As you may have heard, a very rich man made a very short flight today. He had a very big press tour to talk about his very short flight. And then when he returned from his very short flight, he had ANOTHER big press event, where he thanked a bunch of less rich people for making him rich enough to make his very short flight. And the world spins madly on!
There are plenty of things that can be, and have been, said about this privatized “space race” between Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk — mostly about how they’ve legally evaded paying taxes in order to hoard immense amounts of wealth that then pay for them to play space cowboys. We have, in fact, said these things!
But for every serious critique of this interstellar dick-measuring contest, there is a painfully earnest embrace of the billionaire mission to station a personal corner office in space. These observers are unwavering in the belief that what people like Bezos are doing is fine and good and even necessary for the benefit and advancement of, somehow, the Average Joe.
Take this seemingly innocent question from CNN anchor Jim Sciutto, who simply wants to know, why can’t we all just get along (to celebrate the short space flights of rich people)?
I am usually of the mind that we should “let people enjoy things.” But these comments aren’t just coming from some rando wishing that Bezos and Branson’s space flights could bring together a nation divided. Sciutto is a news anchor (and chief national security correspondent) for one of the biggest networks in the country, someone whose job is literally to communicate the news and news analysis to people.
And if there’s any ambiguity to what Sciutto might think would bring all Americans together, not to fear, he tweeted through it:
But the bad takes didn’t end there, folks! Not to be outshone, former NASA administrator Charles Bolden, the first Black person to lead NASA, had some very, uhh, weird things to say about what private citizens catching Skittles in their mouths while floating in space meant for young people.
Here was his response to a comment CBS News Norah O’Donnell made during his interview amid rolling coverage of Bezos’ space flight:
Inspiring kids to not want to sit on the curb and shoot people is important.
When asked by Gayle King about billionaires having the opportunity to solve bigger problems on Earth, Bolden continued:
Not to make light of this, and people will criticize what I’m about to say. The young man sitting there, excited as he was, that’s one less Black kid on a corner somewhere getting ready to use a weapon. It is really, really important—for us to inspire young people, we have to inform them.
Obvious misplaced respectability politics aside, Bezos’ 11 minutes in space isn’t exactly “one giant leap for mankind!” It’s just that these networks and show hosts and interviewees are all treating those 11 minutes as if they are. If these are the “incurably optimistic” takes across the board from people in charge of the narratives on Bezos and company, I do not want to think about just how doomed we are in fighting this mainstream narrative as the rest of this rich man space war rages on.