- Earlier this week, Elon Musk challenged Mark Zuckerberg to a cage match.
- On Thursday, AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky said he’d challenge any tech exec to a bench-press contest.
- It’s a sign that top Silicon Valley executives are embracing a new era of the tech bro.
Gone are the days of quiet, nerdy tech CEOs. They’ve entered a new era. Executives are getting shredded now, they’re ripping edgy jokes, duking it out on social media — and apparently challenging each other to cage matches and bench-press contests.
Earlier this week, Elon Musk said he’d be “up for” a cage match with his longtime nemesis Mark Zuckerberg. The Meta CEO was quick to ask Musk to “Send me location” for the fight. While it’s unclear whether the match will ever take place, the prospect of the two CEOs making their fight physical has been greeted with a lot of fanfare. People have already started calculating the odds for the match and UFC president Dana White is delighted by the idea, dubbing it the “biggest fight ever in the history of the world.”
Some have also stepped in to offer to train Musk, including tech podcast host Lex Fridman and ex-pro kickboxer Andrew Tate, who was recently charged with rape and human-trafficking (Tate has denied the allegations).
Overall, the tech community appears to be cheering on the prospect of a physical match-up between two of the most powerful men in the world. Even Musk’s rival, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has said he’d be interested in watching the fight play out.
Meanwhile, at least one other tech executive has indicated they might issue a similar challenge. On Thursday, AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky told Bloomberg he’d “challenge any leader in tech to bench press,” adding that he’s been “waiting for these physical battles in tech.”
Musk and Zuckerberg’s posturing is the kind of broey behavior that you’d expect from a pair of fraternity brothers, not two middle-aged men at the helm of some of the most prominent tech companies in the world. Though, this type of broey-ness in Silicon Valley isn’t such a new phenomenon that it hasn’t already been given a name.
The term “tech bro” has been around for the better part of a decade, but what it means to be a tech bro has changed over time. As recently as 2021, Wired defined it as “aggressively conformist, intentionally unfashionable, proudly loyal to institutions,” with “a darker undertone of misogyny, although the textbook bro is more buffoonish than menacing.” Since, the tech bros of Silicon Valley have become less “unfashionable” and “buffoonish,” straying closer to the broader definition of “bro” — “stereotypically characterized as hearty, athletic, self-confident, party-loving,” according to Merriam-Webster.
The metamorphosis of tech bro culture is most apparent in the evolution of founders like Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. Tech icons used to typically look more like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Larry Page. They could be arrogant, but they were also noticeably dorky, careful with their words, and unlikely to be asked about their workout routine. Bezos went from the scrawny guy who founded Amazon to a buff billionaire, frequently photographed on a yacht with his fiance.
Now, Zuckerberg is winning medals at jiu-jitsu tournaments, training with top UFC fighters, and posting mirror selfies with a weighted chest pack.
But in many ways, Musk has been leading the charge. In the past, executives have been known to try to keep a low profile, but Musk has made a name for himself and his companies by doing the opposite — from smoking weed with podcast host and UFC commentator Joe Rogan and daily doses of sophomoric humor on Twitter to brash challenges to leaders like Zuckerberg and even Russian boss Vladimir Putin. Musk has made it cool to be a tech CEO and created a loyal fan base that few could rival.
And perhaps, other executives are beginning to take a page out of the Tesla CEO’s playbook.
Though, this kind of tech bro behavior can have consequences. Musk has faced his fair share of lawsuits. Last year, two separate lawsuits from female Tesla employees pointed to instances in which they said Musk’s behavior on Twitter contributed indirectly to their harassment at the company, including tweets from the CEO in which he made a joke about creating a college with the acronym “TITS,” and dubbed his Tesla car models “S3XY.” In 2019, Musk faced a defamation lawsuit that he later won after he famously called a diver a “pedo” on Twitter.
For better or worse — and it feels like all this hyper-masculinity is the last thing we need right now — it’s clear that the summer of the tech bro is upon us. Hold onto your creatine shakes, it could be a bumpy ride.
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