Elon Musk’s right-wing turn is painful (because he is terminally unfunny).
Ever since Elon Musk completed his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter in October, he’s been replying to the tweets of a man named Ian Miles Cheong on a near weekly basis. Cheong is a minor flunky of the bygone MAGA cultural revolution; like his contemporary Milo Yiannopoulos, he first came to prominence in 2014, during Gamergate—when, basically, crypto-Fascist teens on Xbox Live cried fat, salty tears because Activision had the gall to add a few female characters to Call of Duty—which paid off beautifully a few years later, when Trump ascended to the White House and ushered all of that retrograde social ideation into mainstream politics. Cheong maintains an atrophying empire (read: about 300,000 Twitter followers) by brazenly promoting the most unhinged policy proposals imaginable—like mandatory capital punishment for all shoplifters—which are eagerly lapped up by his audience, a group that seems to comprise mostly men who owe at least one of their children a phone call.
This constituency is currently stinging from a monumental rebuke in the midterms; the bloviating, bad-faith, and deeply weird MAGA base slammed against the glass ceiling and collapsed in a heap. America chose normalcy, and thank God for that. Ian Miles Cheong and the rest of his ilk are officially past their prime. But they’ve retained at least one important fan: the richest man in the universe, who is in the midst of his own midlife crisis, and who just took over the social media platform where they most often perform their grievance melodrama.
“Support is greatly appreciated!” tweeted Elon Musk after Cheong recently took aim at Tim Cook during Musk’s ongoing feud with Apple.
“Seems like the NPC to PC ratio is super high,” Musk said after Cheong noted—in what I assume was supposed to be a burn—that Alyssa Milano, the actress and Democratic activist, once drove a Tesla before becoming a Musk critic.
Musk’s rightward drift is one of the most scrutinized storylines in the tech sector. After fashioning himself as an ecological visionary dedicated to saving human civilization from disaster through clean energy, space colonization, and a thick portfolio filled with generous government contracts, Musk has recently solidified himself as a fringe, sideshow mouthpiece for the Lauren Boebert wing of the GOP . (He still claims to be a centrist, in the same way that commentator Tim Pool claims to be a disaffected liberal.) All of the man’s established precepts have been swapped out with issues that reek of a distinctly paleoconservative tang. For instance: He now believes that swooning birth rates are a bigger threat to the human race than climate change is. Musk has carried that philosophy into his management approach, and has operated his newly purchased social network with the cloying, unsavory cruelty of so many unaccountable titans of capital before him: mass layoffs, hollowing austerity measures, and yes, a willingness to frequently rub elbows with guys like Ian Miles Cheong. It is as if his sole desire is to be hated by liberals, which appears to be the only animating practice of the entire Republican Party.
I’m not here to home in on the particulars of Musk’s politics. (I already did that, a month ago.) In fact, I’d argue that his recent redpilling is barely relevant to why his stewardship of Twitter has been so uniquely agitating. Sure, it isn’t ideal that Musk has restored the accounts of guys like Jordan Peterson, but I am not of the opinion that social media has much effect on corporeal reality. (May I reiterate one more time: the midterms!) Instead, the worst part about Musk’s Twitter tenure is that he is simply bad at posting. He was consistently one of the most oppressive presences on social media in the mid-2010s, back when he was promising to dig a tunnel from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and he’s only grown more obnoxious as he attempts to fabricate a strained MAGA pivot while he loses all of his famous friends slowly. We have handed over the Crucible of Posting to someone who has a remedial understanding of the art; honestly, that might be the impetus for his radicalization.
There’s already a lot of literature that’s been published on Musk’s shortcomings as a poster. In 2021 the New York Times went long on the frequency at which Elon pilfers memes he finds on Reddit without proper accreditation (a big no-no—just ask @FuckJerry). The underlying thesis here is that he was never able to engineer the creativity, humor, or cultural fluency necessary to become an elite tweeter, so, like innumerable struggling YouTubers and canceled podcast hosts before him, Musk has started playing to the cheap seats by taking on the woke mob in the name of free speech, which has, frankly, become the hackiest and most overplayed hand on social media.
But he can’t even do that right. Musk’s newfangled based persona is wooden and vibeless, a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. To clap back at CBS News, he’s using terrible photoshops of Brokeback Mountain, which has to be the most inept, warmed-over touchstone in anyone’s meme arsenal. He believes that millennials spend too much money on Starbucks Frappuccinos—that old “$12 avocado toast” chestnut—a satirical terrain most often explored by guys like Andrew Dice Clay. He’s shared a photo of his bedside table, which is covered with four cans of caffeine-free Diet Coke and an antique pistol, which I assume is a way to better endear himself to the only demographic who will still be on Twitter by 2023. All of these missives are nakedly counterfeit and desperately needy—like someone who’s learned the contours of alt-right diction from an academic journal—but most pertinently, Musk is plainly not very funny. It is the eldritch truth that eats at his core—his Rosebud, if you will. Musk can never outrun it for long, so he jumps from one pandering scheme to another, owning the libs to diminishing returns. A few years ago, Musk was poaching Onion staffers to start a competing national lampoon. (It never got off the ground.) Now he’s restored Twitter access for the Babylon Bee, a MAGA-tinged Onion facsimile that also happens to be one of the cringiest humor publications on the internet. The political polarities have flipped, but the fundamental fraughtness of Musk’s being remains the same. He doesn’t have the juice, so he must outsource his way toward the repartee he so clearly desires.
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In that sense, Elon Musk and Ian Miles Cheong are perfect bedfellows. The MAGA front, at least as we once knew it, is sloping toward oblivion. Their moment burned bright at the confused zenith of 2016; a new brand of vindictive conservatism had scaled the mountain on the back of Trump’s malice, charisma, and (as much as it pains me to say it) preternatural posting gifts. But political zeitgeists are ephemeral, and the participants in this one are losing all of their currency. This is especially true for those, like Musk, who arrived at the grift far too late. His newfound MAGA-ness possesses no potency or shock value; it carries none of the sinister, insurrectionary heat of, say, peak Yiannopoulos. Instead, it comes off mostly as unseemly and embarrassing, because Musk, by his nature, is eternally out of sync. Like the Twitter-addled, red-leaning VCs in his orbit, he is coasting on pure capital momentum—the David Sacks method—totally artless save for the ability to buy a few news cycles. All of these men are washed up and airing an endless supply of grievances, and if more people are tuning in (Twitter usage is supposedly up), it’s in large part to see the wreckage. Elon Musk is $44 billion lighter, and he still sucks at Twitter. At last, he finally did something funny