A matter of hours after being named TIME’s 2021 Person of the Year, Elon Musk is making the news for hurling a string of sexist tweets at Sen. Elizabeth Warren for calling on him to pay taxes. In response to Warren’s pretty reasonable demand, the richest man in the world told her she reminded him of “when I was a kid and my friend’s angry mom would just randomly yell at everyone for no reason,” and told her to “please don’t call the manager Senator Karen.”
It’s hard to know where to start with this one, between the 101-level sexism of comparing a woman who says something you don’t like to a shrill, naggy mom, or Musk’s authoritatively disproven lie that he had friends growing up—and all of this tweeted from behind the avatar of a phallic rocket ship. Let’s not overlook, too, the truly bizarre insinuation that in any interaction with Warren, Musk, whose net worth stands at $240 billion, would be the overworked customer service representative, and Warren, the racist and entitled patron.
One can only guess as to the motivations behind Musk’s increasingly unhinged Twitter behaviors, which just so happen to coincide with one lawsuit after another alleging rampant sexual harassment, assault, and “Jim Crow”-level racism at Tesla. But more than a distraction, Musk’s particularly heated response to Warren appears to come from a place of fragility, from frustration that despite his fortune, his internet edginess, his carefully curated bad-boy persona, there are still people—many people—who don’t like him, and, god forbid, don’t think he’s cool.
Fragility and a desperate need to be liked aren’t unique to Musk, but seem to be a common symptom of billionaire depravity. On top of leeching every last cent to add to their billions while a third of Americans have put off seeking health care in the past three months because of costs, they need our devoted adulation, too.
It was just a few months ago that following new reporting about Amazon’s mistreatment of factory workers, allegedly forced to urinate in bottles because they aren’t allowed to take breaks, the corporation tweeted directly at Senators Warren and Bernie Sanders, “If that were true, nobody would work for us,” among other snarky one-liners, and created a deluge of fake Twitter accounts for imaginary, happy Amazon workers. Arguably the most disturbing takeaway from Amazon’s obsessive urine-bottle-trutherism is Jeff Bezos’s psychopathic need to be liked. If you’re allowed to hoard that much wealth and be that evil, we should be allowed to hate you in peace, yet Bezos can’t even give us that.
Facebook—sorry, “Meta”—CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to share this desperation. If I had irreversibly destabilized democracy, exposed millions to QAnon and anti-vax conspiracy theories during a pandemic, knowingly subjected disproportionately teenage girls to eating disorders and depression, and possibly incited genocide in Myanmar, all because as a college student I wanted to rate women on their “hotness,” I would simply never speak or do anything again. Instead, Zuck is as obsessive as Bezos when it comes to laundering his company’s image and his own, going so far as to rename and rebrand Facebook and even create a new world—a “Metaverse”—where he might possibly be liked.
Musk, you’ll recall, has grown his net worth by nearly $200 billion over the course of the pandemic, all while forcing his workers early on to essentially choose between risking their lives or losing their livelihood amid a public health crisis. He’s personally squashed his workers’ numerous attempts to unionize, presides over factories with some of the highest injury rates in the nation, and makes about $22,500 per minute while paying his factory workers almost half the national average auto manufacturing wage.
But still, Elon wants us to believe he’s just one of us, a fellow internet shitposter who frequently bemoans his imagined poverty because his $240 billion aren’t “liquid” and he doesn’t take home a salary. Where Bezos and Zuckerberg attempt at coolness through ceremonious space travel and creating the real-life Matrix, respectively, Musk’s approach is significantly lazier: He just tweets, with a particular affinity for sexism and pathetically un-funny jokes.
And his legions of fan-boys, many of whom are likely one or two missed paychecks away from total financial ruin, buy into all of it. Anyone even vaguely Online has likely encountered these dweebs before, ready in an instant to help their “technoking” ratio a US senator with his epic memes or remind anyone within an ear-shot that Musk is actually broke because all of his money is in stocks, and we should actually be paying him. It’s worth noting for all their insistence that Musk made his billions through hard work and hard work alone, he sure has a lot of time to tweet.
Elon Musk can see himself through the eyes of his adoring fans, or name-call the senator who created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, all he wants, but he’ll never actually be cool to anyone, beyond perhaps a narrow sliver of the least cool people on the internet. He is, at the end of the day, just a 50-year-old man with seven kids, apartheid-emerald generational wealth, hair implants styled in a $5 neo-Nazi cut, and a Twitter account.