Elon Musk is Silly. And Silliness Is Important.
Being silly makes you more creative, more resilient, and generally happier.
It has reached the point where you can’t make anything up about Elon Musk without it sounding like it might be true, British comedian Chris McCausland told BBC. When Musk tweeted earlier this month that there existed a new drug called Regretamine — “Pop one and all regrets are gone” — it got hundreds of thousands of likes and comments, with Twitters users torn between laughter and requests for pre-orders.
Regretamine was a joke, but coming from the man who fired a sports car into space, has repeatedly called to nuke Mars to heat up its surface, and named his tunnel building company the Boring Company, it could well have been serious.
Musk is a modern reincarnation of the mad scientist trope, of the crazy inventor father in kids’ movies who builds breakfast-making machines or floating cars. He is a genius, but also a bit of a prankster. His sense of humor is constantly on show, as is his desire to give conventions the finger. His inventions are widely ambitious, incomparably creative, and often just plain silly. And, in Musk’s own words when he launched a Tesla roadster into Space in 2018:
“It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important.”
If 2020 taught us anything, it is how right Musk was. The pandemic has made life scary, and in some cases truly heart-breaking. It’s hard to think we won’t be forever changed by seeing images of freezer trucks serving as make-shift morgues as New York City’s facilities were overrun by too much death, or that our mental health won’t take a long turn hit from the ongoing anxiety and misery of being confined to our homes, but something seemingly more frivolous will also have an effect: the loss of silliness in our lives.
As we reduced life to what was deemed “essential”, we have all come to realise that there is a difference between what is “essential” and what is “survivable.” Food, water, health are necessary for our survival, but other things are essential if we are to have lives worth living, and many of those necessities are frivolous and silly.
It is silly to go to overcrowded bars to drink overpriced drinks with your mates, just so you can be inebriated enough to have your inhibitions lowered and talk meaningless drivel. It’s silly to take your kids to theme parks or your boyfriend to a music festival where you will strain your neck to see a singer perform slightly less good versions of your favorite songs. It’s silly how much we need cuddles from loved ones or random french kisses and hook-ups with strangers. But all those silly things, those little excursions from the serious business of being alive, are essential.
Psychologists show that moments of carefree play and humor serve an important role in our mental health. They are a key part of resilience — something we need more than ever in these challenging times.
A friend of mine from Syria, who moved to France midway through the war, told me that back home, a dark sense of humor had emerged. Amidst the bombs, the sadness and the pain, was laughter, they looked at the darkness and found jokes in it, and that is the only way, she said, that they could survive.
I think, too of myself and the other mentally ill people I know, and how we constantly make a joke of our conditions. There is even a podcast, the Hilarious World of Depression, where comedians talk about their mental health, and it is wonderfully funny and therapeutic to listen to.
Silliness is often dismissed as being juvenile — and it is, but that is one of the reasons that kids are so incredibly resilient. They can get used to anything, and still manage to carve out tiny moments of whimsy and joy.
Millennials are often criticised for having Peter Pan syndrome, for loving funfairs and adult ball pits and refusing to grow up, but what older generations should understand is that all this frivolous play has helped us survive times of uncertainty, with the economy and democracy and the planet threatening to collapse at regular intervals.
That is why on social media during lockdown there were so many challenges, why silly videos on Tiktok became so popular, why me and my roommates spent lockdown organising costume parties. One dressed up as a flowerpot, another made a skirt out of bamboo, and it was ridiculous and pointless but kept us smiling and strong enough to get through it.
One of the videos that I think the best sums up the year we have just spent is this one, of a mother and son setting up obstacle courses for a ping pong ball. It shows how a little useless creativity brings people together, and keeps them going.
However, as important as silliness is our lives, when it comes to billionaires like Elon Musk, it has a more sinister side. The amount of resources put into purposeless projects has to be questioned. Is this really the best way to help humanity in the face of widespread poverty and social injustice? As Guardian columnist Nathan Robinson wrote in 2018, “There is, perhaps, no better way to appreciate the tragedy of 21st-century global inequality than by watching a billionaire spend $90m launching a $100,000 car into the far reaches of the solar system.” Some of Musk’s extremely expensive antics are no longer harmless silliness. Silliness is useless, frivolous and fun, but when it comes with too higher stakes, it is no loner silliness — but just plain stupidity.