I feel bad for saying this, because like many of you, I wanted to believe that Elon Musk really was transforming himself into the real-life Tony Stark. Sadly, the past few years of Musk-ness have left me with no alternative conclusion: Elon Musk Is Not Tony Stark – He’s Obadiah Stane. Buckle up as I begin to eat some long-overdue crow.
Look, I’m not the only one who wanted to believe. Musk’s potential has been the topic of discussion for years now, and it’s only in the past eighteen months that we’ve started to see the mess behind the mask. In a world of difficult problems with no easy answers, we wanted to believe that Musk had an answer for all of us. Now that we know more about his intentions, we need to back away from the idea that Tony Stark is the ideal Musk is shooting for. Look no further than the Youtube stars lining up to dunk on the failed ‘Elon Musk is a real Tony Stark’ story trope:
In fact, Musk is looking for like Obadiah Stane. Who is that?
If you look up Stane in the marvel-movies.fandom wiki, you quickly remember that Obadiah Stane was the business partner and eventual enemy of Tony Stark. When Tony decides to stop producing weapons at Stark Industries, Obadiah retaliates by building his own iron suit. Looking further into Stane as a character, you start to see clear parallels between Stane and Musk:
“Obadiah was treacherous, intelligent, callous, sociopathic and extremely manipulative. He was capable of feigning interest in Tony’s welfare, and his father before him, when he was manipulating the actions of Stark Industries for his own selfish and narcissistic interests. He was introduced as a fatherly, charismatic and highly practical man whom Tony trusted very deeply, but his true colors increasingly revealed as a truly sociopathic and diabolical man. He had no complaints about ordering Tony Stark’s assassination, even though he’d known the man for years, showing that a conscience was completely lost on Obadiah.”
Musk hasn’t ordered anyone’s assassination, but he’s definitely stands in Stark contrast to the heroic ideals he originally projected. It’s not hard to imagine him becoming a Stane on his own legacy by refusing to achieve and act upon the self-awareness and nobility of real world leaders. People like Nelson Mandela, Dr. Aprille Ericsson, and Col. Stanislav Petrov taught us that you could quietly change and save the world without demanding constant credit or adulation. I feel bad for Musk. Already, I can see a future where the public that champions and celebrates him turning into a mob that scorns and disparages him.
Epiphany Over Epitaph
There’s still a chance for Musk to turn things around. In 1888, Alfred Nobel was mistakenly reported dead. When the papers ran his obituary, Nobel was appalled at the idea that he would be remembered as a ‘merchant of death.’ His decision to posthumously donate the majority of his wealth to found the Nobel Prize has been credited at least in part to him wanting to leave behind a better legacy. Undeniably, our 21st century has been shaped by Nobel’s act of 19th-century selflessness.
Scifi is full of moments where small choices create world-changing outcomes. In ‘The Battle of Victoria Crater,’ for example, I talk about what Mars might look like sixty or seventy years after First Landing. Oligarchs could control much of the outcome on a new planet, but human beings are both crafty and resilient. They aren’t going to take oppression lying down; not for long, anyway.
So while it pains me to say that Elon Musk is not Tony Stark, he’s Obadiah Stane, let’s remember something. This isn’t the end of the road for Elon Musk. This doesn’t have to be an epitaph; this could be an epiphany. He can choose to start factoring acts of selflessness into his choices, altruism over apathy, modesty over megalomania. Like all of us, Elon Musk can choose a better future. All it takes is one simple decision.
I have faith in him.