And brings Tesla down in the process.
By the time you read this, “The New York Times” documentary on Tesla will have launched on Hulu. But read here for the main takeaways:
For months the story has been percolating in the press. How Elon Musk personally chose a self-driving system that everyone but he believes is substandard. This is one case in which the ancient, rearguard companies, may win in the end, by being cautious and thorough, which is hard for a tech company to be, at least one being launched, and trying to build a customer base.
Conventional wisdom is all publicity is good publicity. But if you believe that, you’re still living in the twentieth century, because that’s not how it works these days. Today you can burn up right in front of our very eyes. Remember Charlie Sheen?
What a story that was, with many reveals, like the HIV infection. Now? Charlie Sheen lost his seven-figure-a-week TV contract and has faded from public view. Turns out that when the lens was focused upon him the public learned a lot of stuff it wished it hadn’t, people can’t look at Sheen the same way anymore, and generally speaking, they don’t want to look at him at all.
Ditto Johnny Depp.
Don’t look through the eyes of the public. Look through the eyes of those who pay Depp’s bills, i.e. the movie studios. Depp is too high a risk, the business can exist just fine without him, just like the music business can exist just fine without Travis Scott.
One thing we can say about both Musk and Depp is despite being in the public eye, they’re completely out of touch with what the public thinks. This is what happens when you get too rich. The doors may open in front of you, but they close behind you, and you lose your frame of reference. And when you think you know better, you’re just cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
Don’t forget that big media is still operating by twentieth-century standards. Then again, it’s social media standards too… Whatever garners eyeballs is published/shown. If it bleeds, it leads. Hell, Don Henley even sang about this forty years ago in “Dirty Laundry.”
But that does not mean what they lead with is what the public is interested in.
That’s the big story, how everything is niche. Except for a very thin layer of people. We’ve got Trump, Elon, Kanye…even Biden isn’t as big. Hell, most people have no idea what Biden has done in Office, they just hear the buzz that he hasn’t delivered and buy it. Proving, once again, that facts are fungible and the truth is irrelevant.
The big phrase in the music business used to be “world domination.” It started when the Police toured the entire world, places where no rock band had gone before, their manager and agent’s father had worked for the CIA, they were aware of the entire world and realized even if you don’t make much money on the actual show, just by going to these far-off countries dividends are paid in consumption in the future.
And then every band wanted to do this. So album cycles got longer and longer. Because it took years to tour the world and hoover up all that money. They put out single after single from the album, to keep the fire burning, and the record may have come out when you were in high school, but by the time your favorite act released its follow-up, you could be married, even with kids!
But that’s done.
You see you have to focus on the bleeding edge.
And the bleeding edge tells us that you must employ the new tools and you must be in the marketplace almost always, not only with new material but social media posts. Oldsters hate this, but this is the job today, you’re more than just a singer/writer/player. Sure, you can hire a team to do this for you, but the truth is the public can feel the phoniness, they want honesty, if you didn’t write it it usually doesn’t resonate and people stop coming back, and you want and need people to come back.
But there are so many more offerings in the channel. Nothing is ubiquitous. The media reports these stories, believing most people care, but most people don’t. Rihanna had a baby? When was the last time she put out a record? In other words, all the big stories are not.
And I could go much deeper, but I’d mess with your preconceptions.
One of the biggest acts in the world doesn’t go clean, i.e. sell all the tickets. And if you parse the sales and streams the numbers are not too good either. But the media keeps pounding you with contrary information, purveyed by the artist’s label and team, so you think it’s true, and it’s not.
Free Britney. Well, we all learned something about the conservatorship game, but no one has been convinced Spears is not batshit crazy. And most people don’t care about her, her activities, her music, nothing. She’s got a very vocal group of fans.
Even BTS. Amazing numbers, but the truth is their fans are zealots. There seems to be a moat around the band and its influence, if you’re on the other side you don’t know and don’t care and can’t be converted.
And there’s plenty of money in these giant niches. Hell, there’s plenty of money in small niches today, but if you have to appeal to everybody?
That’s a different game.
Don’t compare Tesla with a band. Tesla is a corporation with more money at stake than not only any artist but any record label. It only works if everything in the food chain is aligned. Not only the supply chain and the cars themselves but the consumers who Tesla depends upon to buy their automobiles and keep the virtuous circle going.
But if the public finds out that the circle is not so virtuous?
Tesla’s got a problem.
Don’t compare Elon Musk to Steve Jobs, Jobs died before the social media everybody knows everything culture really gained traction. We didn’t know what Jobs was doing minute by minute, he was not smoking a doobie on camera, as a matter of fact, Jobs was very private, he believed in secrecy, not only for himself but his company. You were on a need-to-know basis, and you only knew what he wanted you to.
This is how the Blue Bloods did it back in the day. Wore chinos and drove Country Squires and you didn’t realize they were rich, but they were. But unlike the rich of old, today’s people with uber-money didn’t inherit it, they earned it. And they believe they’re entitled to it, that they’re better than the rest of us, and we can feel it, we know it.
Let’s go back to Kanye. For all of the information, all of the news, the grosses for his album release parties, the truth is his audience is getting smaller and smaller. Like I said above, you can be niche and still appeal to enough people to make bank. As for his clothing and other enterprises… This guy is doing his best to undercut those too, which are sold on cool, because Kanye is out of touch and now we all know it, that he’s bipolar. Once you start threatening to kill your ex’s new boyfriend, that’s over the line for just about everybody, other than the small cadre of truly delusional.
As for Trump… The story isn’t that his endorsed candidates did so well in the primaries, but how many did not. Even “The Wall Street Journal” had a piece about that. You see the old institutions, the old Republicans, want to wrest control of the party back from Trump, not only because of his power but because he, like Britney, is batshit crazy. Sure, some people think he’s God, but fewer and fewer every day.
You see Trump has pushed the line too far. He’s gotten in trouble with the law. He’s only skating because elected officials were afraid of him and he was President, believe me if it was anybody else they’d be locked up. And don’t forget, Roger Stone was.
So you have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. You have to take the temperature of your career 24/7. You’re the upstart hero, then you’re established, and then you’re the object of hatred. Just look at the English music press if you want an example of the paradigm.
So Elon was one of the PayPal bros, and then there was Tesla and SpaceX and for those paying attention, and believe me it wasn’t everybody until very recently, they had hope. Here was one man making a difference. Doing it different, as Apple would say.
But then the light started to shine upon him.
He could never be wrong. He barked back at the press. And at first, it looked admirable, standing up for his company, over mileage and other issues, but then it became evidence of his personality. A singular, unlikable one.
Have you ever met any of your heroes? I hope not, because they very rarely measure up to your expectations. Not only musicians but politicians and corporate executives too. Their images are massaged for the public. And the truth is to make it to the top you’ve got to be cutthroat and ruthless and usually flawed, you need the success to make you whole, at least that’s what you believe. But the public doesn’t cotton to people like this. The public is looking for heroes, but not this type. Something more along the lines of Bernie Sanders, who believes in his mission of helping the underdog and can laugh at himself.
Once again, it doesn’t matter if you hate Bernie and everything he stands for, he’s only got to appeal to enough people to win. And really, his job depends on the people of the state of Vermont, not those outside the hinterlands.
So you can double-down and marginalize yourself. That’s what Tucker Carlson has done over at Fox. He had the patina of credibility, at least according to his acolytes, but now he too is seen as batshit crazy. I mean taking Russia’s side? Supporting Orban in Hungary? And he could have taken responsibility for the “replacement theory” uttered by the Buffalo shooter, but he couldn’t even do that. I mean he could have weaseled, but also called for calm and change. But he didn’t, he just doubled down on his beliefs appealing to his usual audience. You know if you got him in a room, with no mics, he wouldn’t spout this crap, after all, Carlson called Hunter Biden to help him get his kid into Georgetown!
And now we know SpaceX paid $250,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim against Musk. Would this have come out if not for the Twitter shenanigans? No. People come out of the woodwork with stories, the media is looking for them, and voila, Musk looks bad.
But not only does Musk look bad, every company he’s aligned with looks bad.
Now SpaceX is kept alive by the government and corporations, but Tesla, Elon’s spearhead brand, is kept alive by the public. Are you gonna buy a Tesla now?
The drumbeat is getting louder.
Sure, Tesla has the best software, but no one says they have the best interiors, not for that amount of money. And fit and finish have been an issue from day one. To buy a Tesla you have to take a leap of faith, you want to not only be identified with the electric car/low pollution movement, you want to align yourself with a special brand that will rub off on you and your image.
And believe me, there are not enough right-wingers to keep Tesla’s assembly line churning.
And then Musk comes out and says he’s switching political parties, he’s now a Republican and will vote such in the upcoming elections. Have you ever seen the head of another Fortune 500 company say who they’re voting for and then amplify it? That’s anathema, the goal is to appeal to everybody. This is the hot water Disney is now in. It wants to support the LGBTQ community and right-wing Florida legislators at the same time. And the company is having a hard time doing it. Why? Because Bob Chapek is a weasel who didn’t know you get ahead of the controversy. You see Chapek was a background figure who’d never interacted with the press, unlike his predecessor Bob Iger. You can’t only play defense, you’ve got to play offense too. And a corporation can move much faster than the government.
And the government is investigating Tesla crashes.
The Corvair? Ralph Nader killed it, and Chevrolet had no choice but to stop making it.
The Ford Explorer? It reigned. But when the rollovers and fires happened… The paradigm shifted, people didn’t go back to buying the old Explorer, and competitors burgeoned, with a new kind of product, an SUV body on a car frame, as opposed to a truck frame, which is how most SUVs you see out there are constructed today. They may look like a truck, but underneath they’re a car.
Never mind the Pinto.
Malcolm Gladwell says the Pinto was safe.
But Gladwell has been so wrong about so much that he’s lost his credibility and his power over the marketplace. He put out an audiobook on Paul Simon to crickets. He sold out to Lexus. He took the money and sacrificed his trustworthiness. He used to be on the side of the little person, now he’s talking down to us.
Yes, everyone was aware of “The Tipping Point,” but ask people what Gladwell’s last book was… Most have no idea. And the truth is Gladwell still has a good business, but he too is niche.
Elon Musk is not niche.
Elon Musk is pulling a Charlie Sheen. He’s crazed. He’s got the public’s attention and he doesn’t want to let go, he thrives on the spotlight. But when you’re in the spotlight forever people don’t like it, and they go looking for your flaws.
How many Musk bros are left?
One thing is for sure, their numbers are dwindling.
And now Tesla has competitors. Maybe not as good today, but they’re getting closer. And customer service is better elsewhere, especially with the luxury brands.
So beware of trying to be world dominant these days. You’ll be subject to the slings and arrows. You may think you’re a hero, but assuming anybody’s paying attention there will be a huge cadre of people trying to turn you into a zero.
Know that you’re probably always going to be niche, so play the game accordingly. When you try to reach everybody you won’t, and chances are you’ll alienate many.
The game has changed, and you must change with it.
You don’t want to be too famous. Especially if you’re a behind-the-scenes person anyway. Like the artist manager, or record company executive. Not everybody is showbiz, and not everybody is a rock star, despite the press calling nerds who never went on a date who start tech companies so.
Don’t buy the hype. Musk is trying his best to pull out of the Twitter deal and his online activities have hurt Tesla.
Let that be a lesson to you.
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