Elon Musk Declared Himself 'Technoking Of Tesla' — Is He, Or Is He Just A Narcissistic Tech Bro?

Photo: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock
Elon Musk

Elon Musk is no stranger to controversy. In fact, some might argue that controversy is the real cryptocurrency of his tech empire. Sorry, I mean tech “kingdom.”

Musk just declared himself king, after all, so it’s important that we get the terminology right.

A recent Tesla filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced the change in title. While Musk is technically still the chief executive officer, “CEO” will no longer be prominently displayed on any lacquered desk plaques he uses going forward.

Instead, the pop-science whiz will now be known as the “Technoking of Tesla.” In the same filing, Tesla's CFO Zach Kirkhorn's new title was given as "Master of Coin," which sounds like something taken straight out of high fantasy tales like "Game of Thrones."

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What does technoking actually mean?

Beyond the fact that Musk probably thinks it sounds cool, the name itself probably doesn't mean much.

As far as duties go, he’ll continue to perform the function of chief executive of Tesla. Declaring himself a king doesn’t actually change his legal authority. Very likely, the move is simply intended to aggravate the SEC and generate buzz.

In 2018, the SEC forced Musk to drop his title of chairman in a settlement over deceptive tweets the mogul had sent. He was able to keep the CEO title, but the chairman position went to Robyn Denholm. The tweets suggested that he'd secured funding to take Tesla private, when in fact no such deal existed. "Technoking" is likely a bit of humorous retribution Musk — a "gotcha" to the SEC.

Musk is arguably among the most buzz-worthy business figures in the world. While he gets plenty of credit for the ongoing boundary breaking achievements of the companies he helms, his quirky behavior is enough for some to ask, “Is he just a billionaire tech bro?”

He often draws comparisons to “Iron Man’s” Tony Stark, an eccentric billionaire with the potential to shake up entire industries, but one who remains prone to eyebrow-raising escapades and off-the-wall commentary.

For instance, in 2018, with the very first launch of the Falcon Heavy, Musk sent a Tesla Roadster along for the ride, with a mannequin in the driver’s seat that he named Starman.

When the tech mogul had his sixth child, he and his current flame, Grimes, named the baby X Æ A-12 Musk.

Musk once sat for an interview with Joe Rogan while the pair visibly smoked marijuana.

Perhaps the cringiest of all was the time that Musk adamantly pushed the idea that one of the Thai cave rescuers was a pedophile.

Around the same time as the title change, Musk decided to cash in on the NFT craze, releasing a song about NFTs that he plans to sell as an NFT. Grimes herself has also sold an NFT recently for $6 million, as the strange virtual marketplace continues to gain both encouraging and unflattering attention itself.

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What does it mean when someone may be out of their mind but does good things?

In our capitalist society, the people who receive the most attention are often unvetted. They aren’t voted for, they come upon the scene because they do something that interests large swaths of the population, and anything has the potential to catch a certain zeitgeist.

Musk entered public life as an innovator with huge, unrealistic goals for electric cars and space exploration. Experts and other business leaders called him out immediately. He faced a huge amount of criticism and skepticism, that is, until he began to deliver on his promises.

Now, Musk is unleashed. He’s creative, he’s popular, and he runs a public company whose stock ticker thrives on attention. One way to stay relevant is to manufacture controversy. This is a tactic as old as media itself.

Does this excuse the actions themselves, especially the more grievous sort? Of course not.

Lawsuits have been filed amid calls to reform Tesla’s operations, as a plant in the Democratic Republic of Congo has forced children into manual labor, occasionally causing serious injury and death. These things can’t be ignored.

Four other companies were also implicated, unveiling a massive systemic moral test that the world may be failing. And toxic masculinity in tech has long been a problem.

Tesla has also been accused of promoting an overall toxic work culture. The downside of handing the reins to someone amenable to declaring themselves king of technology is the consistent back-breaking effort to keep up with new innovations.

If you’re always pushing the boundaries and not paying attention to the needs of your workforce, someone is going to get squeezed. That’s what happened to the nine former Tesla workers who went on the record with Business Insider.

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As a culture, we’ve never shied away from royalty.

Oddly enough, Americans have never had a problem with crowning the best of a particular industry and worshipping them as such, despite the nation’s origins coming in the form of a rebellion against the British Monarchy.

And yet, now we’re obsessed with them. Social media feeds and search engines are filled to the brim with thousands upon thousands of hits for articles about the latest statements from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. We’re so obsessed with royalty that we even make our own.

It happens in music; Michael Jackson was dubbed the King of Pop by fans and the media, Elvis Presley was the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul, and no one messes with Queen Bey.

It happens in sports; basketball star Lebron James was dubbed King James. It even happens where you'd least expect it — given our history — in politics, as the Kennedys had their Camelot.

This is just one opinion, but it’s likely that Musk is attempting to join the ranks of cultural royalty and reap the benefits of the attention the status brings.

“Technoking” might furrow a few brows, but it’s going to inspire those brows to dive into deep internet rabbit holes and become potential fans or investors. Even detractors work to Musk’s advantage.

If the world has learned anything through the disastrous four years of an even more unbridled narcissist and his policies, there really is no such thing as bad press.

Elon Musk, Technoking of Tesla, is counting on that.

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Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author whose work appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.