Talking Points

Jeff Bezos' embarrassing space machismo

For as long as there have been missiles and rockets, there have been men being weird about missiles and rockets. Neil Armstrong boasted that the Saturn V gave the fellas "a magnificent ride" in 1969, while women's studies scholar Carol Cohn, attending a nuclear weapons workshop in the summer of 1984, wryly observed that the "lectures were filled with discussion of vertical erector launchers, thrust-to-weight ratios, soft lay downs, [and] deep penetration." The president of the United States, in 2018, would defensively bluster to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" 

Then on Tuesday, billionaire Jeff Bezos triumphantly launched himself into space in a rocketship that looked like … this.

But while the Blue Origin capsule's dubious shape got all the attention on Tuesday (was that design really aerodynamically necessary???), it was Bezos' choice of headgear that in fact tells you all you need to know about modern space machismo. 

Bezos' rocket had a pressurized cabin, meaning there was technically no need for the crew to wear spacesuits — though Bezos, evidently intent on cosplaying an astronaut, made the passengers wear space "pajamas" anyway. But since helmets would've been similarly ornamental, the Amazon founder opted to wear the cowboy hat he occasionally breaks out for promoting cordless power drills and the like.

As William Shatner famously put it, space occupies our imagination as "the final frontier." It is a virgin, conquerable territory that lustily obsesses the space billionaires the same way the Wild West once did railroad magnates. Bezos' hat, whether consciously or not, seems intended to pass off the billionaire most famous for killing Borders Books & Music and dorkily sexting "I love you, alive girl" to his extramarital partner as some sort of edgy outlaw character. But for all the obvious posturing and compensation — Bezos was, rather bruisingly, beat to space by Richard Branson — not even the cowboy hat can hide the fact that Bezos' less-than-11-minute flight only took him to "space" by the most technical of definitions

If there were ever proof of the immoral vanity of the current billionaire space race, then, it would be Bezos' cowboy hat — that desperately insistent symbol of his virility in the ongoing "glorified pissing contest" (or another NSFW competition) with his fellow space bros. Notably, none of the planet's female billionaires are currently trying to launch themselves into space in overtly phallic vessels.