There are essentially two distinct narratives when it comes to Musk, generally, and one paints Elon Musk as a hero and the other as a villain. However, in the end, Elon Musk is just a simple guy with a lot of money.
One consistent thing, though, between these two stories is whatever story you try to tell, you’d have to leave some things out. No matter if he is a villain or a hero in your story, they both are going to state same facts. For supporting them, you’re going to need to emphasize some things and kind of blur out other things. Anytime you want to accuse someone writing about Musk in a big-picture way of cherry-picking, you’d be right every time.
There is a big gap between “genius” and “villain” narrative and you may wonder why. Saying he is a genius or a villain is probably the simplest way to describe him. There is a constant newsflow about him and no matter which article or news source you pick, you will always find something that supports your narrative. For example, if you think he is a hero, well, so does Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Science Guy. And, if you think he is a villain, there are a number of lawsuits to choose from.
Just by checking out the happenings in the last two weeks, you can’t assemble any kind of coherent narrative without leaving something out or thinking that Musk is either being persecuted by haters or protected by weak regulators.
- SpaceX: NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine ordered reviews of SpaceX and Boeing. Apparently this was planned before the whiskey-and-weed bull session on The Joe Rogan Experience. “I will tell you, he is as committed to safety as anybody, and he understands that that was not appropriate behavior, and you won’t be seeing that again,” Bridenstine told Marina Koren of The Atlantic.
- SpaceX: Musk has sort of renamed the BFR to Starship. The spaceship and upper stage are Starship; the rocket booster used to leave Earth will be known as the Super Heavy.
- SpaceX: The Crew Dragon, for shuttling astronauts to the International Space Station, will get its first test launch on January 7th. People will not be on board.
- SpaceX: Looks like SpaceX has raised $250 million in loans, which is $500 million less than the loan it initially sought, Bloomberg reports. Buried in the last paragraph of the story is this lil’ nugget regarding SpaceX’s financial situation:
Disclosures to potential lenders showed the company had positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of around $270 million for the twelve months through September, people with knowledge of the matter have said earlier. But that’s because it included amounts that customers had prepaid and because it excluded costs related to non-core research and development. Without those adjustments, earnings for the period were negative, the people said.
- Tesla: Musk also tweeted that he’s interested in working with Daimler / Mercedes on an electric version of the Sprinter van. An electric version of the Sprinter is already in the works — suggesting that Musk’s insight about it being a “great van” isn’t off base. Tesla and Daimler have collaborated before: “Tesla supplied the electric powertrains for the first generation electric Smart cars and electric Mercedes-Benz B-Class,” and Daimler has suggested it’s open to working with Musk again, notes Electrek. So this might just be Musk having ideas on Twitter before he checks them out — or it might be the opening for a discussion about future collaboration.
- Tesla: Musk told Axios that Tesla was “single-digit weeks” away from death during the Model 3 ramp-up. The admission is striking, since Musk was publicly adamantly confident about Tesla’s prospects at the time. Lora Kolodny of CNBC has suggested Tesla might benefit from being more open about these moments, since it’s unlikely Musk’s fans and Tesla shareholders will abandon him.
- Tesla: More senior departures, this time a senior securities lawyer — the kind that might perhaps oversee Musk’s Twitter use — and the head of physical security, gone after less than a year.
- Tesla: The Model 3s may not perform so well in winter! Specifically, the windows and charging plug sometimes get stuck. A new software update is coming to fix these issues.
- Tesla: Mexican authorities have problems with the Teslaquila trademark. Musk tweeted that he intended to “fight Big Tequila.” As it happens, I was just in Tequila — it is a place in Mexico just outside Guadalajara — and it is quite small. (Also, Guadalajara has a bunch of absolutely bangin’ José Clemente Orozco murals if you are into that kind of thing!)
- Tesla: New Easter eggs for the S, 3, and X cars.
- Boring Company: Musk made a Mb opening.
- Boring Company: After a lawsuit, the Boring Company has abandoned its plan to dig under Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Hopefully this is all of it. Just by looking at all this news, it’s obvious that it’s rather hard to keep up with Musk.
The reason why him being just a rich guy is not as popular is because it paints rich people a certain way. Money has a huge impact on someone’s life and personality. When you have a lot of money, it’s less likely for people to reject you because you can afford all the resources required to go after your weird dreams and because you don’t spend much time people who aren’t as wealthy and forget how it is for simple commoners. However, this narrative isn’t as simple as the other two.
Painting him as a hero or a villain is a primal, basic description of someone and it allows you have a righteous battle against someone who disagrees. These simple narratives kind of give our brains a rest and they are a way to keep up with all the crazy speed of news regarding Elon Musk. Brains are generally lazy because thinking requires working. So, by picking a simple narrative that doesn’t require much thinking is basically how you get things done in real life and complexity can be boring.
The more news that come out about Elon Musk and his companies, the easier it will be for anyone who is reading the news to join one camp or another to decrease cognitive load. That means if Tesla suddenly files for bankruptcy or Neuralink has allowed someone to use their legs again, it won’t make a dent in the biased accounts people already use to understand all the news that is coming in.