Nevertheless your 2021 goes, what’s plain is that after Donald Trump left workplace earlier this 12 months, an odd cultural quietude settled upon America. Nobody would dare name it peace. However the audiences for TV information and on-line media immediately shrunk. Slightly than fretting fairly as a lot about an imminent civil battle, commentators have been arguing about sexy hip-hop videos. Saturday Evening Reside, the uncommon Twenty first-century leisure that almost all People appear to keep up some consciousness of, has been adrift: Hundreds of thousands of viewers have been sitting out the 2021 season. The present’s most notable section this 12 months was about sassy icebergs.
Not too long ago, although, America has gave the impression to be auditioning a brand new candidate for prime agitator of worthwhile controversy: Elon Musk. When SNL introduced that the 49-year-old Tesla CEO would host final night time’s present, it kicked off a nationwide argument with all-too-familiar overtones. Musk is a billionaire commanding a persona cult with trollish tweets. He’s a self-styled savior of mankind who additionally downplayed the specter of COVID-19. He’s a white man who thinks he’s humorous however who actually, actually isn’t. Some pundits chided SNL for elevating a determine who has used public platforms to bully and unfold misinformation. Others cheered open discourse and capitalism. Musk’s followers dreamed of him plugging their favourite cryptocurrency, Dogecoin. SNL appeared all however certain to bust its scores stoop.
The episode that in the end aired didn’t really feel well worth the fuss. It wasn’t offensive, redemptive, memorable, and even entertaining. But, as Trump’s history with SNL exhibits, the cloak of mildness and mediocrity could be helpful for somebody whose true affect has little to do with comedy or allure.
The pundits who mentioned SNL would “humanize” Musk have been onto one thing, although it’s powerful to criticize the humanization of any dwelling, respiratory particular person. The present opened with a feel-good Mom’s Day montage of forged members bantering with their mothers whereas Miley Cyrus sang Dolly Parton’s “Gentle of a Clear Blue Morning.” Musk’s mother later joined him for his monologue. However first, he confirmed up onstage alone, wearing a dictator-chic swimsuit, and provided this factlet: “I’m truly making historical past tonight as the primary particular person with Asperger’s to host SNL.”
The historicity of that milestone for SNL was debatable (the actor Dan Aykroyd mentioned, years after internet hosting the present, that he had Asperger’s syndrome too). For Musk, although, the comment represented a first-time public disclosure of a private situation. He then touted his grand imaginative and prescient—“a renewable-energy future” through which humanity turns into “a multi-planetary spacefaring civilization”—whereas acknowledging his antics have typically distracted from that imaginative and prescient. “To anybody I’ve offended, I simply need to say, I reinvented electrical vehicles and I’m sending individuals to Mars on a rocket ship,” he mentioned. “Did you assume I used to be additionally going to be a chill, regular dude?” An apology for dissing vaccines or attacking whistleblowers, this was not. It was, nonetheless, respectable model administration.
In an oddly insistent means, a lot of the episode reiterated Musk as delusion quite than man by having him play variations of his personal persona. When he appeared as a “Gen Z Hospital” physician buying and selling slang with a bunch of children, it delivered to thoughts Musk’s penchant for recycling memes on Twitter. Later within the episode, Musk performed himself, the SpaceX head honcho, confidently speaking with a Mars colony in disaster (Pete Davidson’s recurring doofus, Chad, turned a hero and went splat—RIP Chad!). One bit had Musk playing an unfairly stereotyped villain, Nintendo’s Wario, whereas Musk’s girlfriend, the singer Grimes, made a cameo as Princess Peach. The final sketch of the night time featured him pitching Wild West variations of his Boring Company; buried within the bit was, lastly, a tepid mea culpa for mocking COVID-19 security measures.
None of this meta-Musk riffing labored nicely as comedy, but additionally none of it was worse than the anticipated SNL nonsense. Like so many earlier hosts of the present, Musk got here off as simply one other celeb present process a PR ritual with enthusiasm however not inspiration. In essentially the most trenchant sketch of the night time, a pre-filmed vignette concerning the awkwardness of post-quarantine small talk, he blended in nicely as a normie at a cocktail celebration. He additionally did superb when introducing the night’s musical visitor, Cyrus, who continued her spectacular reinvention because the gritty-voiced ambassador for Baby Boomer rock to the web era.
Solely throughout “Weekend Replace” did the actual significance of Musk’s energy assert itself. To kick off the section, co-hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che made mildly pointed barbs about latest rocket-related headlines. A Chinese language spacecraft had damaged aside and crashed again to the Earth solely moments earlier than the published—an ideal instance of how science like the sort Musk funds can have penalties for even the human beings who aren’t paying consideration.
Then Musk appeared, enjoying a bowtie-wearing cryptocurrency skilled named Lloyd Ostertag. Right here was the second the web had been panting about. Cryptocurrency has not too long ago graduated from a subcultural phenomenon to an asset class with higher worth than the entire U.S. dollars in the world. Within the earlier month, the market capitalization of Dogecoin—a joke on-line foreign money that Musk as soon as known as “fairly cool”—had surged to more than $73 billion. Social-media platforms have been boiling with pleasure that Musk’s SNL look would enhance its worth much more.
Musk ended “Weekend Replace” by howling “to the moon!”—the rallying cry of Dogecoin—but actually he’d sunken the foreign money right into a lagoon: Over the course of the episode, its worth plummeted 28 %. Poor Dogecoin. Actually, Musk had performed precisely what the foreign money’s devotees needed by speaking at size about crypto. As Che and Jost expressed mystification about on-line cash, Musk acknowledged, “It’s a hustle,” but additionally mentioned, “It’s the way forward for foreign money. It’s an unstoppable monetary car that’s going to take over the world.” Effectively, which is it—is Dogecoin a hustle, or is it the long run? Each issues could be true. On-line foreign money has no worth outdoors of its personal hype, which is a perform of selling, groupthink, and, sure, memes.
It’s price remembering that Musk wields affect outdoors of hype. He instructions billions in capital and has credible designs for remodeling human civilization altogether. But when watching him carry out sketches with little intrinsic comedic worth however plenty of self-referentiality, his true significance turns into obscured. He involves really feel like only a movie star—somebody who issues solely as a result of individuals really feel that he issues. Critics aren’t fallacious to say that this type of portrayal could be harmful. The response to the episode will cleave into the acquainted clans of a tradition battle—followers and haters—when actually the viewers ought to be united in wariness. Musk might drop a rocket on any of our heads, whether or not we’re laughing at him or not.