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The Shield Online

The Student News Site of McCallum High School

The Shield Online

The Student News Site of McCallum High School

The Shield Online

Billionaires and the art of self-sabotage

The Earth’s wealthiest people are also the most clueless
Mira Patel
The rich making such lofty promises only makes it harder for the everyman to care; rockets and high-speed trains, like the destinations they aim for, are all but out of reach.

On Sept. 27, 2021, prominent entrepreneur Elon Musk surpassed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to claim the title of being the world’s richest man. By November of that same year, his net worth touched the $320 billion mark. Imagine the things you could achieve with a mere hundredth of Musk’s money: fund charities for years to come; endorse cutting-edge medical technology that could save lives; secure a future for your children and grandchildren.

But, of course, Musk isn’t known for doing any of these things. Six months after securing this title, he began the process of acquiring the colossal social media site known at the time as Twitter, in a deal that would ultimately conclude with Musk parting with an inconceivable $44 billion. For perspective, that’s more money than the GDP of Bahrain or Paraguay or about 49 Samoas.

The year prior, he announced he spent $5.7 billion on various charities. A move in the right direction, but consider that this expenditure barely moved the needle because prior to this altruistic act he had yet to donate even 1% of his total funds.

Why, then, would he spend such a disproportionate amount of money on something so trivial as a social media site? A social media platform, even one as large as Twitter, never wielded too much influence in the grand scheme of events. Musk had always been an unrivaled presence on the site long before he owned it anyway, to the point where not much else could have been done to raise his exposure on the platform.

After doing some digging, the answer is simple: Musk, and modern moguls like him, collectively have the ego of a middle schooler and the social awareness to match.

You’d think that with 70% of the world’s billionaires officially being classified as self-made they’d have some character or some thick skin to deal with the criticism that, in their position, they should be accustomed to. However, it must be taken into account that “self-made” doesn’t exclude being incredibly assisted in their rise to the top. Musk’s two most prominent companies, for example, SpaceX and Tesla, receive more government funding than NPR, which he would ironically go on to label “government-influenced media” on his Twitter account. This is the same account where in the span of Sept. 6 to 7 this year he would ridicule the antiquated male perception of the female mystique with a meme and follow up the post several hours later with an outraged comment about the proposed judicial consideration of a child’s gender orientation in parental custody battles in the state of California.

Musk has his detractors, people who pop up in the comments sections of his posts to ridicule him in front of all his followers. The natural next step, to a sensitive man like he, was then to capture the platform. After all, when he becomes the main character of the site, all those naysayers seem a lot less important. Musk can continue whatever pseudo-intellectual drivel he wants.

Musk, and modern moguls like him, collectively have the ego of a middle schooler, and the social awareness to match.

His conflicting statements themselves from various areas of the political compass raise another confounding question: does Elon Musk believe in anything?

If his history is anything to go by, it would seem as though he believes in whatever will make him more popular. That is to say, he’ll say or do whatever gets the most people on his side or adjacently whatever makes him appear to be the smartest or funniest. From eye-rollingly pretentious remarks on social media about how “The Iliad is meant to be spoken,” to making all of the Tesla car models spell out “S3XY” when put together, he routinely rockets back-and-forth between these extremes of maturity. And, of course, there are the worst of all, the attempts to be cool, which gave us such classics as Musk comparing himself to Batman (coupled with the caption “Some nights…”) or his inexplicable cameo in the second Iron Man movie. The blunders are quite possibly innumerable, with the aforementioned examples only scratching the surface of his cluelessness. Recall his atrocious Saturday Night Live appearance, his public humiliation during his “Cybertruck” showcase, his public fight challenge to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg that was shut down by his own mother; the list goes on. For Christ’s sake, he’s not even beneath naming his children such absurd things as “Exa Dark Sideræl ” and “Techno Mechanicus,” essentially dooming their lives to harassment and ridicule, and for what? The title of the “Greatest of All Time” gets thrown around a bit liberally these days, but without a doubt in my mind, Elon Musk is perhaps the most dynamically ostentatious individual of modern times.

Nevertheless, despite all of his past embarrassments, I can say without an iota of doubt that his recent decision to rebrand Twitter is the most bafflingly misguided idea the man has ever had.

Twitter, at least when that was what it was called, was among the most recognizable brands in the world. It had its own slang, jargon and culture all simply derived from its name alone. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn if there are businessmen who’d be willing to commit actual crimes in order to obtain an idea as genius as the “Tweet.”

Elon Musk is perhaps the most dynamically ostentatious individual of modern times.

So, naturally, Musk changed the site’s name and branding to revolve around an alphabetical letter. Twitter is now X and a Tweet is also called “an X.”

Brand recognition? What’s that? Now one of the largest websites on Earth sounds like a you-know-what platform.

This is worse than Zuckerberg renaming Facebook, a decision that in hindsight, while fruitless and fairly stupid regardless, made sense considering the site had been dwindling in the public eye for the past few years and the news of the change boosted their popularity a little bit. For Twitter, whose user numbers continue to grow every month, a change in iconography could only lead to confusion and damage its image.

This leads me to believe that Musk genuinely thought this change would be a success because, in his head, everything he touches turns to gold. He’s built a name for himself by taking huge financial risks, and this time, it blew up in his face (not that he’ll ever admit defeat, that is).

Musk’s priorities are what I find most questionable above all. This is a 52-year-old man and father of 11. He has enough money to actually better the world more than most countries, but he’s too busy playing with toys. Instead, he’s infected by delusions of grandeur, pouring his millions into rocket ships, gaudy cars, AI and failed public projects like the Hyperloop. SpaceX alone proves he’d rather leave Earth behind than help repair it. From where I’m standing, Musk looks like someone doing everything they can to distract us from our issues rather than helping fix them.

He’s built a name for himself by taking huge financial risks, and this time, it blew up in his face (not that he’ll ever admit defeat, that is).

There are people who have been fooled by Musk’s ego. Somehow, the thousands upon thousands of people who flock to defend him online against any criticism leveled at his hubris or headlong behavior are convinced he’s got a plan, that he’ll figure it all out and lead the way for human advancement into a bright future. After all, this is Elon Musk, the man who pioneered the modern electric vehicle, the man who builds spaceships that NASA couldn’t dream of, right?

No. That’s a job carried out by scientists and engineers, people of genuine intellect and talent. The ones who work under Musk and whose names you’ll never hear about. Somehow, it seems like the image Musk proliferates of himself was fed back to him by his fanboys in social media echo chambers, and now he’s part of the con he started. Whether or not he realizes it, I cannot say. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that Elon Musk is a master of publicity stunts and self-promotion, and not much else.

Maybe his supporters hold the cult-like misapprehension that their loyalty will be rewarded, that maybe if they fight tooth and nail for his honor they will earn a spot in his Martian utopia he so often alludes to. As if his “achievements” will ever have a bearing on the blue-collar echelon of society.

The worst part of all of this is no matter what he does, he’s too big to fail. Normal people like you and I can’t stop him from doing whatever he wants. The guy at the top doesn’t have to listen to what other people say, and if he does, it’s probably yes-men.

Musk embodies everything I despise about the modern super-celebrity: he has the ego of Kanye West, the feral supporters of Donald Trump, the far-too-grand visions of Bezos and the social ineptitude of Zuckerberg.

A dreary picture this information does indeed paint, but we can explain it all with an amusingly pathetic truth: deep down, Musk desperately cares what everyone else thinks about him, and he needs us to think about him. Charity work and philanthropy don’t make the front page, but spaceships and fast cars do. Good acts don’t demand great attention, but social media sites do. Investing in life-saving medicine doesn’t interest the public, but investing in gimmicky cryptocurrency like the ill-fated Dogecoin does. Musk’s self-worth is dependent on our interest in him, and if the latter dies, so does the former.

So to him and to all these short-sighted billionaires and their trend-chasing, I say whatever. Sometimes there’s something to be said for playing small ball. Musk and his buddies can have all the Martian wasteland they want. I’ve got work tomorrow.

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