Yesterday Elon Musk, noted coronavirus conspiracy theorist and Tesla/SpaceX CEO, tweeted “Take the red pill,” adding a red rose emoji for a reason that was likely not DSA-related. Shortly after, first daughter and White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump retweeted him with the added comment: “Taken!”
Musk’s “red pill” tweet was a seeming reference to 1999’s The Matrix, in which Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, tells protagonist Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, that he’s been living in a computer simulation and offers him the choice: "You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." Musk has previously suggested that we may all be living in a computer simulation, and has tweeted other Matrix memes.
However, the term “red pill” has lately become synonymous with a right-wing political awakening. It was first used in this context by men’s rights groups in the TheRedPill Reddit community. Those who “swallow the pill” believe that it is men, not women, who are disenfranchised by society and that feminism is a dangerous political ideology. Many members of this community not only talk about these concepts in theoretical terms, but encourage rape and other types of violence against women.
Perhaps with this in mind, Matrix co-creator Lilly Wachowski wrote, “Fuck both of you” in response to the tweets. Then she encouraged people to support BraveSpaceAlliance, a Black- and trans-led LGBTQIA centre on the South Side of Chicago that is currently active in providing relief to the trans, non-binary, and intersex people suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Musk’s tweet follows weeks of him spreading coronavirus conspiracy theories, questioning death rate statistics, and getting into arguments with officials about reopening his Tesla factory in Fremont, CA. Last month he described shelter-in-place orders as “fascist.” After he openly defied county orders by reopening his factory, President Donald Trump strongly supported him, both in a private phone call and with a bombastic tweet. It is no surprise, then, that right-wingers cheered on Musk’s tweet, since the implication is that taking the red pill now would wake up all those people who aren’t aware that coronavirus is a hoax.
Ivanka’s feelings on the current crisis — or on anything else, really — are harder to ascertain. We reached out to Ivanka’s office, as well as to a couple of journalists who have covered her extensively, asking what she may have meant by this tweet, and have gotten no response so far.
But would Ivanka really be supporting the idea that this whole pandemic is a hoax, like her brother Eric Trump recently did? We weren’t sure until we remembered a profile in The Atlantic written by Elaina Plott last year, in which Plott spies a book called Playa Fire about the Burning Man festival in Ivanka’s West Wing office.
“Seeing it there revived many of the questions I’ve had about Ivanka and her inner life — questions that, after interviewing nearly 50 people who are close to her or know her, I still can’t answer,” Plott wrote. “A conversation with her betrays few hints. ... It could be that Ivanka’s secret self longs to escape her name and stop wearing sheath dresses and sway to EDM on hour three of an acid trip. It could be that Ivanka doesn’t want to do any of those things but wants you to think she does, because it would be unexpected and thus build intrigue. It could be that Ivanka simply received the book as a gift.”
Or it could be that Ivanka just really wanted to understand the inner workings of Burning Man regular Elon Musk, who has attended the Nevada desert festival year after year, sometimes with his girlfriend Grimes. “If you haven't been, you just don't get it,” he said in 2014.
This coffee table book is where the explanation likely lies. Ivanka doesn’t fully understand what the red pill signifies in Musk’s tweet. It’s true that she hasn’t been consistent in her actions during the pandemic, encouraging her followers to stay home while also travelling in defiance of federal guidelines. But consistency isn’t the strong suit of any Trump — unless they’re trying to get close to someone they admire. And Ivanka apparently really likes Musk. As does her father, who not only sided with Musk on reopening his factory, but also compared the Tesla boss to Thomas Edison, calling him “one of our great geniuses.”
Suddenly the intent behind the retweet is crystal-clear. “Taken!” was written to strengthen Ivanka’s connection to another super-rich person — what does she care which murderous subcultures she might egg on in the process? We guess Musk is right. We “just don’t get it.”