Poor Elon Musk. However you might opt to label him – from freedom-defending visionary to steadily-radicalizing clown – he is, in the end, one of us. His upbringing was vastly more privileged than most, but in the final reckoning, he’s just another modern human, milked dry of dopamine by cathecting onto the chaotic, ever-escalating hum of a mass media that broadcasts far beyond (and far short of) any individual horizon. He can whinge about unfair coverage, grumble about a Colbert or a Kimmel taking a cheap shot. But there is no reason to take to the stage with Dave Chappelle at your moment of greatest ignominy if you aren’t seeking validation in the broader media ecosystem, aren’t seeking inclusion in the constellation of cultural referents they are tasked with curating.
Just a few measly centuries ago, artists and entertainers were almost wholly reliant on the patronage networks of the wealthy and the powerful. They come to you, cater to your tastes, model for the masses the staggering depth and breadth of your subjectivity. Now, gallingly for such a one as Mr. Musk, Western media industries have risen to the status of equity partners in the power structure, secured a durable fragment of influence over How Things Are To BeTM. And because their most visible public manifestation consists of beautiful humans being cool in public, they have much more influence on the aesthetics of our emerging dystopia than Elon and his hasty-first-draft approach to designing the future. He cannot torture or exile a one of them, but they can absolutely contribute to dictating what it would be cool for him to wear, or who will have the cultural cache he so badly wants to leech off of. Moreover, they can forbid these things to him, mock him, deny him a sniff of even the evaporating spume of the glitz and glamor they’ve monopolized. His Saturday Night Live episode becomes a 12:30 that never was, yet never stops. […]