TV review: Make up your own mind if Elon Musk is a Superhero or Supervillain

Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington. Picture by AP Photo/Susan Walsh.
Billy Foley

Elon Musk: Superhero or Supervillain? Channel 4, Monday and streaming on All4

What is it about world's richest men and space exploration?

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson all have dreams of normalising space travel and conquering new planets for the human race.

The entrepreneurs may have been born in three different decades but each dedicated themselves to space travel in the early years of this century.

Bezos, the brilliant founder of Amazon, launched Blue Origin in 2000. Musk launched Space X in 2002 after getting about $175 million from the sale of PayPal.

And Branson, two decades older than Musk, launched Virgin Galactic in 2004.

None of them has been particularly successful so far, but then listening to conventional wisdom isn't what made them billionaires.

‘Superhero or Supervillain?' suggested that hype and PR have contributed more than anything to make Musk the world's richest man.

The template may have been set by our own Michael O'Leary, but Musk doesn't have his own marketing/PR team and relies on the power of social media to get attention through his strident views.

He's a supporter of Bitcoin and his views, possibly ironic, about another novelty cryptocurrency sent its value soaring.

But it's electric car marker Tesla that's propelled him to fame and it's a reasonable argument that its stratospheric share price is the result of hype.

One of the methods investors use to determine if a stock is of fair value is a formula called price to earnings (PE) ratio.

The S&P 500 was regarded as having a dangerously high PE of 36 in the early part of last year. Tesla at the time was over 1,700.

Despite the tech stock collapse of the last six months, Tesla still had a PE this week of over 100.

But then Tesla has been enormously successful and it's finally starting to make some real money, announcing a first quarter 2022 profit of $3.3 billion.

‘Superhero or Supervillain?' traced Musk's life through the familiar pattern of the hyper-successful.

Bullied as a child and very sensitive to criticism, his childhood foundational experience seems to have been the life or death struggle of his father during a break-in at their home in his native South Africa.

When three armed robbers broke into their Johannesburg home, Musk's father shot them dead in the living room in view of his family.

Musk left Africa after school, initially enrolling in Stanford University outside San Francisco, but quickly dropping out to set up his first tech company and eventually grow into one of the Silicon Valley masters of the universe.

But it's not all been plain sailing. He's been divorced three times and has had a number of other high-profile relationships, including with Amber Heard after she left Johnny Depp.

Superhero or Supervillain? also explored the dubious work practices at some of Tesla's hyper-factories in the US. Some of the car maker's sites are so large that there are 10,000 employees in a single plant.

Former workers told of racist and sexist abuse being tolerated, with a multi-million-dollar class action suit being prepared.

Never conventional, Musk upset many when he wrote an open letter to all his employees asking them to be more “thick skinned” and to forgive following a genuine apology.

"In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologises, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology," he wrote.

His most recent planned acquisition has further polarised the views of him as hero or villain.

Bezos bought the Washington Post, while Musk has made an audacious bid for Twitter, his own main source of marketing and communication and a place where he has almost 95 million followers.

Watch and decide for yourself.

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