Looking Good, Elon! Feeling Good, Trashcan Man!
11:44 AM EST on December 1, 2023
These are heady times for Elon Musk, the most exhausting clod on Earth. On Thursday, Tesla, the electric vehicle company he controls, was due to begin deliveries of its long-awaited, -delayed, and -derided Cybertruck, an all-electric light-duty pickup swaddled in angular stainless steel and heretofore famous mostly for amateur videos of its struggles to mount normal curbs and modest hummocks (and for being spectacularly bad-looking). Finally, after a four-year wait, some unknown number of Tesla superfans will get to own what is perhaps, given all the various factors bearing on the production and purchase of personal vehicles in the year 2023, the single most embarrassing creation in the history of humankind.
Musk's other companies are up to stuff, as well. A couple weeks ago SpaceX, his rockets-and-space outfit, exploded a skyscraper-sized would-be spaceship in the sky, far shy of its goals; the wreck rained trash across the planet, in what the cow-eyed legacy media called a landmark achievement despite various official space agencies around the world having long since accomplished "launching a ship into space without exploding it" by the time Elon Musk was born. The Boring Company, Musk's tunneling outfit, has been in the news, too, with Fortune's report that the company—famous for its grandiose Hyperloop proposals in various cities and municipalities—has accomplished a grand total of 2.4 miles of tunnel in seven years, precisely none of which are anything like the Hyperloop concept or in any way an improvement on aboveground commuting, for either commuters or towns.
That's not all, though! X, née Twitter, the microblogging platform this genius bought on accident for twice its value a little over a year ago and which likely is now worth less than a quarter of what he paid for it, is struggling. It is losing its most valuable advertising partners, whose money has always provided nearly all the company's anemic bloodflow, entirely 100-percent because of stuff Musk has done to the company and its product, either via numb-skulled executive fiat or through the sneering bigotry he himself posts and promotes on the site. Again, this is entirely 100-percent because Musk is, and I do not say this lightly, the rankest ignoramus presently living.
As briefly as I can summarize: He destroyed Twitter's utility as a news service. He actively elevated and empowered its most poisonous and/or frightening and/or tiresome users. He made it janky and unreliable by gutting its workforce. He renamed it "X," instantly rendering it somehow both anonymous and incandescently corny. Worst and most poisonous of all, he associated it with himself—with, that is, the rankest ignoramus presently living. It's that guy's website, now.
As to that. People still evidently want to hear from this absolute buttmunch, which is not really surprising I guess, even where it can't be explained by ghoulish rubbernecking. Just about everything bad anyone might ever wish to say about society under capitalism is both crystallized and proven correct by the fact that Elon Musk remains Important despite all of the above. In fact he is probably at least as important as he has ever been, because "important" is just a synonym for "rich" in a society in which nothing substantial can be accomplished or even meaningfully attempted without first convincing at least one hyper-rich cretin that it will gratify them personally or financially. Conceivably Musk might not be quite as rich, or uh liquid or whatever, as he was some time ago, or maybe his rate of becoming richer has slowed somewhat, but he remains, inarguably, super duper friggin' rich, and therefore important at a scale previously reserved for, like, pharaohs. Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times and CNBC interviewed him earlier this week, and it served as a nice reminder of why pharaohs so seldom sat for interviews.
Here is an entirely representative snippet:
This bit, in which Sorkin attempts to extract lucid thoughts from Musk on the harm his own actions have done to X/Twitter, is a hilarious document for a few reasons. The first is just Musk's whole personal deal, which is instantly familiar to anyone who has ever shared a dreary retail shift (or, hell, elevator ride) with a tiresome dickweed who does all of his day-to-day socializing in hyper-curated online spaces. There's the man's howling bottomless anti-charisma; the painful, excruciatingly misplaced cocksureness; the not merely bad but actively uncanny timing of someone unaccustomed to unmediated meatspace interaction. Has there ever been a less magnetic individual? I wouldn't follow him if he was ahead of me in line for free ice cream.
Musk, for his part, seems to think he's crushing it. The man is so profoundly sure that his dumb, todder-like, obviously pre-planned "Go fuck yourself" is going to dazzle and delight the crowd; that they will, depending on their sympathies, gasp (the owned libs) or applaud (astounded freethinkers) at his boldness, or moral courage, or edgy fearless cool or whatever. He's so sure of it that he takes not one but two more passes at the line, each more deathly than the last: first with some theatrical handwaving that earns him a smattering of pity-chuckles from the crowd, and then again as a psychedelically cringey "G ... F ... Y" that makes clear he either doesn't understand or is intentionally dodging Sorkin's anodyne question.
Now, it's true: Corny self-impressed mediocrities with zero self-awareness are not, as a rule, especially hilarious, even unintentionally. But this is one of the planet's richest and most powerful people—a 52-year-old ultra-celebrity who can pick and choose his media engagements with a privilege rivaled only by certain heads of state and Taylor Swift—fully reduced to Walter Sobchak's "Shomer fucking Shabbos" routine by momentary exposure to gentle half-adversarial questioning along utterly predictable lines from a broadly friendly interlocutor. That's funny!
No less funny is Musk's virtually instantaneous full-brain meltdown, as soon as Sorkin shows the slightest resistance to the megaton rhetorical force of awkwardly repeating "Go fuck yourself" in increasingly dumb ways, at people who are not present, for the benefit of people who are not impressed. "Yes, no, no, it, I-I-I, if, a-a-a-a-absolutely, so, um, no-no, totally, so, so, wha, eh, actually," he offers, all but bleeding from the eyeballs: "What this advertiser boycott is gonna do is, it's gonna kill the company." What's remarkable is not the prediction (he might be right!) but the dunce's bearing as he makes it. He appears to think, to sincerely believe, that what he is proclaiming is something like an indictment ... of the advertisers who are not paying money to promote their shit on Twitter.
To back this up, Musk offers what he appears, once again in all sincerity, to believe is some kind of threat: "And the whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company. And we will document it in great detail."
Now comes my very favorite part. Sorkin, with growing incredulity—Elon has turned out to be a much cringier and more childish dullard than he'd hoped, to the point where sophisticated discussion is already fully off the table—replies that those advertisers will dispute the accusation that they killed the company. At which point a once again totally certain Musk cuts in with, "Oh yeah? Tell it ... tell it to Earth."
Tell it to Earth. Tell it to Earth! Tell it ... to Earth. To Earth, tell it! Tortilla teeth!
Musk holds here. Once again he is expecting to have impressed everyone. Once again he is greeted by icy polar silence.
The advertisers, Sorkin pushes back, will say that you killed the company by saying bad stuff that made it a toxic environment for a business that is just trying to sell iPads to be associated with. "And let's see," Musk replies, smirking triumphantly, "how Earth responds to that."
Truly, I say to you today that this man's brain is like a solitary Cheeto. His contention—again, one of the richest guys alive, the world-famous Mind Wizard and Business Lord the legacy media spent much of the past 15 years hailing as a modern Leonardo da Vinci who will usher humanity to the stars—is that X going out of business (because he turned it into Elon's Around-The-Clock Nazi Hoedown) will be worse for, say, Apple than it will be ... for X.
Is there any other way to read this? To the extent that this addled gobbledygook can be parsed for an underlying logic, that has to be it. After all, Musk is not offering any adjustments to his own behavior here; the onus for saving his company, he appears sincerely to believe, falls heavily and urgently on, like, Disney. Freaking Disney must act quickly to resume posting advertisements on X, lest X fail, leaving freaking Disney exposed to the judgment ... of Earth. The man has shot his own hand off with a blunderbuss; now, with absolute bulletproof self-assurance, he threatens freaking Disney: Reattach my hand for me—pay to reattach my hand!—or face the wrath ... of Earth.
Here is where I started thinking about the ridiculous anecdote from Walter Isaacson's Musk biography that tore its way around the internet a while back, the one where a younger Elon continually goes all-in on poker bets, losing and losing and losing, until, solely because he has enough money to absorb the losses and keep at this stupid-ass gambit, he lucks into a winner, at which point he gets up and walks triumphantly from the table. Here are the wages of lifelong insulation from accountability and material consequence: The poor doofus simply has no idea how to judge stakes, success and failure, causes and effects. On a basic level he does not even really possess the capacity to tell who is risking what in a conflict; he is the equivalent of a tennis player, down two sets and a double-break in the third, exulting because their opponent faulted on a first-serve attempt. They wanted an ace there and didn't get one, and that makes me the victor.
X is very important to Elon Musk. Probably not in business or financial terms: He long ago crested the levels of wealth concentration that render him effectively invulnerable to material consequence; in the time I've been writing this post he made more money just off the interest on the money he's already got than every generation of my family put together ever had or will have. But personally, to his ego, X is gigantic: It is where he encounters the legions of contemptible sweaty-handed losers who have paid money to call him history's greatest golden boy when he posts threadbare epic bacon shit from 20 years ago. Whatever it once was, it is now mostly a place where dead-eyed supplicants tell him that he is playing five-dimensional chess when he pukes down the front of his shirt. It is where his null personality and vaporware wit find mediation in the imaginative work those jerks will do on his behalf to superimpose charm and irony onto the bean-brained inheritance baby who sold them a blue Big Dumb Asshole badge online.
His problem—one of them, anyway—is that he can't tell where he ends and the world outside himself begins. X is very large and important to him and he cannot imagine living without it; therefore it must also be that way to, like, friggin' Microsoft. Because he has never experienced anything like real stakes in his life, because, like all members of his class, he handles consequences by simply pouring them onto the head of someone poorer, he genuinely cannot conceive of X's death harming him more than it harms someone else. He can't imagine that the earth, writ large—Earth, the planet with people living on it—might not pity him just as much as he pities himself.
Many different things can rot a person's mind—can erode their critical and moral faculties, dissolve their awareness of themselves and of the reality of others, turn them into Norma Desmond demanding her close-up. Fame. Wealth. Power. Impunity. Gratification. Sycophants. Drugs. Here is a man who has overindulged in all of these in gargantuan proportions, indulged until he is a great big sodden bag of shit, slumped and sludgy and spongy on the inside, like everything in there has been steeping in a Coca-Cola bath for 30 years. Too spoiled and indolent for the meager work of sussing out a single thought's contours and borders, to say nothing of connecting it to another, without some Waylon Smithers at hand to do the lifting for him.
He also looks like shit! He looks like the answer to the question "What if toadies emitted gamma radiation." He looks like somebody made an applehead Martin Bormann doll, sprayed it with vegetable oil, and dressed it up like it was going trick-or-treating as Maverick from Top Gun. I wouldn't let him pet my dog.