A Look Into Elon Musk Fanboy Culture
By: Gabriel Sandoval
April 6th, 2023
This article is part of our Fall 2022 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.
When most people hear the word “musketeer,” they may think of the novel “The Three Musketeers,” soldiers, the 3 Musketeers candy bar or even the “musketeer” card in the popular app Clash Royale. But recently, the term Musketeer has taken on a new meaning that could soon become its primary meaning if Elon Musk continues to accumulate wealth at an extraordinary rate.
“Musketeer” in the context of billionaire Elon Musk refers to one of his fans and implies varying degrees of support for the tech giant. While a less devoted Musketeer may simply own a Tesla because they believe it’s the best brand of car, real die-hard Musketeers may spend the majority of their time defending Elon Musk on Twitter, chatting about him in Reddit forums and planning to work for one of his companies.
The New York Post cites Kanye West, Joe Rogan and Pharrell Williams as examples of prominent Musk fans, but it notes many fans are young males who gather on social media to discuss Musk. Edward Jacobs, a 22-year-old engineering major at Harvey Mudd College, doesn’t refer to himself as a Musketeer but does choose to identify as a “supporter.” He “plans on working at SpaceX after [he] graduates[s],” and mentions his devotion to staying updated about Musk’s actions on social media.
Jacobs and Musk’s other fans didn’t find an interest in Musk for no reason. The richest man in the world is bound to have both supporters and haters, and the existence of the Musketeers—as well as Musk’s many critics—is proof of that. Many people admire his achievements in the technology industry, citing the dominance of Tesla and SpaceX as his biggest accomplishments. Teslas are seen all over the country, and SpaceX receives constant media attention. Young engineers, scientists and businesspeople look up to Musk, hoping to have a fraction of the success he does.
One of the biggest places Musketeers gather is Twitter but for reasons that might surprise non-Musketeers. In addition to having hundreds of millions of users, Twitter is a platform that Musk has mastered the usage of. Using the 280 character limit to his advantage, Musk tweets bold, short statements designed to captivate his audience’s attention while sparing them the boredom of the details.
A tweet by Elon Musk on April 3, 2022 simply reads, “Humanity did not evolve to mourn the unborn.” This tweet is only 43 characters out of the maximum 280 that Twitter allows, captivating people’s attention and letting their minds finish the rest of the Tweet for him. Musk rarely spells things out for his fans on Twitter and at most will add a couple of follow-up tweets or a retweet to help illustrate his point. Musk’s bold but unelaborated statement, clearly resembling some sort of a stance on abortion, earned him over 130,000 likes and over 11,000 retweets.
Musk’s second Twitter hack is his ability to meme on a level Gen Z can relate to. Several of Musk’s posts are simply memes, all of which gain a massive amount of engagement. While controversial, one of Musk’s more popular memes is about social justice causes in the 21st century. It features a gray, stone-faced character with the caption, “I support the current thing.” The character, known amongst memers as “NPC Wojak,” is surrounded by various flags of activist causes such as the Gay Pride flag, the Transgender flag and the Ukrainian flag. The meme, posted on March 14, 2022, resonated heavily with conservative Gen Zers and those who feel frustrated with the amount of social activism on Twitter.
Even Musk’s more obscure memes gain enormous amounts of traction on Twitter. A meme Musk posted on April 2, 2022, shows a crudely drawn stick figure with a picture of John Lennon’s face on it being assassinated by another stick figure. The Lennon song lyrics “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too” caption the meme. Despite being rather nonsensical, the meme has over 240,000 likes and over 27,000 retweets.
Unlike many other celebrities, who tend to appeal to their age group or to the general public, it appears that Musk wants to get Gen Z on his side—or at least a certain subsect of Gen Z. His memes and strong political opinions certainly grab the attention of many Gen Zers, but especially conservative Gen Z males. His fan base, which, at least on social media, is overwhelmingly male, seems to generally fit into the category of “tech bros.”
There may be racial and gendered dynamics to Musk stans at play. Gen Zers who aren’t necessarily fans of Musk seem to agree that his fan base is overwhelmingly white, young and male.
Gabby, a 22-year-old English major at Michigan State University who asked to be referred to by their first name, said, “I’ve noticed a lot of young white guys do love the Musk.” As for Gen Zers who aren’t young white males, Gabby said, “If you talk to anyone a part of Gen Z that isn’t a cis-het white man, they’ll either be indifferent to him or dislike him.”
A large part of Gabby and other respondents’ perceptions of Musketeers is because of the time they spend on Twitter.
“I mostly use Twitter [and] occasionally Instagram,” Gabby said. “I see news about [Musk] and everything he’s associated with on social media,” despite not following him. Musk’s content pops up frequently on Gabby’s timeline, and white male Musk stans seem to be the most prevalent sharers.
Musk’s fans on Twitter agree significant portions of their timeline revolve around Musk and his associated brands. Jacobs said he uses Twitter to monitor Space X news. But fans like Jacobs know not everyone supports Musk.
“I think that Gen Z is very polarized,” he said. “There are many who are rabid fans and many who are rabid critics. … I would consider myself a supporter of Elon, but not rabidly so.”
Jacobs also draws on some complaints fellow Gen Zers have about Musk and his political statements, saying, “Elon is a very misunderstood figure. For all of his faults and hot takes, he has single handedly revolutionized climate tech, electric vehicles and spaceflight.”
Jacobs’ choice to focus on Elon’s accomplishments instead of his faults is a characteristic of most Musketeers and fans of any popular figure.
MSU chemistry student Noah Morrison feels the faults outweigh Musk’s achievements. Morrison said, “I think he is a product of gross generation wealth through an apartheid state. He currently waxes philosophical about space travel while using the entire venture as [a] vehicle for his own fame and profiteering off of speculative engineering products.”
Morrison is not alone in thinking that Musk’s political beliefs and past outweigh his accomplishments. Abby Wisniewski, an 18-year-old public and professional writing major at MSU said, “It makes me upset that Elon Musk is trying to colonize space when the Earth is suffering from climate change.” Others described him as questionable.
Morrison and Jacobs are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to appreciation of Musk, but they both show that Gen Zers tend to have an opinion on Musk, good, bad or otherwise, especially if they are on social media platforms. Both Morrison and Jacobs state that they use Twitter the most out of any social media platform, furthering the idea that Gen Z Twitter users are bound to see Musk pop up on their timeline in some capacity sooner or later.
Gabby and other students supported this theory as well, saying they use Twitter the most of any social media platform. Nikita Jaiswal, a 20-year-old health, medicine and human values major at the University of New Mexico said she doesn’t frequently use social media on any platform, and when it comes to her thoughts on Musk, she said, “I don’t know that I know enough about him to make [an] informed opinion.”
Generally, Twitter users have strong opinions on Musk. When asked if they had any final thoughts about Musk, Morrison and Jacobs have significantly contrasting words. Jacobs references Musk’s accomplishments, saying, “I don’t [think] we realize it yet, but the writing is on the wall—Elon will go down as one of the most influential humans to ever live.”
Morrison’s response was simpler. “He’s a dick.”
People can argue whether or not Musk’s accomplishments outweigh the damage he’s caused to marginalized populations or argue over his general influence over the automobile and space industries through Tesla and SpaceX.
But as debates rage about Musk’s accumulated wealth or opinions on pronouns, there remains a constant fanbase for Musk because of his accomplishments and the inspiration he—or his wealth—provides. Musketeers are a phenomenon that will remain until Musk’s flame dies out or a new superpower catches their eye, whichever comes first.
Gabriel Sandoval is a junior majoring in comparative cultures and politics with an additional major in professional and public writing at Michigan State University. If he’s not working or sleeping, he’s likely watching the first episode of a television series that he will never finish.