If you have an anti-Elon Musk take, you should probably publish it soon, because they are piling up. The latest was triggered by his attempt to help rescue a group of young soccer players trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand. A piece at Gizmodo said Musk’s attempt was a classic example of his empty promises, and made fun of the fact that no one wanted the mini-sub he developed. But the piece itself seems like a great example of something else: Namely, a desire to see the worst in Elon Musk, no matter what. It says:
The weird difference between some of Musk’s famous vaporiffic moonshots and the kid-sized submarine is that Musk actually built the sub. But it’s nothing more than a useless stunt. Not only did Musk show up too late to help, he showed up with a tool that wasn’t even helpful.
A similar sentiment triggered dozens of scathing Twitter memes about the dumb and publicity-hungry billionaire showing up after something is all over with the stupid invention that isn’t even necessary. But at the end of the Gizmodo piece, an update notes that Musk posted part of an email exchange he had with the man co-ordinating the rescue effort, in which the man encouraged Musk to hurry up developing the mini-sub. In other words, it wasn’t just some billionaire’s feeble attempt at PR.
Did this change anyone’s mind about Musk or the cave resuce? Not appreciably. After his tweet explaining the email exchange, new pieces appeared taking shots at him for denigrating **, because he said in his email that the man was a ** rather than an expert in cave rescues.
How did Musk suddenly become the poster child for bad billionaires? Not that long ago, he was a little-known engineering nerd working on an affordable electric car. What a great idea, everyone thought. He did a small cameo in the first Iron Man movie, and it seemed cute. Then it turned out he was building a reusable rocket that might go to Mars. Another great idea! Especially when it actually worked.
So what happened? The electric car turned out to be the Tesla, which is unaffordable for most normal people but took off with wealthy tech executives. Then Musk—who seems incapable of not doing five things at once—started a bunch of crazy-sounding side projects, like the Hyperloop, or his plan to dig tunnels underneath Los Angeles to avoid traffic. Almost all of these projects were seen as expensive toys designed by a short-attention-span billionaire, like his desire to shoot a Tesla into space.
Musk has also taken fire for the amount of debt he has raised to fund Tesla, even as he has come up short on production of the latest model, and he responded in a somewhat childish way by attacking the media for reporting on him. At one point, he even proposed starting a service that would automatically rank sources of trustworthy journalism, a service he sarcastically said would be called Pravda—which of course is the name of a notoriously unreliable Russian government newspaper.
When he was still a plucky, little-known entrepreneur, Musk’s try-anything attitude and somewhat wacky and combative Twitter persona seemed endearing. But now that he is running several billion-dollar enterprises and dating an Internet celebrity (singer **, also known as Grimes), the way he shoots from the lip on almost any topic makes his Twitter account a target-rich environment for anyone wanting to cut him down to size. And there is no shortage of people who seem eager to do so.