Elon Musk, Savant Idiot?
What we learned about celebrity oligarchs
By now, it almost seems like piling on to write about Elon Musk’s spectacular self-defenestration. But really, why not?
Seldom have we seen anyone despoil both his wallet and his reputation so completely and with such zeal.
In a single week, the World’s Richest Man, who launches rockets into space, electrifies cars, and was Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”, exposed himself as… what’s the opposite of an idiot savant? A savant idiot? Shallow, petulant, erratic, endlessly needy, and basically absurd.
“I am Iron Man” became “I am Zoolander.”
How it began:
How it’s going:
Actually, this is the scene that captures our peculiar political and cultural moment:
Consider what a week Elon had:
After promising not to turn Twitter into a “hellscape,” he immediately began shitposting a fake conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi (and then quickly censored himself).
The more he tweeted his insecurities, the more the edgelord was exposed as a mediocre troll. It turns out that tweeting out poops is not really scalable.
He hemhorraged advertisers, and then whined about it by blaming “activist groups.”
In a genuine asshole move, he fired thousands of workers… by email. And got sued for it.
The first sign that some of the company’s 7,500 employees had been laid off came when their email accounts were shut off late Thursday. Yet they received no official word about termination and some of their Slack accounts still worked. In Twitter’s offices in Ireland and Britain, employees stayed up late waiting for the San Francisco headquarters to inform them of their job status. Some learned they were unemployed in the middle of their night.
He pretty much destroyed the morale of Twitter’s remaining employees. Via the Wapo: “Current and newly former employees say Musk has instilled a culture of fear in his new company in just a week.”
His layoffs were so chaotic and shambolic that Twitter is now crawling back “to dozens of employees who it decided were either fired in error or too essential to the changes the billionaire businessman wants to make.”
His reviews are brutal. A NYT headline describes his management style as “Confusion and Frustration.” Ad executives are describing him as “petulant and thoughtless.” The Wapo’s Catherine Rampell wrote: “World’s richest man decides to set $44 billion on fire.”
Meanwhile, he spent his first few days responding to and taking advice from some of the worst trolls on the internet.
And, of course, the World’s Richest Man tried to shake down customers for
$20 $8$7.99 for a meaningless blue check, and got mercilessly ridiculed for it. Millions of voices cried out as one: NofuckingwayamIpayingelonmusk8bucks. (He’s now reportedly delaying the move until after the midterm election when the idea will theoretically be somewhat less shitty and do less damage.)
Musk’s goal in all of this is clear: after grossly overpaying for the company, and now faced with billions of dollars to cover debt service, Musk needs to turn a quick profit. Via the NYT: “He is under financial pressure to make the deal work, having taken on $13 billion in debt for the buyout. Yet the company has lost money for eight of the past 10 years and faces a decline in digital advertising amid a slowing economy.”
But after just a few days, skepticism reigns. Dave Karpf sums it up nicely:
What advertisers are asking for is assurance that the company will remain basically unchanged. What advertisers are seeing is a 500% increase in use of the n-word, and Musk himself tweeting a fever-swamp conspiracy theory, and Musk announcing that the old verification system is going to be scrapped, details on how they’ll manage misinformation and impersonation TBD, and Musk firing half of the company, decimating the content moderation team.
But Musk’s financial goatf**k pales next to the reputational damage he has inflicted on himself.
Just last year, Time Magazine wrote that he “dreams of Mars as he bestrides Earth, square-jawed and indomitable.” Even his absurdities made him seem larger than life to the fanzine that was once run by Henry Luce:
This is the man who aspires to save our planet and get us a new one to inhabit: clown, genius, edgelord, visionary, industrialist, showman, cad; a madcap hybrid of Thomas Edison, P.T. Barnum, Andrew Carnegie and Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, the brooding, blue-skinned man-god who invents electric cars and moves to Mars.
That was then. This year, stuff like this is being written about him (by Matt Labash)
Everyone’s favorite publicity-tapeworm of a billionaire – the man who puts the “ass” in Asperger’s – will likely acquire Substack and ruin my life one day. Much as he is ruining the lives of the 50 percent or so of the Twitter workforce he’s sacking in yet another of his impulsive man-baby tantrums.
Perhaps only someone as capricious and unbalanced as Elon Musk could make me almost feel sorry for Twitter executives, who have now been helping befoul the public square since 2006. Which, to put a time frame around it that Musk might better relate to, was roughly four illegitimate children ago. (Admittedly kind of impressive, fertility-wise – Herschel Walker numbers!) Here’s hoping he pays more careful attention to his new baby than he seemingly has to his old ones.
And, no, they are not laughing with him, as he becomes the butt of inspired viral mockery: Via JVL’s Saturday newsletter:
The hyper thin-skinned Musk responded by threatening to suspend the accounts of anyone who impersonated him (or anyone else, of course).
There’s so much going on here that reminds us how thoroughly we deserve all of this.
Confusing entertainment with substance, we turned celebrities into senators, and reality tv stars into presidents; millions of Americans think that an over-leveraged performative asshole has somehow cracked the code of... well, pretty much everything.
Our starf**king culture simply can’t get enough of starf**king someone who is not just famous, but rich beyond the dreams of avarice. And has 114 million followers on Twitter.
In a long-vanished century, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the rich “are different from you and me,” but the new class of FU rich are something else altogether. They live in self-created bubbles of reinforcement that let them live lives of self-fondling solipsism.
This is their precious. But marinating in the power, celebrity, and lulz long enough turns the oligarchs into Gollums, like the one who exposed himself so fabulously and relentlessly this week.
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So, Musk financed the making of a very expensive electric car, thus having almost no effect on climate change. He financed a rocket for celebrity tourism and eventually redoing NASA's voyages to a big rock. Very rich people finance things. They don't do the work. They can afford to overcome mistakes because they are using their own money and are answerable to no one. He's never been a genius anymore than the owner of an NFL team is a football player.