Hyperreal hero Elon Musk has seduced the ultimate hyperreal city: Las Vegas.
Wired magazine reveals that our favorite hyperreal hero, Elon Musk, has snagged for his ultra-hyperreal enterprise, the Boring Company, its first paying customer: Las Vegas, a city specialized in hyperreality. The Boring Company, as its name signifies, bores, not because it produces a lot of talk with no substance (which it also tends to do), but because it proposes to bore tunnels underneath the surface of cities to provide superfast urban transport for people in a hurry.
Steve Hill, CEO and president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, proudly announced that, “Las Vegas will continue to elevate the experience of our visitors with innovation, such as with this project, and by focusing on the current and future needs of our guests.” This despite the fact that Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, as a member of the board, voted against granting the bid to Musk’s company.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Rise above reality to achieve the ideal of hyperreality, in which everything reminds people who are ready to be impressed and especially ready to pay of something real but whose sheer ambition, despite its faults, definitively separates it from the logic of reality
Elon Musk is in the business of manufacturing our future. As a multi-billionaire and a recognized visionary and technical genius, he doesn’t need to consult the rest of us about what we want our future to look like. Musk has consulted his own intelligence — which, it should be noted, doesn’t always need drugs to spark its creativity — to decide that: we crave for the security of living in a biosphere on Mars; we absolutely must have our own car to move around, which can only be morally justified if it doesn’t directly consume fossil fuel; we hate traffic so much that we want our cars to be projected through pneumatic tubes under the surface of our cities; and that we must have the right brand of artificial intelligence to become cyborgs, otherwise AI will destroy us. He also thinks that many of us consider an evening of friendly battles with recreational flamethrowers the kind of physical activity that fulfills our desire to have fun and makes us better citizens.
Musk materialized these decisions through the creation of SpaceX (colonizing Mars), his chaotic leadership of Tesla (all electric luxury car), the launch and promotion of the Boring Company (tubes under cities) and the creation of Neuralink, a software company to produce brain-machine interfaces. And as a financing gimmick, the Boring Company sold its flamethrowers.
With Elon Musk, nobody can doubt three basic facts. First, he is quick to understand the potential and the science of a range of new technologies. Second, he has enough money — which he earned very quickly — to start unthinkable if not impossible ventures. Third, he has the celebrity status required to seduce investors, the media and customers, even in very risky operations.
We could cite other obvious but less important facts, such as his penchant for saying whatever’s on his mind in public, a technique that earns severe disapproval, official reprimands from the US Securities and Exchange Commission and lawsuits for defamation, while comforting and massively contributing to his popularity. But such observations, including his talent for what might be called “casual marketing,” are merely components of his hyperreal celebrity status, the only thing that really counts.
It’s fitting that the ultimate hyperreal city — which spontaneously grew out of a patch of the Nevada desert less than a century ago as a crazy hyperreal estate venture justified by the profits from gambling — has volunteered to be Musk’s first customer for an admittedly modest version of his Hyperloop.
Hyperreality is always the product of cultural biases driven by a primary economic motive: making easy money through addictive practices. Las Vegas democratized the addiction to gambling that was once reserved for the elite European bourgeoisie, which Fyodor Dostoyevsky so tragically explored in The Gambler. In the Puritanical US, gambling initially thrived on the largely lawless frontier, on Mississippi riverboats and in western saloons, far from the strictly applied morality of the East Coast. Of course, developing gambling on the East Coast, which became possible only late in the 20th century, turned out to be a key to the rise of the Trump business empire.
The Industrial Revolution and the establishment of capitalism not just as an economic system, but also as a social culture gave gambling its title to legitimacy. The stock market functions according to a similar principle: You bet on what you have a feeling is going to produce literally unearned profits. In a country where Warren Buffett is a folk hero because he “knows how” to make the bets, gambling is a core principle governing human interaction. A win-or-lose gamble informs every aspect of life and the winners, the Musks and Trumps, are not only feel free to create their own reality, but are expected to do so by their admirers.
Hyperreal heroes believe they are a force for radical good. Tesla promises to combat climate change by eliminating the use of fossil fuel. Musk promotes his future hyperlook cars, adapted to his hyperloop tunnels, with the slogan: “Drive your car. Save the world.” SpaceX supposes that the world may not be saved, meaning we’ll all soon need a lift to Mars. And Neuralink offers us our last defense against the destruction of the human race by AI.
But where do the values that Musk defends come from? His vision of serving humanity targets one small segment of the human race and derives its value system from the wishes and tastes of that minority.
His target audience resembles Musk himself. It consists of members of the high end of Western consumer culture, people with sophisticated taste, who have learned to want the best and most comfortable for themselves as individuals. And they have positioned themselves to afford the best. Some of them may be narcissists but they are not pure egoists. One of things they most enjoy is the setting in which they play their role of high-end consumer, the environment we share, the planet we all live on. They know that it is under threat and want to make sure that their conscience can also feel comfortable with the decisions they make as consumers.
Does Las Vegas reflect that concern for the future of the earth? The obvious answer is no, but it provides the hyperreal platform for publicizing messages that do. In the end, even hyperreal projects need some form of real marketing and, in this case, it’s win-win for both Las Vegas (promoting its contribution to humanity’s future) and Elon Musk, by providing him with his first-paying customer.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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