily audio digest when you sign up for a 30-day free trial at This week’s pick for the Culture Gabfest Bucket List—the books you’ve got to read to be a smarter culture hound—is Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain, read by Michael Prichard.

Culturefest is on the radio! Gabfest Radio combines Slate’s Culture and Political Gabfests in one show—listen on Saturdays at 7 a.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. on WNYC’s AM820.

On May 4 the Culture Gabfest will be hosting a live show in Montreal as part of the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. The show on Sunday is sold out, but there are still tickets to a cocktail party with the gabbers on May 3.

And don’t forget you can find Culture Gabfest T-shirts for sale in the Slate Store.

On this week’s episode, the critics discuss The Unknown Known, Errol Morris’ confounding portrait of Donald Rumsfeld. After 33 hours of interview footage and tens of thousands of dictated memos, the former secretary of defense remains cagey, cryptic, and above all unknown. Next, the gabbers turn to the new HBO comedy Silicon Valley, Mike Judge’s incisive parody of Palo Alto’s startup culture. But are techies in on the joke? And finally the critics wrestle with Spritz, an app that promises to make its users speed-readers, based on its efficient, nonlinear layout of text. For the next generation of readers, is faster necessarily better?

Links to some of the things we discussed this week follow:


Dana: “Bach Psychology: Gothic, Sublime, or just human?,” Michael Markham’s essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books about the perils of Bach biography.

Julia: I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan, a collection of clandestine poems by Afghan women. It’s great book of poetry and offers more insight into modern Afghanistan than anything she’s ever read.

Outro: “Springtime Can Kill You” by Jolie Holland (and Steve’s newly hatched chicks!).

You can email us at

This podcast was produced by Ann Heppermann. Our intern is Anna Shechtman.

Follow us on Twitter. And please like the Culture Gabfest on Facebook.

Stephen Metcalf is Slate's critic at large. He is working on a book about the 1980s.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.



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