At least half the time you can tell how good or bad an episode of Saturday Night Live will go based solely on the opening monologue. This was true for the mostly-meh one from Elon Musk when he recently hosted. But, the billionaire’s monologue is interesting for another reason. If you’re still a little confused on how to feel about Elon Musk, everything good and bad about him is contained in his rambling, sometimes un-funny, sometimes hilarious, SNL monologue. It’s a bizarre rosetta stone into not just how Elon Musk might feel about himself, but also how we all feel about him.
Being interested in Musk makes you into the Batman villain Two-Face. Flip a coin and you can love him or hate him. On one hand, he’s the guy who got NASA astronauts back into space, launching them from American-made rockets. On the other, he’s the guy with highly questionable labor practices. On one hand, he seems like a cool new dad with indie-rocker Grimes. On the other, they named their baby X Æ A-Xii, which feels like a prank they’re pulling on all of us. Musk downplayed COVID-19 when it began, and creates situations that seem to exploit labor, and severely screw over local economies. He’s mentioned that getting to Mars will require people to die, but he’s also responsible for the push to Mars.
For better or for worse, the SNL monologue encapsulated this dichotomy of public opinion about Musk perfectly. This is pretty common, but it’s weird with Musk because he’s not someone who we think about in this kind of setting. Musk is the kind of celebrity that, if he existed in the pages of a 1970s science fiction novel, would seem unlikely. It’s one thing for the most powerful tech mogul to be pushing the boundaries of electric cars and space travel, it’s another for him to be a famous person married to a rock star. Musk is oddly famous for the right reasons, even if those reasons aren’t things that are desirable or good. Most actors or musicians have some kind of shittiness in their past, but we tend to overlook that kind of thing when they’re doing things we like. (Tom Cruise being a kooky-nutty Scientologist springs to mind.)
“I’m making history as the first person with Aspergers to host SNL,” Musk said. If you’ve got a kid with Aspergers, there’s something kind of inspiration about this, and many news articles reported this is Musk “coming out” as a person with Aspergers. But, in the context of the monologue, it’s kind of like Musk was making fun of people with Aspergers, too, because after the applause he said, “Or at least the first to admit it.”
“To anyone I’ve offended, I just want to say, I’ve reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you also think I was going to be a chill, normal dude?”
This where we’re all at with Elon Musk. The world didn’t ask for one of the most powerful people in history to be this guy. He is not universally loved. But, he’s not universally hated either. Elon Musk is like a giant new building being constructed in your neighborhood, or a weather forecast you’re not happy about. He’s here to stay. And we’re just trying to figure out how to live with that. The first step, it seems, was to normalize making fun of him.
You can watch the highlights of the Elon Musk SNL episode on Peacock.