Musk’s tweet was in response to a story on satirical website The Onion, which said that the word ‘innovate’ had been uttered an astronomical 650,000 times at this year’s SXSW festival in Texas. A renowned innovator in his own right, Musk poked fun at the ‘news’ by posting a lifehack-meme showing a burly Russian man wearing a toilet seat around his neck – with a plastic bottle of beer perched proudly on the seat’s outstretched lid.
There’s no doubt Musk knew of the picture’s origin, as it’s among the top search options for the trendy Russian meme “How do you like that, Elon Musk?” – which he had seen before and had even commented on in Russian. Russian-speakers have been actively posting these jokes –and tagging Musk in them– for over a year now.
It’s no surprise that many Musk fans have taken the post as a nod to their meme efforts – and clocked up 7,500 retweets and more than 72,000 likes in a matter of hours. Some have celebrated Musk as a “memelord” while others suggested he goes by a new moniker, “Slavon Musk.”
Another user posited that if Musk did, in fact, hail from Eastern Europe, his electric car company would be called “Teslav.”
Meanwhile, in Russia the post made headlines and immediately became the subject of more jokes. “Finally, Elon Musk has turned his attention to cutting-edge technologies,” Ilya Pospelov tweeted from Novosibirsk.
A popular news portal Lenta.ru ran a story titled “Elon Musk got hooked on Russian memes.” But one skeptical response on their Twitter thread doubted that Elon himself had posted the picture, suggesting that his social media team may be responsible.
Last month Musk tweeted “haha awesome” in Russian to a local report on a man who modified an old Soviet-era car to give the impression it drove backwards. The Russian channel NTV had, of course, supplied their post with the notorious meme, “How do like that, Elon Musk?”
While the meme in question has at some point been discovered in the West, it’s left a few observers confused at what exactly it’s supposed to mean. The often-lost irony is that Russians both like to praise their compatriots’ ingenuity but also to indulge in stinging self-satire, over ridiculous ‘lifehacks’ that often evolve due to lack of resources and to people’s creative spirit. To make matters worse, Elon Musk’s fan base in Russia has been actively using the meme to celebrate his inventor status, while the more belligerent have exploited it to mock anything running amok in the country, its space industry in particular.