Welcome to Chatting the Pictures. Every two weeks, we present a short, lively video discussion between Michael Shaw, publisher of Reading the Pictures, and writer, professor, and historian, Cara Finnegan, examining a significant picture in the news. Chatting the Pictures is produced by Liliana Michelena.
This photo was taken by Mark Mahaney. It leads off a critical New Yorker review of a new biography of Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson. Musk’s ownership of Twitter, Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink has become a lightning rod for criticism as his power and influence continue to grow. His prominence is due as much to his influence over American defense policy and his toxic control of what used to be Twitter as it is commercializing space or making electric vehicles mainstream. This image is quite the departure from Mahaney’s other portraits of Musk, including his cover photo for Time Magazine’s 2021 Person of the Year or the boy genius portrait of Elon Musk by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders on the cover of Isaacson’s biography.
In the video, we take a deep dive into the photo’s metaphorical implications, highlighting Musk’s depiction as a supervillain and potentially mentally disturbed. We emphasize the disconnect between body and mind and the image’s alien or predatory features. Finally, we draw parallels between this image and iconic artworks representing delusion and madness, raising questions about our society’s blindspot when it comes to the mental health of influential figures.
You can find all the Chatting the Pictures replays here.