Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg cage match: ‘They are playing at being Schwarzenegger when thousands of jobs are at risk’

The two billionaires are negotiating a fight to resolve their differences over Meta’s forthcoming Twitter competitor. Experts say it’s a classic case of toxic masculinity

Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg (l) and Elon Musk: two billionaires who want to fight each other in a cage match.Getty Images / Pepa Ortiz (collage)

Elon Musk, 52, and Mark Zuckerberg, 39, could fight each another in a cage match. Only a fine line is separating this from being a joke or being reality. The idea for a cage match — a common format in combat of arts mixed martial — came up in response to Zuckerberg’s plans to create a text-based social network. The new social media network poses a direct challenge to Twitter, which Musk bought for $44 billion last year.

In a Twitter exchange, Musk said he was “up for a cage fight” with the Meta founder. When Zuckerberg replied: “Send me location,” Musk responded: “Vegas Octagon,” and even suggested his friend, podcaster Joe Rogan, referee the match. It’s a lot of planning for a joke.

The concept of famous people battling out in the ring has been around since the MTV animated show Celebrity Deathmatch. And today, high-profile social media influencers and YouTubers often take part in fights to boost views.

A cage match between two billionaires may sound childish, but Elon Musk’s mother, Maye Musk, is taking it seriously. She has called on podcaster and AI researcher Lex Fridman to intervene to stop the fight — a move that has only served to highlight the absurdity of the battle, which is looking more and more like a teenage fight than a way for two rich and influential people to resolve their differences.

For sociologists, Musk and Zuckerberg are simply trying to build their credentials in the manosphere culture, which has given rise to battles between YouTube stars such as KSI and Logan Paul. “The manosphere is seen as a joke and, therefore, harmless. But it isn’t. It is an interconnected spectrum of different but related groups, each with their own rigid belief systems, lexicons and forms of indoctrination,” warns Laura Bates in Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists, The Truth About Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All.

Mark Zuckerberg (l) seems in better shape than Elon Musk.
Mark Zuckerberg (l) seems in better shape than Elon Musk.

Kika Fumero, director of Spain’s Canarian Institute for Equality and Human Rights Activist, believes that the cage fight and the rise of the manosphere is a response to the push for gender equality and the advance of feminism, which is seen as a threat to traditional masculinity.

“These demonstrations represent a form of resistance to changing expectations about gender roles,” she tells EL PAÍS. “Feminism addresse the concept of toxic masculinity, which refers to social norms that promote aggression, lack of emotion and domination in men. This resurgence of displays of force and violence could be seen as a way to resist changes that challenge these structural norms of power.”

Sociologist Erick Pescador Albiach agrees that this possible cage match between Musk and Zuckerberg is a continuation of the manosphere, where there is a yearning for the supposed loss of masculinity. “Using violence as a way to interact is a manosphere tactic to bring back to the present something that has long been over. This Trumpian movement [inspired by former U.S. president Donald Trump] has a lot to do with the antiquated and longing for the past,” he says. “They live between arrogance and ego, so violence does not cost them as much.”

Violence and masculinity

How could a business dispute have escalated into plans for a physical fight? Is it just a coincidence that Mark Zuckerberg now practices jiujitsu and that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is a dedicated bodybuilder? Are they trying to turn nerds into superheroes, whose strength is not intelligence but rather brute force?

“Just learning masculinity is violent, because it teaches us that the world is divided into men and women. We are taught through misogynistic stereotypes that a woman’s place is opposite to that of men, who aspire to appear strong, rational and sensitive,” says Iván Gombel, a historian in gender studies. “It is shaped by learning to exert violence on other men and, of course, on women, to distance ourselves from the emotional space.”

“The threat of violence is a way of showing virility,” he adds. “The thinking goes that the greater a man’s virility, the greater his power is to exercise violence.”

“The association between physical strength and economic success is a manifestation of the culture of hypermasculinity, which glorifies strength, aggression and domination,” adds Kika Fumero. “It is possible that we are witnessing a regression to these ideals. They are dangerous behaviors if they become normalized, if we laugh at them and legitimize them, since they perpetuate the idea that leadership and success require aggression and dominance.”

Lashing out when faced with failure at work

In his plans to restructure Meta in May, Zuckerberg axed 10,000 jobs, canceled an unknown number of “non-priority” projects and said that 5,000 open positions will be left unfilled. Musk, meanwhile, claims that Twitter is now worth half what he paid for it last year. When faced with these blows, the billionaires may be longing to present an image of triumph through physical prowess.

“They are playing at being Schwarzenegger,” says Erick Pescador Albiach. “By doing these stupid things, when there are thousands of jobs at risk due to the decisions they make, they look for their inner hero in a ring, the one we supposedly have and the one we turn to when everything else is at its limit.”

Alpha influencers

In an article in The New Statesman, Sarah Manavis warns of the rise of so-called alpha influencers — a term she uses to describe social media influencer and former wrestler Andrew Tate, who is accused of rape and human trafficking. This kind of influencer fosters an obsession with physical strength and male dominance, while glorifying pain and struggle as supposedly manhood-building experiences.

“There is the idea that when men suffer, their suffering is more important than any other,” says Iván Gombel. “These alpha influencers reinforce ideas that promote the culture of physical effort, of struggle and confrontation with a hostile world, where you have to defend yourself and be constantly at war to avoid getting stepped on. These are very military ways of understanding the world and their relationship with themselves, their body and their life.”

Andrew Tate
When so-called alpha masculinity collides with the law: Andrew Tate under arrest in late 2022.AP

Kika Fumero links the rise of the far right to the negative impact that expectations around masculinity have on society. “The far right promotes a vision of masculinity linked to traditional ideals of dominance, aggression and power. It has already shown resistance to the social changes that feminism and LGTBIQ+ rights movements are promoting, which seek to challenge and dismantle these harmful and destructive gender norms. But promoting a culture of violence and power, the far right is perpetuating gender inequality, and undermining the mental and emotional health of men, not just women.”

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