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How (and why) do you parody Elon Musk? The Onion's founding editor has the answers

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Oct 17, 2018

Elon Musk is already busy with SpaceX, Tesla, and the repercussions of whatever crazy thing he’s tweeted, but he’s also working on a new comedy project, and he poached a few writers from The Onion to get the project started. That’s not why Scott Dikkers, one of The Onion’s founding editors and former editor-in-chief set his sights on Musk for a new satirical send-off of the eccentric billionaire, Welcome to the Future Which Is Mine, now in stores.

“This book was in development before I heard about him stealing Onion writers, so that was a coincidence,” he told SYFY WIRE.

Musk is a polarizing figure. Some people love him for his visionary leadership, potentially world-changing companies, and for doing awesome stunts like launching a Tesla into space. Others despise him for his out-of-control online behavior, alleged workplace violations, and for doing dumb stunts like launching a Tesla into space. The parody version of Elon Musk that Dikkers and his fellow writers created is the pop culture image of Elon Musk dialed up to 11, for better or worse. But, it’s a nuanced, not especially vicious form of satire, as Dikkers explains.

What’s your opinion on Elon Musk?

I have a pretty neutral opinion of him. I think he’s doing some things that are really cool. He’s inventing some super cool futuristic inventions and making them real. But, he’s also got a billion dollars and he’s against unions, doesn’t want to pay his workers well. It’s funny because on social media he’s a love him or hate him type of guy, but I literally feel neither emotion.

Why do you think the public perception of him has changed over time? It seems like the tides are shifting towards “hate him.” Like, in 2008 Marvel loosely based Tony Stark off of Elon, but in Venom, which just came out, the villain is clearly inspired by him.

I guess I would blame the fascination fatigue. As he’s gotten more famous, more details have come out about him. When somebody gets to be that big, famous, rich, kind of arrogant, those aren’t good qualities.

It’s funny, after I did a couple interviews about this book, I started getting hate tweets from trolls protecting Elon Musk, thinking that I was making fun of him or saying something bad about him. I thought that was fascinating. They rally around him sort of the way that Trump supporters rally around Trump.

Elon Musk Smokes a Fat One

Credit: The Joe Rogan Podcast

Has he done anything since you finished the book that you wish you would have had as material?

The smoking pot on the Joe Rogan podcast was a big one. It probably would have been referenced some way, but when we were putting together the book, we didn’t want it to be dated. We avoided mentioning his current relationship [to Grimes] or anything like that, just so that it would be more of an evergreen piece about him. It’s probably for the best.

He tweeted something about how he was making a dragon. We already had written an inspirational quote from him in the book saying “Damn it, I’m making a horse-lizard by 2021.” Even when you’re not trying to play off of current events, sometimes you do something that’s so close, people think you knew about it and are playing off of it.

Do you have a favorite bit in the book?

Here’s one, an inspirational quote: “People say money doesn’t buy happiness. They’re right. Money mostly just makes me horny.”

Another one is a smaller, sort of throw-away joke, but I think it sums up the character of Elon Musk that we’ve created, this kind of archetype of the billionaire industrialist whose assent is happening during an apocalypse. He understands this and is trying to profit on it while the Earth is destroyed, and then he’ll move to Mars. “I thought owning a Thunderdome would be cool, but now I just have a bloody mess on my hands.”

You also make jokes about Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. The decision to include them feels natural, but I wanted to know if you could speak to it and the role that tech giants have in society and popular culture these days

They are the new robber barons. They’re the new Rockefellers and Carnegies. But, those guys knew that they were disliked, and they were mocked by the cartoons and Hearst newspapers. So, they gave to foundations and libraries with their names on them so that their names would live in history as being synonymous with good deeds. So you have the Rockefeller Center, the Carnegie Foundation, Carnegie Hall.

It’s a different dynamic now because these guys have PR and they’re on social media and they are not hated like the robber barons. Our world is very similar. Most of the population of the U.S. lives in abject poverty or squalor while these guys are going through life happily, and people seem to enjoy it. The whole dynamic is fascinating to me. I feel like it could turn, and maybe that’s what’s happening.

elon musk

Credit: CBS

How do you parody Elon?

That’s a good question, I don’t know how deep in the weeds you want me to get with this answer. People asked me that question a lot when I did this book a couple years ago called Trump’s America: Buy This Book and Mexico Will Pay For It. It was a big parody of Donald Trump and people said, well how do you make fun of him, he’s already so absurd and ridiculous? Elon Musk is similar in terms of his public persona being larger than life.

My answer is the same for both. Yes, they are funny comedic characters of a sort already, but hyperbole is just one of eleven tools. There’s irony to be found, plenty of character archetypes you can tap into, you can use misplaced focus, madcap, there’s all sorts of other things you can do.

Welcome to the Future Which Is Mine

Credit: Hachette Book Group, Inc.

What should the goal of satire be? Specifically, what should the goal of this Elon Musk parody be, and what did you want it to be? Those don’t have to be the same answer.

The goal of satire, in my opinion, is first and foremost to entertain and delight. It has a secondary goal, without which it wouldn’t be satire, it would just be comedy. That goal is to shine a light on some sort of societal ill or human frailty or flaw that we all share. It should plant a seed in people's’ brains and transfer that message. Maybe they think about it consciously, maybe they don’t, but it’s a way to suggest a little bit more critical thinking in the audience than maybe just straight comedy does.

The purpose of this book is that exactly, first and foremost to entertain. Here’s a funny rich eccentric industrialist, let’s knock him down a peg or two and have a little fun at the expense of this public figure. Secondarily, and this is stuff that you would never say overtly, it’s all subtextual. Is it right for an industrialist to make billions of dollars when he overworks his employees and they don’t get paid a lot? What does it say about our own station in life, and is that just that we’re slogging it out here on Earth while rich people are plotting vacations on Mars? A lot of the themes of satire can be a little bit dark or depressing, but that’s why you present it with humor. You don’t necessarily want to be preaching to people about your thoughts of how the world could be a better place, you want to entertain them and just plant the subliminal seed to make them think about some other things.

You describing it as a subtle seed is telling, because I can see a world where if you weren’t so personally neutral about Elon Musk, this could have been a much sharper book, but would that maybe not have achieved the goals you were looking for?

Yeah, I think some satire is much more opinionated. You risk alienating audiences when you do that. The subtextual opinion should always be very strong. I do have very strong opinions about a person like Elon Musk and what place they have in our society. Those opinions are definitely in this book as subtext, but as soon as you start hitting people over the head with any of that, then you’re not a satirist anymore, you’re just annoying.


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