If you were trying to make the case that American pop culture has slipped into an inescapable eddy, that it’s locked in a cycle of rehashing, rerunning and refreshing, that it’s grinding itself into nothing, you might mention that Saturday Night Live is nearing a half century on the air. Viewership isn’t what it was during its unbearable 5 year run as the Donald Trump Comedy Hour, but a lot of people still watch it and most of them aren’t even recapping it for work.
If you were looking for more evidence a culture in bad decline, you could note that Elon Musk, a billionaire charlatan, the first or second richest man in the world and most importantly, one of the world’s most prominent Covid skeptics, is considered interesting (?) enough be the guest host of Saturday Night Live more than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed three-and-a-quarter million people worldwide. Lorne Michaels apparently thinks it will be funny.
Lorne’s probably had a different Covid experience than the families of the roughly 580,000 totally unique and irreplaceable Americans who have died from Covid in the last year or so, and I doubt he thinks much about the people who are dealing with the disease in India now. I doubt anyone he knows personally has lost a job or a small business. So can we really blame him for selecting a guy who has used his enormous public platform to spread widely debunked, illogical misinformation that made the pandemic worse?
In America where we’re lucky enough to have access to vaccines but a pretty large portion of the population who could get one will refuse because they, like Elon Musk imagine they shouldn’t—effectively forcing the rest of us to live with localized outbreaks and more needless death. Who better to host your weekly comedy show than the famous vaccine skeptic.
Maybe the writers will have made a point to disabuse people of the idea that Elon Musk knows something about vaccines and communicable diseases? Nah, they’ll probably just do a show about him being a super genius like The Simpsons did.
Maybe Lorne’s judgement was clouded by Elon’s famous chops as a humorist. His Twitter account (which I am blocked from viewing) is packed full of the kind of “epic bacon” humor that had The Chive positively vibrating in the early aughts and that remains popular among Twitter’s 50-something conservative memelords. He steals (mostly cringey) content and passes it off as his own, gets himself charged with securities fraud and says “Pronouns suck.” All while suggesting that “the coronavirus panic is dumb.” To be fair, it is about as funny as a lot of the clips I’ve seen from SNL over the last few years.
Maybe Lorne’s banking on the sheer intellectual firepower of a guy who said, apparently in earnest, that building a relatively trivial number of what are by now more-or-less conventional electric cars made World War Two “look trivial.”
Maybe he’s hoping that giving Musk some time on network TV will make people—but crucially, not advertisers—mad enough to talk about his old show. It certainly worked when he participated in Donald Trump’s tour of network TV’s comedy institutions in 2015.
Or maybe he’s a good enough guy who should be enjoying his retirement. I can’t be totally angry with the guy who helped bring us Detroiters and Kids in The Hall.
I try not to write about Musk on Jalopnik because I don’t like him. I think he’s a bad guy. I haven’t been presented with anything that suggests he’s especially smart or prone to having great or even particularly interesting ideas. The cars that Tesla makes are in some respects technically impressive and incredibly shoddy in others. He displays animosity toward his workers and is known to bully his close colleagues. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about him except maybe that I admire his enthusiasm and self-confidence. He’s incredible at getting people and governments to give him money.
These are my personal feelings and I make every effort to ensure that they don’t impact the way we cover Musk or his companies. When Elon does something cool or good, we write about it. When he does something bad, we write about it. And the people who regularly write about Musk and Tesla cover both fairly and objectively. I don’t want to call that into question by coming on here and calling him a dipshit, or saying his money should be expropriated or whatever. His adherents are obsessed with trying to ferret out proof that the media is against him and his perfect vision and they’ll surely take this as proof that Jalopnik is in the tank for big oil. But man, I just don’t see why he’s the guy you’re compelled to put on your comedy show right now. I don’t get it.
As I mentioned, Elon blocked me for making fun of him on Twitter back when he was learning that his legendary brain was not up to the task of inventing a new and better way to manufacture cars (a process which, notably, has been studied and optimized by people with actual manufacturing experience and knowledge over the course of more than a century.) I can’t see everything that he’s posting, which means I get a kind of highlight reel effect, only really hearing his name when he says or does something that rises above the din. I continue to be astonished at the gulf between what he says, the way he behaves and the way he is perceived.
I suspect that the SNL recaps on Monday will say the Elon episode was a dud, maybe that he was wooden and unfunny, maybe that the rest of the cast seemed uncomfortable. Maybe it’ll be great, I’m open to being proved wrong.
I also suspect that Elon’s fans will be riled up, and that SNL will get some additional earned media out of the deal. Honestly, that’s probably the point. In any case, here’s to another half century of grinding.