Culture vultures

I’m not tearing up over Elon Musk’s termination, with extreme prejudice, of Twitter. Kill the blue bird, gut it, stuff it, and stick it in a media museum to collect dust. Think of all the extra time journalists will now have for journalism.

But there is something ominous about a superbillionaire taking over what had become a sort of public square, a center of discourse, for crying out loud, and doing with it what he pleases, including some pretty perverted acts. I mean, that X logo? Virginia Heffernan compares it to “the skull and crossbones on cartoon bottles of poison.” To me, it looks like something that a cop might spray-paint on a floor to mark the spot where a corpse lay before it was removed—the corpse in this case being the bird’s.

Musk’s toying dismemberment of Twitter feels even more unsettling in the wake of the announcement yesterday that private-equity giant KKR is buying Simon & Schuster, publisher of Catch-22 and Den of Thieves, among other worthy titles, for a measly billion and a half. Says S&S CEO Jon Karp: “They plan to invest in us and make us even greater than we already are. What more could a publishing company want?” That would have made a funny tweet.

Both gambits are asset plays, or, maybe a better term, asset undertakings. I don’t understand everything Musk’s doing—manic episodes have their own logic—but he does get an established social-media platform and a big pile of content to feed into the large language model he’s building at xAI. (Fun game: connect the Xs.) KKR gets its own pile of content to, uh, leverage. It intentions probably aren’t entirely literary.

Well-turned sentences had a decent run, but after TikTok they’ve become depreciating assets. Traditional word-based culture—and, sure, I’ll stick Twitter into that category—is beginning to look like a feeding ground for vultures. Tell Colleen Hoover to turn out the lights when she leaves.