Take the red pill: Why did Elon Musk tweet alt-right slogan?

Take the red pill: Why did Elon Musk tweet alt-right slogan?
Bill Pugliano / Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

Billionaire and compulsive tweeter Elon Musk appears to have linked himself to the alt-right in a recent viral post.

The tweet, which urges Musk's 34.4 million followers to "take the red pill", was retweeted by Ivanka Trump with the caption "taken!". Both she and Musk were promptly told to "f*** off" by Lilly Wachowski, co-director of The Matrix films, to which the meme refers.

So what's going on here, and what is Elon Musk actually trying to say?

Well, the meme refers to The Matrix.

On a basic level, taking the red pill (or the blue pill, for the matter) is a reference to the moment in The Matrix when Neo must choose between swallowing the hard truth in the form of the red pill, or take the blue pill and remain in a state of blissful ignorance.

Spoiler alert: he chooses the red pill, meaning that he must live through the hardship of experiencing the "truth of reality".

It has spawned various different memes.

The concept of 'taking the red pill' has struck a chord with everyone from leftists, to "men's rights" activists, to political theorists like Slavoj Žižek, who referred to it in the 2011 documentary Arte.

But the meme is best known for its association with the alt-right: a disparate group of hardcore conservatives who primarily communicate via websites like 4chan and Reddit.

Being "redpilled" in their vocabulary means rejecting previously held leftist social ideals and accepting a world view which is heavily socially conservative. To some, taking the red pill means accepting white supremacy, whilst to others it means realising that they live in a world that favours women over men.

There is no single definition of what being redpilled means, even amongst the alt-right. For instance, whilst it has been linked to racist ideologies, American conservative Candace Owens runs a YouTube channel called Red Pill Black, where she espouses conservatism for African-Americans.

So is Elon Musk alt-right now?

Tweeting memes and being edgy are par for the course when you're Elon Musk.

But people are confused as to why he would tweet an alt-right meme when he's previously identified himself as "moderate" and is officially an independent (although he has donated to the Republican Party).

And people are certainly interpreting the meme as being an endorsement of American conservatism.

It's hard to believe that someone as 'online' as Elon Musk would never have heard of the meme's association with the alt-right.

Some members of the alt-right believe in conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and QAnon, which boil down to the world (or specifically the Democrats and Hollywood) being run by paedophiles.

Elon Musk hasn't directly acknowledged any of these associations, instead interacting with other Twitter users as if he had simply made a direct reference to The Matrix movies.

Indeed, he followed up his initial tweet with an older Matrix inspired meme, which doesn't carry any alt-right associations.

It seems likely, then, that Musk isn't committing to any definition of what taking the red pill means.

Nevertheless, people are pointing out the hypocrisy the alt-right co-opting the meme, given that The Matrix directors, sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski, are both trans women.

Incels, or "hardcore misogynists" to you and me, use the similar term "blackpilled" to describe the state of having totally given up on every having any luck with women. They also use the term "redpilled" and even "purplepilled'" for when a person is teetering between the states of being redpilled and bluepilled.

So while Musk is keeping quiet about the meaning behind his use of the phrase, ​it is clearly being received by some as an alt-right dog whistle...

... Or at the very least an endorsement of president Trump (who recently praised Musk publicly).

But others have defended Musk, saying that he's clearly just making a reference to The Matrix movies.

For the man who knocked 12 per cent off the Tesla stock price just by tweeting about it, weathering a Twitter storm is probably, at least, nothing new to him.

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