Aegean to Appleton: Iconoclast or: The Dangers of Meeting Your Idols

As many of you probably already know by now, business magnate—or magnet, as he would prefer to be called—Elon Musk appeared on the 1,169th installment of the podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience.” The episode consisted of two and a half hours of scientific, existential and metaphysical discussions between Rogan and Musk, talking mainly about the fascinating yet dangerous world of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), the numerous advancements in energy use and sustainability and the future of mankind as a whole. Oh. They also half-smoked a blunt on air. As per usual, the internet exploded with memes about the occurrence, news outlets jumped on the importunity to scrutinize Musk, while at the same time Tesla stock was plummeting. Outrage, drama and turmoil—everyone was freaking out. I am an enormous fan of Musk as a thinker, a visionary and an entrepreneur, so I was really interested in figuring out how other fans of the guy felt about whole story. In a conversation I had with a close friend, also part of the Musk fan club, he revealed to me how disappointed and let down he felt. “That’s why it’s dangerous to meet your idols,” he exclaimed at the end of our conversation. After that instance, however, a question arose in my mind: should you ever meet the people you idolize?

I remember in high school I used to take pride in the fact that most, if not all, of the people I looked up to had either been assassinated, driven mad or had extensive FBI files written about them. However, as I ruminated on this attitude through the years, I realized that I had never met any of these people in person. In most cases, I only ever knew one thing about them and that was basically the reason why I was awestruck by them. I knew nothing about their personal lives, their political views, their societal predispositions. Being so completely unaware of the intricacies of their lives at first made me feel a little weird; why would I be so enthusiastic about being supportive of someone without having the faintest idea of their character? Anyone who has ever watched any reality TV show might be wondering the exact same thing. After all, that’s the essence of fame: public estimation of someone as seen or judged by people in general. “In general” is key here. Most people can be perceived as good “in general.” Therefore, my overall conclusion was the celebrity is all pretty superficial. Yet that still did not answer my original inquiry.

Back in 2010, the National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) conducted an extensive interview with Dr. Maya Angelou, one that covered a plethora of topics. At one point during the interview, Dr. Angelou was asked, “what should young people know about Malcolm X?” She promptly responded that “they should know he had an incredible sense of humor. They should know that about Martin [Luther King], too. Martin had an incredible sense of humor.” She then proceeded to explain that one of the gravest mistakes that historians, social historians in particular, make is that they recreate historical figures as larger than life, “[…] which puts the person beyond the reach of the young person. I wrestled with the idea behind Dr. Angelou’s words for many days. Do not get me wrong, I agreed with her wholeheartedly, but I just could not bear the idea that by idolizing another individual we automatically place them and their opus on such a high pedestal that makes them untouchable and god-like, if you will.”

Wanting to meet someone you idolize is expected. After all, you admire and look up to whoever that person is. Nevertheless, the fear that you will be disappointed/underwhelmed after such a meeting is always lingering in the back of your mind. If there is anything I learned from the recent events involving Elon Musk and my own admiration of “iconic” individuals, that fear is based on the concept that the person you are so fond of is perfect. Spoiler alert: they are not.

So, in response to all the media drama, the social media drama and my fellow Elon Musk fans, yes, it is extremely dangerous to meet/learn more about your idols. You will actually figure out that they are flawed, mortal and imperfect. They do not lead extravagant lives full of green lights and rainbows and money. They work, they struggle with life and they fail. That last one they do quite often actually. If you are willing to accept that reality, then you might very well become someone iconic yourself.

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