Elon Musk Made It His Job To Make Himself Look Dumb

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In 1987, Oliver Stone released Wall Street. The film, in theory, was an indictment of the rapacious excess wrought by rising financialization. At the center was Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas. “The personification of heartless 1980s excess,” according to the Washington Post, Gekko is calm and venal; suave but loathsome. Yet the film’s screenwriter, Stanley Weiser, discovered viewers saw Gekko another way. In 2008, Wesler wrote, of the experience of running into “quite a number of younger people, who upon discovering that I co-wrote [Wall Street], wax rhapsodic about it.” They told him they went into business because they “wanted to be like Gordon Gekko.”

Again and again, this has happened. Brett Easton Ellis skewered the identityless sickos of Wall Street by writing about Patrick Batemen, bluntly titling his novel American Psycho. But the Toronto Star reported that in the lead-up to the release of the movie version of the book, Lions Gate set up a promotional website where users could leave public messages. Bateman fans showed up and wrote things like “‘American Psycho is my Bible.” Wolf of Wall Street went through a similar cycle of adulation, even though the real-life Jordan Belfort destroyed his own life by idolizing Gekko.

The critique in each film could not get past the facts: The characters won, and the depiction of the empty evil inherent in climbing the ladder could not overcome that their success still looked better than most American lives.

It’s interesting then to consider that one of the few rich people to look like a complete loser in his fictionalized bildungsroman was Mark Zuckerberg.

In the 2000s, tech firms partially supplanted the financial industry as the most efficient place to make large sums of money. The new heirs to the throne of American capitalism wanted to be idolized even more than the fictional bankers that came before them. As Scott Galloway noted in The Atlantic, idolization drove capital. WeWork’s 2019 S-1 filing to go public mentions Adam Neumann’s 169 times for a reason. 

But, as has become increasingly obvious after Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter this week, getting rich does not make you deserving of praise. In fact, Elon Musk’s Twitter timeline is making one of the clearest cases that meritocracy is a myth. The reason Silicon Valley people, to their absolute chagrin, can’t be idolized like the maniacal bankers that came before them, is that they got rich by engineering the precise platforms that make them look awful.

I have to assume that Musk wanted to make his life better or cooler when he purchased Twitter. He ended up doing the absolute opposite. Since buying the platform, he rivaled his own all-time self-own (when he tweeted his way into SEC investigation) by tweeting, then deleting, a news article from a fake local hoax news website in a reply to the former secretary of state. There is no way to come back from something like that.

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