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19 September 2018

The adolescent scent of Elon Musk

If lots of people dream of the visionary nature of a Tony Stark, those who really like Elon Musk are effectively teen boys who believe the world’s problems might be solved by magic.

By Antonia Quirke

Much was made of the 150-minute Californian podcast during which Elon Musk half-heartedly smoked a joint with the presenter, the comedian Joe Rogan – Tesla shares immediately crashed by 6 percent (and have since risen 12 percent, so go figure). But, what else was said? Some of the many highlights: Musk had just sold 20,000 quickly designed $500 flamethrowers. “I said, ‘Don’t buy this flamethrower! It’s dangerous, it’s wrong. To be totally frank it’s just a roofing torch with an air rifle cover.’ And still people bought it.” His tone was of benign exasperation. All these humans, what can you do with them? (“Does anybody tell you no?” marvelled Rogan. “Do they go, like Elon?”) On Musk’s proposed underground tunnels to transport the traffic-jammed residents of LA hither thither: “Well, it’s just a pit right now. A big pit. I don’t care about the existential nature of the pit. It’s just a hole in the ground.”

Rogan was exceptionally good at not saying things – letting Musk fill the silences – and then at choice moments over-burbling with compliments. “How does this motherfucker have all these ideas?” and, “If there’s, like, an extra-terrestrial, an AI, maybe it’s you. Hang around with us for a while and fix a bunch of shit, just like you’ve been doing!” So teenagerishly put. If lots of people dream of the visionary nature of a Tony Stark, those who really like Elon Musk are effectively 15-year-old boys who believe the problems of the world might be solved by magic. (Some recent post-podcast tweets: “EM is the hero we don’t deserve!”; “The guy is a legit bona fide hero”; “He is a literal hero of mine. I would cry if Elon ever blocked me.”)

What’s increasingly clear is that Musk is not Thomas Edison. He’s not Irving Thalberg. He’s not even James Dyson. He contributes a vibe more than anything. He’s an emblem of the shallow, boastful, anti-statist arrogance of Silicon Valley, and his recent unravelling (the claims about having funding to take Tesla private, or calling one of the cave divers who rescued the trapped Thai football team a “paedo”) has a touch of Tony Soprano (and Boris Johnson) to it – the acting out of problems of childhood. A lifelong lack of disapproval. That said, Musk also seemed quite… nice. That bitterly lonely moonface! “Maybe I’m a mutation,” he mourned. 

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This article appears in the 19 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next war