Erlich Wants to Be a Real Aviator in Silicon Valley
The real meaning and historic reference of Erlich’s airplane graphic t-shirt in Mike Judge’s comedy TV show Silicon Valley. This is actually the same light blue AVIATO logo print t-shirt that Erlich (T.J. Miller) wears in the pilot episode “Minimum Viable Product” (S01E01).
DVD Screencap, ©2014 by HBO
Erlich’s t-shirt shows the company name of his own startup, AVIATO, that he sold once. The exit and sale earned Erlich the money that he uses now to invest in other inexperienced young developers and companies.
However, the real interesting detail is the white graphic on the front of the t-shirt that features an old airplane with two propellers.
In fact, these little details are relevant for two reasons, but first it’s important to recap in which scenes Erlich wears the mysterious top.
The AVIATO t-shirt can first be spotted when Erlich and Big Head rush to the daunting Hooli office complex to support Richard with the investor negotiations for his company Pied Piper, which overburdens the introvert geek.
Erlich, who acts as the experienced co-investor, owning 10% of Pied Piper, tries to help the rookie Richard.
And while Erlich’s former company logo is a nice metaphor for him ‘flying’ in to help his ‘co-pilot’ Richard, he uses the tee also as a poor attempt to impress the real venture capitalist, Hooli CEO Gavin Belson, with his company AVIATO that he already sold.
Later in the episode, back in the kitchen of the incubator house, Erlich eats an instant noodle soup and gives Richard the wise advice to keep his idea so they both can see how high this
rocket Pied Piper can
Here, Erlich acts again as the big entrepreneur and philosophizes about his own startup AVIATO and what kind of big company it might had become if he kept it.
DVD Screencap, ©2014 by HBO
All these details are subtle indicators for another reference and bold theory, because AVIATO derives from the term
This leads to the assumption, that Erlich’s company name and the propeller plane graphic, probably inspired by a Lockheed aircraft, are very likely references to the rebellious billionaire and entrepreneur Howard Hughes (1907-1976).
In fact, the eccentric tycoon was not only a real aviator, but also a bold inventor, philanthropist and womanizer. Furthermore, Howard Hughes loved to be photographed with his own propeller aircrafts, which looked very similar to the one on Erlich’s t-shirt.
Therefore, Erlich’s t-shirt and the company name and logo are probably a subtle homage to one of his entrepreneurial heroes, Howard Hughes.
Another meaningful detail is that Erlich’s t-shirt is baby-blue – a color that is popular for boy toddler clothes.
Hence, the color subtly illustrates that Erlich is actually not the cool business man that he wants to be.
The tee symbolizes in fact that Erlich Bachman is just a ‘big baby’ and rookie who still has to learn how to do big business while playing around with the developer kids in his house, as it becomes clear later in the season.
Sure, this might be a total over interpretation, because it’s not clear if costume designer Daniel Orlandi, or the Silicon Valley producers really had all these associations in mind. However, it looks like a bold theory and comprehensible assumption.
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