Goffman and Musk

Ethan Cobb
4 min readDec 16, 2020

Self-presentation is a term that describes conscious and unconscious strategies for managing and controlling the ways in which one is perceived by others in terms of both appearance and behaviour (Dolezal, 2017). Erving Goffman introduced a conceptualization of the construction of identity in the study of human interaction. In his work ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’, Goffman analyses interaction and how individuals perform to project a certain image that they perceive to be desirable, and using the theatre to illustrate the contrasts in front stage and back stage behaviour (Bullingham and Vasconcelos, 2013). Information about a certain individual helps to define the situation, knowing this information enables others to know in advance what they can expect of the individual (Goffman, 1959).

Elon Musk front stage

In persuasion theory it can be called unexpectedness or novelty, with the human brain finding it nearly impossible to ignore events that are novel and therefore something new or surprising stands out. This can be seen in Elon Musk’s front stage, and the perception of himself that he builds online. He is a very surprising character in his social media activity, Musk doesn’t conform to traditional businessmen and their formal front stage and however is often presenting himself through memes, controversial statements on society and culture as well as tweets about pop culture, films and video games. In the social world we are called upon to display various fronts depending on the social stage, users take on roles and carefully manage the impressions they give off, in order to ‘fit in’ (Thompson, 2016). This may connote as to why Musk uses twitter the way he does, his modern approach as an well known entrepreneur may be to engage with users as well as ‘fit in’.

When first on his Twitter account, Elon Musk doesn’t display images of himself but images from activity from his companies. He portrays himself through his work as though they are a part of his dynamic identity.

His Twitter account is filled with ‘memes’ that get hundreds of thousands of likes.

Musk posted this image, above, and was met with backlash and transphobic accusations. He also took to Twitter to announce he had mild symptoms of COIVD-19 but that he didn’t trust the test results, writing later “Something extremely bogus is going on”. Looking at these tweets they revealed either a misunderstanding of how the testing process worked and the infection itself or some refusal to accept it. Musk also tweeted on March 6 “The coronavirus panic is dumb” and continued to make assumptions on his twitter account surrounding the deadly virus (McFall-Johnsen, 2020). Through his controversy he built an image of a frustrated character who takes to Twitter to present his irritations and dissatisfactions on a particular subject.


In life we also have back-stage areas where we can ourselves be more relaxed and in turn closer to our true-selves. A place in which we prepare for acting in the world and once again presenting a front stage (Thompson, 2016).

Elon Musk is certainly a complicated figure. Musk featured in Glassdoor’s ranking of the top 100 CEOs in 2018, however the year following he had fallen from the review sites top 100. People who have worked with Musk have given diverging accounts of the man, saying he can be both brilliant and temperamental. Former senior-level employees stating that they were to scared to tell him when they disagreed. It was also said that he is very reactive to social media and what often triggers him to make a decision is what he finds on social media, this may connote how he is presented in the front stage of self presentation. There were also others saying that Musk doesn’t give out much autonomy and the only decision maker at Tesla is Elon Musk (Matousek, 2019).

These accounts from those who have worked with Musk, can inform how he presents himself backstage. He presents the idea of a commanding man and lead decision maker, and because of this quite selfish. On the other hand energetic which allows him to be so active in so many things.



Ethan Cobb

A blog documenting a case study on the social networking and digital media unit on the digital media and communications course.