October 1, 2023
Chatting the Pictures

Chatting the Pictures: A Portrait that Dares to Expose Musk’s Madness

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.

By Staff
About the Video

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.

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Michael Shaw

An analyst of news photos and visual journalism, and a frequent lecturer and writer on visual politics, photojournalism and media literacy, Michael is the founder and publisher of Reading the Pictures.

Cara Finnegan

Cara Finnegan is a writer, photo historian, and professor of Communication at the University of Illinois. She has been affiliated with Reading The Pictures for nearly 15 years, most recently as co-host of Chatting The Pictures. Her most recent book is Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotype to Digital.


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