Self-declared “Technoking” Elon Musk is hosting an upcoming episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL). This is par for the course of the late-night sketch comedy show’s commitment to profit and ratings over a sense of political responsibility. While it may be easy to dismiss the show as simply comedy for comedy’s sake, the power of laughter can’t be denied while one standup comedian holds the presidential office of Ukraine and another holds the title of co-founder of one of Italy’s most powerful political parties. Musk’s expected appearance on the show is just another clear example of Saturday Night Live using a controversial figure to drum up ratings, even if it means providing further legitimacy to a man with too much power and ego for his own good.
Elon Musk is the second wealthiest man on Earth, and plans to play a major role in shaping the future of humanity. Which is unfortunate because while he has undoubtedly contributed his entrepreneurial know-how to advancing the mission of electric vehicles, he has a generally terrible and undeveloped world view that belongs more in an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience than in determining the course of the interplanetary trajectory of our species. While he has finally turned around on the topic, he was a loud critic of the stay-at-home orders that saved the lives of workers across the country, and openly defied orders to shutdown one of his own factories in California, putting the lives of his workers at risk while declaring the government mandates “fascist”.
Musk also has a history of anti-union behavior, from allegedly firing a worker for trying to unionize to warning other workers that they could lose benefits if they joined a union. This is particularly concerning considering his desires to colonize Mars with his workers and volunteers, some which he laughingly acknowledged may die in the process. Musk is on his way to a new level of geopolitical influence, which is dangerous considering his vapidly capitalist perspectives on international politics, once tweeting “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it” in response to another user discussing the 2019 Bolivian coup that overthrew the legitimate government of Evo Morales in favor of a rightwing government that oversaw the massacre of leftwing protesters amidst the turmoil. This is all of course on top of his fragile ego, an ego that once convinced Musk to hire a private investigator – who turned out to be a conman – to prove that another man was a pedophile. The man was in fact guilty of being a professional diver who rescued a group of trapped school children before Musk could use the opportunity as a publicity stunt.
Musk, would of course not be the first controversial figure to be hosted by Saturday Night Live. While the show tries to maintain a generally liberal stance, it sacrifices its own aspirations for the sake of profit and has a history of giving platforms to wealthy egomaniacs. A 1996 episode was hosted by billionaire Republican presidential primary candidate Steve Forbes, whose campaign included typical Republican trademarks like opposition to same-sex marriage and gun control – and an adviser who served as the director of an institution that financed research that aimed to prove the genetic inferiority of Black people. SNL mainly tossed softball jokes at Forbes, including a segment in which complicated issues like the Bosnian war – which saw the deaths of more than 100,000 people – were spun into little punchlines about how absurdly wealthy Forbes was. That episode’s musical guests, Rage Against the Machine, attempted to protest Forbes’ presence by hanging upside-down American flags on their speakers during their performance, but SNL had the flags ripped down and removed the band from the building.
And of course he would not be the last wealthy Republican party presidential candidate to grace the stage of SNL. In the midst of the 2016 presidential race Donald Trump was invited to host the show, despite his racist and proto-fascistic comments on the campaign trail. While SNL cannot hold the sole blame, it was one of the many media outlets that didn’t take the then primary candidate seriously and sought to use his zany and inflammatory rhetoric as a means of capturing audiences. The effort was successful, leading to some of the highest ratings that show had had in years and helped the show stay above water ratings wise for another season. According to former cast member Taran Killam, writers had been told to take it easy on Trump in the past and to work to make him likable. This may come from a desire to respect guests, but is a dangerous game to play when the host in question is an egotistical man on a course to unfathomable power.
The show tried to turn things around after Trump’s election and attempted to ridicule him, but he at that point had already been too humanized to be effectively satirized by a show with a loose political analysis. Liberal media institutions gave him a platform and he took a share of the audience with him all the way to the White House. In a predictable turn of events, Trump’s SNL prototype Steve Forbes was one of the many Americans who ended up supporting Trump by the end of 2016 and all throughout his presidency.
Saturday Night Live should consider the long-term ramifications of providing Musk with a larger platform than he already has. The show was warned about giving Trump a potential boost that it failed to heed. And while Elon Musk isn’t currently running for office, he’s in a sprint to garner as much public will as possible, while seeking to align the future of the entirety of the human race with his personal vision – one clouded by a mix of cruel naiveté and aloof capitalist instinct.