Uber has had a rough couple months. The San Francisco company made headlines in late January, when, following the announcement of Pres. Trump’s since-overturned travel ban, cab drivers around JFK decided to strike as a show of opposition — and the rideshare giant went the opposite route, proudly disabling their surge pricing to allow for cheaper fares to and from the airport.
Between that and the brouhaha around CEO Travis Kalanick’s role on Trump’s economic advisory council (he’s since stepped down), a #DeleteUber campaign went viral overnight, with an estimated 200,000 people taking their business elsewhere.
A few weeks later, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote in a scathing and widely-shared blog post about the sexual harassment she alleges she faced while employed there, describing a deeply “toxic” workplace culture of nepotism, sexism, and silencing of female employees.
These are, of course, far from the first nuggets of bad press the company’s received: There’s the eerie fact that employees can track customers anywhere, at any time. There’s the numerous sexual assault lawsuits against drivers who apparently underwent the flimsiest background checks imaginable. The company is said to be considering changes in stock compensation to retain disgruntled employees.
The damning video that surfaced this week and quickly went viral via Bloomberg, then, is really just icing on the bad PR cake. The dashboard footage — of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick responding like a whiny child when a driver takes him to task — is embarrassing on several levels. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Now, many aspects of this video are Not A Good Look. But setting aside for a moment how depressing it that repeated accusations of sexual assault and major privacy violations aren’t enough to warrant a real apology — it takes video of the big boss appearing like a run-of-the-mill post-Super Bowl drunk in the backseat of a car, trying to be cool around two women — I want to make sure one important thing here doesn’t get lost in the shuffle:
Travis Kalanick loves Maroon 5.
Longtime KQED Arts readers will recall that the appeal of this band is something of a white whale for me. I may not have realized what a nerve I was touching when I published my previous cry for help on this matter; luckily, many of you wrote in to share not only your reasons for enjoying Maroon 5 but also some helpful, tangential assessments of my character, presumptions about my educational and professional background, and epithets that ran the gamut from creative if long-winded to lazy, sexist and (of course) anti-Semitic.
So I listened! Well, maybe not to those latter diatribes, but I did read through each email and respond to the non-abusive ones. To those Maroon 5 superfans, let me say: I hear you. In the end, you have given me a sense of calm and acceptance. If Maroon 5 makes you happy — in the immortal words of Sheryl Crow — they can’t be that bad.
Except… except that this pairing is just so perfect. Of course Travick Kalanick loves Maroon 5. He’s an archetype: a mold for the casually misogynist, high-capitalist fantasy bro that could only exist in 2017, in the tech world, in San Francisco. Adam Levine, who has forged a career out of peddling aggressively corporate mall slop that manages to masquerade as something edgy thanks to — I don’t even know what, tattoos? — is not just the rock star analog to Travis Kalanick. He’s the only rock star that probably even makes sense in the universe of people like Travis Kalanick.
Lest you forget, this is not the universe in which you and I live. It’s a world where you can buy positive reinforcement from those around you, which in turn means that there’s never a good reason to stop being a giant chode. If you are Adam Levine, this means talking about how much you like having sex with models while giving advice like “do things for love, not money” and also selling a fragrance and a clothing line and doing acne cream commercials and bragging about how you don’t do your own laundry or clean your own house. If you are Travis Kalanick, you are eternally self-satisfied, shimmying in the backseat of a luxury car that’s on contract with a company you own, driven by an employee you’ve met but don’t remember — and one who is, by the way, definitely paying out of pocket for his healthcare.
Anyway, I digress: we’re talking here about what it means to love Maroon 5. What’s at stake is not casual enjoyment of this band’s music. Being lightly energized by a Maroon 5 ditty when it comes over the P.A. while you’re picking up socks and dog food at Target? Fine.
But loving Maroon 5, as Kalanick apparently does? Crowning them your favorite? Grander-scale implications aside, I genuinely want to know what that feels like. What other tastes correlate with this passion? Does Jay Leno seem like the wittiest man in America? Is off-brand caffeine-free diet cola the most delicious beverage you can think of?
Before the accusations of snobbery pour in, let the record show that I got distracted halfway through writing this post because due to my YouTube viewing habits the internet decided to remind me that S Club 7 was a thing, and then I had to watch their music videos for like 15 minutes. On a plane. I have zero shame.
I also, to my knowledge, have zero things in common with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Should I choose to shimmy awkwardly in the backseat of a car en route to a party anytime soon, it won’t be to Maroon 5. And more importantly, it certainly won’t be in an Uber. At the moment, that’s all the stock I really need.