Elon Musk’s Boring Company Flamethrower Seems Like a Colossally Bad Idea

There are plenty of good ways to stir up publicity for a project. Selling $500 guns that spew fire to the public isn’t one of them.

byEric Adams|
Culture photo

There’s a pronounced tendency among certain incredibly-driven personality types to try and take the edge off their naked ambition by acting silly and doing crazy stuff—though always with delegitimizing calculation. To thumb their noses at standards of propriety, but with a self-consciousness that invariably lets all the air out of the effort. To scream “Look at me, I’m being irreverent,” while skateboarding through the office. 

Yes, we're talking about Elon Musk. 

Apparently, Musk is selling a flamethrower. This not only appears to be legit—a pre-order page exists through the Tesla and SpaceX founder’s newest endeavor, the tunneling-obsessed Boring Company—but people are lining up with as much enthusiasm as Model 3 buyers, to the tune of more than 7,000 pre-sales of the $500 device, which he indicates will ship in April. He’s posted videos showing him gleefully charging the camera with it, and joked on Twitter about it being great for roasting nuts or the overplayed trope of “zombie apocalypses." One video shows two attractive folks shooting them in close proximity to one another, as though at a backyard party. Oh, Elon, you mischievous little scamp.

If you’re worried about the device being misused, whether accidentally or deliberately—well, I’m guessing there’s a very strong potential for that, given that it’s a goddamn flamethrower.

Sorta. The Boring Company flamethrower isn’t a real flamethrower. It’s more like a big butane lighter, with a flame that extends just a few feet from the muzzle, making it legal for purchase in most states. Proper flamethrowers are terrifyingly lethal weapons of war, variations of which are used in assorted industrial applications. They can shoot streams of burning napalm more than 100 feet, scorching the Earth and everything around it. Countless people have died horrible deaths due to these weapons, including some unfortunate souls who’ve been executed by flamethrower

But no matter—flamethrowers are funny, right?

Musk hasn’t explained precisely why he chose a flamethrower, of all things, to sell as part of his extended, excruciatingly cheeky attempt to raise money for The Boring Company. But since launching the tunneling project, he’s been on a bit of an irreverence kick, offering assorted merchandise for sale in the name of publicizing his effort—all of which, of course, is eagerly gobbled up by his fans. But these potentially-lethal handheld incendiary devices are real, and there are multiple of them in existence. It’s clearly as much of a publicity stunt as fundraiser, one he fully expects will get him lots of pats-on-the-back by the sycophantic yes-men and yes-women who surround him—and who likely chirped up that it would be an absolutely top-drawer idea when he broached it, probably a bit sheepishly, until people started yucking it up. Then it became a thing...and now we have a billionaire tech genius selling a flamethrower. Now, 7,000 people are going to get this (and counting—on the way up to the 20,000 he says he hopes to sell) and do, well, what with them?

I get it: A consumer-oriented flamethrower is sort of funny. It’s a novelty item, and likely no more dangerous than a chainsaw—though more likely to be shown off and brought out at parties and fired up and cartoonishly waved in the air at full throttle until the curtains catch fire. Hopefully, people will likely look at it more as a collectible than a tool to be used for practical purposes—or worse, a toy used to screw around. Most will end up mounted in offices, or hanging over fireplaces, or stored in elaborately over-engineered shiny metal cases in the trunks of Teslas just for laughs.

Elon's sense of humor at work.

But it’s also just stupid, and a colossally bad idea with a not-insignificant potential for real-world harm. No, it’s not a “real” flamethrower, but it’ll still set stuff on fire, including you. In the end, it’s an ironic inside joke that he’s letting spin up to full fruition, all for the sake of being adored as a quirky genius. It’s getting kind of tiresome, frankly. The schoolmarmish nerd in me would much rather see Musk deploy something actually useful as his first widely affordable consumer product—like, say, an electric bike. But that'd be too boring a play for The Boring Company, right? Instead, Musk gave us a flamethrower—a useless bit of jokey bombast meant to rile up his fan base and get some yucks.

Fine, Elon. It’s your company. But maybe we should all just grow up a little.