Perspective | The dance of the buff billionaire boys


The hypothetical brawl of two middle-aged tech billionaires reached new and embarrassing levels earlier this week when Elon Musk threatened to show up at Mark Zuckerberg’s home uninvited and fight him.

“For the Tesla FSD test drive in Palo Alto tonight, I will ask the car to drive to [Zuckerberg’s] house,” wrote the owner of X, which is what Musk has renamed Twitter. Musk promised to simultaneously “test latest X livestream video,” so viewers could “monitor” the “adventure” in real time: “If we get lucky and Zuck … actually answers the door, the fight is on!”

In reply, a spokesman for Zuckerberg told the Verge, a tech publication, that “Mark is traveling right now and isn’t in Palo Alto. Also, Mark takes this sport seriously and isn’t going to fight someone who randomly shows up at his house.”

God, there are so many things wrong with this, not the least of which is that there are multiple ways to settle a score in the old style of manly men — 10 paces at high noon, bum rush at the tailgate, a publicity stunt involving Joe Rogan — but being chauffeured to your enemy combatant’s empty mansion by a driverless car is none of those ways. If your epic showdown risks being short-circuited by a spokesman clarifying that nobody is home, dude, you are planning the world’s stupidest duel.

How we got here: After years of rich-people mini-feuds between Musk and Zuckerberg (in 2016, a SpaceX rocket exploded while carrying a Facebook satellite worth tens of millions of dollars), things came to a head this summer when Musk snarked online about Zuckerberg’s planned launch of a competitor to X called Threads. One of Musk’s followers then joked that he should be careful because Zuckerberg knows jiu-jitsu. Musk then responded that he was “up for a cage fight.” Zuckerberg then screen-captured Musk’s post, writing, “Send me location.”

Then — yes, then, I’m so sorry, but this backstory goes on — Musk proposed finding a location owned by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the UFC got extremely excited. The organization’s president, Dana White, claimed that he had spoken to both billionaires and that they were “dead serious” about moving forward. Musk posted a video of himself lifting dumbbells. (“This is me curling a 45, so there you go.”) Zuckerberg posted a photo of himself, mid-grapple, in his “backyard octagon,” part of his own private “Friday Morning Fights” series: “Good times,” he wrote. This went on for weeks.

At one point, the country of Italy was involved? At one point, Musk’s 75-year-old mother was involved? She suggested online, using the mommest emoji possible, that violence was wrong and that the two plutocrats should fight “with words only. … Funniest person wins.”

At any rate, plans for an actual fight never came to fruition. Musk hemmed and hawed and said he might have to get back surgery. Zuckerberg apparently tired of waiting for a confirmed date and location, and Musk released a text message that he said Zuckerberg had sent him: “I don’t want to keep hyping something that will never happen, so you should either decide you’re going to do this and do it soon, or we should move on.” On Sunday, Zuckerberg posted a public statement on Threads that reiterated the sentiment.

But we had not moved on, for one day later, Musk was proposing his drop-in at Zuckerberg’s house.

People who know something about hand-to-hand combat seem to think it’s pretty clear that Zuckerberg would win an actual competition. Not only is he more than a decade younger than Musk, but in recent years he has also studiously revamped his physique from computer geek to bio-hacked physical specimen, training with professionals in mixed martial arts and borrowing Navy SEAL workouts that involve hundreds of pull-ups, push-ups and squats while wearing a weighted vest.

To be fair, it’s not clear that Musk thinks he could win or that winning is even the point. “I have this great move that I call ‘The Walrus’, where I just lie on top of my opponent & do nothing,” he posted in June. The position he seems more interested in is not the position of victor but of the man who could win, if he wanted to, except he has this back injury, which is too bad, because he would win, but also he’s just doing this all for the lulz, but also he would definitely win, if he wanted to.

Zuckerberg’s biggest mistake was taking the bait to begin with. He made the fatal error of responding to trolling with sincerity, talking about how he wanted to bring attention to mixed martial arts and elevate the sport’s talented professional athletes. Musk seemed more interested in sick burns and opportunities for pwning. (“I propose a literal d— measuring contest,” he posted in July.)

Whoever is more at fault for this cringe spectacle, there is something unseemly and deeply weird about being here at all, caught in this peacocking masculinity crisis of the 0.001 percent. One of the main points of being a billionaire is that your money does the fighting. You don’t need to slug someone; you can throw your weight around via mergers and acquisitions, buying compounds, buying yachts, trying to buy elections, launching yourself into space.

What we have witnessed, dragged out through the summer, is the realization that for a certain breed of billionaire, none of this will be enough. Maybe they are pulled, toward or away from each other, by something primal. Something primal and octagonal. Something that tells the world they’ve already conquered that they are not just Great Men of Business, but they are also very, very strong boys. Something that assures them that, notwithstanding their geeky origins, nobody can stuff them in a locker. Maybe it’s just boredom — a restless competitive impulse in search of a fresh outlet.

And Alexander wept, for there were no worlds left to conquer. And that is when he got really into MMA.





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