He’s worth the GDP of a small nation, wants to save the planet and is dating a pop star, so why is Elon Musk so profoundly uncool?
Elon Musk must be the least cool billionaire to ever live, and you know what? Fair play to him. Elon Musk is worth $18.8 billion, and he’s so uncool that his colossal wealth doesn’t insulate him from me - a nobody loser internet jerk - feeling sort of sorry for him. And maybe that’s because Elon Musk’s existence undermines a fantasy of mine that has sustained me and the majority of people for most of their lives: that if you try hard enough, you will become unspeakably rich, and when you’re unspeakably rich, every nobody jerk that ever wronged or looked down on you will be forced - in spite of themselves - to respect you. Turns out: nope.
Elon Musk’s appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast might be one of the least cool things to have ever a) been captured on film and b) been uploaded to the internet and c) featured Elon Musk. And those three categories encompass a lot. But first, some context….
Elon Musk started out by, as far as I understand it, inventing PayPal. Now PayPal’s useful and all, but it’s a bit of a boring bod way to make your millions. Like, alright poindexter, you coded an electronic payments and transfer system that’s been adopted globally, congratulations, you’re a hero to financiers. Profoundly uncool. So Elon sold PayPal, and founded a company called SpaceX to, as far as I understand it, be the guy that relocates humanity to space. Now that sounds pretty cool, until you remember that space sucks. Ooh, a seemingly limitless abyss occasionally littered with ugly uninhabitable grey rocks, that’s good and we should all move there, is it? Oh wait, we can’t, because the logistics are so improbably difficult we’ll most likely never get there within several lifetimes. Real cool use of a billion pounds, genius.
Anyway, to be fair to Elon, he also wants to save Earth by, as far as I understand it, creating solar panels, the tube transport system from Futurama and the luxury electric car company Tesla. Now, again, saving the planet is pretty cool, and I like any attempt to avoid an inevitable near-present of massive climate catastrophe and heat death and whichever one of those greenhouse gases it is that means I have a cold like 70% of the year. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, on the surface, Elon Musk’s ecological efforts (as far as I understand them) are ‘cool’. I think most people would.
That’s why he hides James Bond, Mario Kart and Atari ‘easter eggs’ in Tesla cars. That’s why he launched a Tesla car into space. That’s why he might get subpoenaed and face criminal charges while wiping millions off Tesla’s value because he tweeted a lame joke about 420. Why did he do any of these things? For no reason other than get himself upvoted to the top of Reddit and to make fellow poindexters the world over choke on their epic meal time bacon flavoured hash brownies.
But Elon Musk is losing grip on reality and his persona as a ‘competent and respected entrepreneur’ and is rapidly descending into his cool delusion. That’s why he turned up at the cave them Thai boys were trapped and briefly derailed the rescue efforts to detail his hairbrained Thunderbirds-inspired scheme to fish them out with a useless submarine. And that’s why he’s repeatedly accused one of the actual rescuers of being a paedophile, because - according to Musk, and not it should be stressed, in the opinion of ShortList - he’s English, old and lives in Thailand, and definitely not because he pointed out that Elon Musk’s intervention was completely useless. And that’s why Azealia Banks - having spent days at Musk’s house ostensibly to collaborate with his girlfriend Grimes - took to Instagram to accuse him of having hair-plugs, trying to engineer a threesome and having to have Grimes restrain him from using Twitter under the influence of acid. And that’s why he invited journalists to tour his Tesla factory, grew angry at their safety precautions, and started headbutting cars to prove that it was fine to keep conveyor belts running even if they collided with his staff.
And that’s why he went on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
Joe Rogan is a weird interviewer, because Joe Rogan makes no bones about the fact he’s barely prepared any questions or research on his subjects and instead wants to just ask you about which hallucinogens you’ve tried and whether you’ve seen this YouTube channel which reenacts Genghis Khan’s battles with spliffs. It’s disarming. To Joe Rogan, you might as well not exist before his podcast, or outside of his podcasting room, but once you’re inside, you’re the person Joe Rogan is singularly most fascinated by in the entire universe, and he’s deeply invested in finding out what your opinion is on the first thing that comes to his mind.
You could be telling Joe Rogan that you work in office management and are mainly involved in maintaining and optimising various systems and records, and Joe Rogan would take an enormous toke of his trusty joint and whisper “wooooaah.” He could ask you what you do for fun, what are your hobbies, and you could reply nothing, you don’t have any hobbies, and Joe Rogan would look at his table, put his hands to his temples, his eyes threatening to bulge out of their sockets, and exclaim “that’s so interesting to me, man. That’s some heavy shit. That’s dark. ‘Nothing.’ Wow, that’s crazy.” You could sit there in complete silence for three hours and Joe Rogan would maintain eye contact with you, nodding away vigorously as though you were delivering the most excoriating state-of-the-nation address anyone had ever heard, occasionally imploring his cameraman Jamie to pull up a video of two CGI goblins having sex while chatting about flat earth theory.
And so here we are. Elon Musk, not a month after having had to to reassure his increasingly alarmed investors by telling The New York Times he was not ‘on weed’, has gone on the stoners’ choice Joe Rogan Experience podcast and smoked weed. And it was the least cool thing of all time.
Here is Joe Rogan showing Elon Musk a samurai sword.
Elon Musk is 47-years-old. It doesn’t matter how old Joe Rogan is, Joe Rogan’s childlike enthusiasm for samurai swords is completely genuine. He respects the sword, knows how it was forged, respects the artefact for its context within history, wants Elon Musk to appreciate it for all the wonder it’s given him. Elon Musk only knows that it’s a sword, and that swords are cool, and that he ought to look impressed at having held the sword, to impress Joe Rogan. When he sheaths the sword, Elon Musk can’t help but do an involuntary - or maybe not - pathetic little flex of his shoulders, as if holding a sword in a podcast studio has activated some inner machismo. He’s 47-years-old.
Joe Rogan, bless him, perma-blazed out of his mind, waffles about how one day people will admire Tesla cars in the same way, because of how their doors open(?). “You should see what the Tesla can do,” Elon Musk mumbles, a line borrowed from every badly-written superhero movie where some Peter Parker-type impresses his playboy surrogate father with the extent of his genius and his inventions. “Uh… you didn’t… you should, you- I’ll show you afterwards…”
Joe Rogan informs him he’s driven a Tesla before, and suddenly Musk baulks. “Yeah… but most people don’t know what it can do…” Joe Rogan keeps probing. What can it do? Drive fast? What? A sheepish Elon Musk blurts “Uh, I mean, the Model X can do this like… ballet thing… to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra… it’s pretty cool…” He’s 47-years-old.
I don’t know what point Elon Musk is trying to make here. People look to Elon Musk as some sort of 21st-century disrupter-cum-soothsayer. He invented all sorts of stuff, became a billionaire, surely he has a lot of wisdom to share on the modern condition? Surely he’s one of the wisest of all? This logic would explain some of the fervour of his fandom.
But what is is wisdom? The millionth-worst(?) person in the United States is “pretty damn bad”? “One in a million of evil is so evil people cannot even conceive of it. But there’s 330 million people in the United States, so that’s 330 people, out there somewhere.”
Uh. This is a man who wants to colonise Mars. He’s also a man who produces statistics like “one in a million people are inconceivably evil” from thin air and then decides that, empirically, there must be 330 inconceivably evil Americans. He’s decided on this stat because, like every bluffer ever, he likes the sound of ‘million’ as a number. And his calculations are supposed to be sending people to Mars.
This is it. This is the least cool one. This is proof Elon Musk had never smoked weed before meeting Joe Rogan. Elon Musk might be getting subpoenaed for making a weed joke, and he hadn’t even tried weed.
“So is that a joint… or is that a cigar? It’s weed? So it’s like posh- pot- tobacco- pots?” That is a transcript of Elon Musk trying to convince Joe Rogan he had smoked weed before and knew all the weed words.
“You never had that?” Joe Rogan asks, and Elon Musk immediately jumps in: “Yeah, I think I tried one once…” And it’s possible to generously read Elon Musk as doing knowing sarcasm here, but it’s also possible to read this sarcasm as Elon Musk covering himself, as plausible denial, because he doesn’t actually know what a blunt is, and this way makes it seem like he’s had so much weed he’s forgotten what a blunt even is, and this way he doesn’t want to lose face in front of a stoned Joe Rogan on the Joe Rogan Experience.
Joe Rogan is understanding, even if he doesn’t understand. “You probably can’t [smoke] because stockholders, right?” Now, it’s important to note that this statement here is coming from a man who gets high for a living, and not the other man, who is the high-profile CEO of a multinational corporation. Because that man wants to prove to Joe Rogan so much that he knows what weed is that he asks if it’s legal, then takes the blunt, then examines it like he’s a weed aficionado and definitely not someone who doesn’t know which end goes in his mouth, then takes a big toke, and pulls the exact expression of a teen who feels like Tony Montano after having their first puff of a cigarette, and one who knows their pals will be impressed as long as they can keep the cough that’s rising in their throat from escaping beyond their mouth.
Anyway, that single toke has crashed Tesla shares by 8% and didn’t even make Elon Musk look cool. He is actively harming his company - the one ostensibly trying to save the planet and the one slightly redeeming ‘cool’ aspect of his personhood - in an attempt to seem cool to… ??? And he’s not even doing it well. And fair play to him.