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October 21, 2019 1:01 AM   Subscribe

The Politics of Succession - "Succession is all but overtly inspired by the Murdoch family, whose multi-continental media empire played a crucial role in making Donald Trump's presidency possible."
The members of the Roy family... are all competing over the same prize: the chairmanship of the Waystar-Royco media empire, whose crown jewel is the Fox News stand-in ATN, which features a white nationalist in prime time and offers a platform to climate deniers. Because we are concerned with these and a handful of other characters in Logan’s inner circle, we rarely question the prize itself, which is valued in the billions but which the country, and indeed the planet, would surely be better off without. The same could be said about the people fighting over it, every last one of whom is greedy, selfish, and pitiful. America may not deserve Waystar-Royco or any of the Roys, but somehow a case can be made for any of the Roys deserving Waystar-Royco, and vice versa.

This is a show in which the One Percent owns everything, mostly by dint of inheritance or marriage. But Succession refuses to indulge the meritocratic fantasy that inequality is fine as long as the winners are the smartest, hardest-working people. Most of the Roys are plenty smart—as are the non-Roys, such as Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) or Rhea (Holly Hunter) with a shot at the title—and all of them work plenty hard, insofar as ruthlessly undermining one another can be considered work. Logan, in any case, is self-made. The problem with Waystar-Royco isn’t so much that one of Logan’s kids might get to inherit it as that it exists at all...

Politicians can’t control the Roys. Political careers may rise and fall, but Logan’s right-wing media empire will continue to broadcast and profit no matter what... Meanwhile, in the margins of the show we see the actual working class... Their lives are worth nothing to the Roys, and their stories will never snag more than a few scattered minutes of screen time, but they are the ones being plundered and exploited and discarded by these pampered sociopaths.
The hack gap: how and why conservative nonsense dominates American politics - "Without Fox, in other words, the GOP's only popular vote win since the 1980s would have been reversed and the 2008 election would have been an extinction-level landslide."
posted by kliuless (19 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
not a bad summery
posted by growabrain at 4:06 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


"Succession is all but overtly inspired by the Murdoch family...", just in case anybody failed to make that connection.

The merits of the show are discussed on Fanfare. And quite n entertaining show it is. Drop on over, if you haven't already.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:06 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


Succession effectively demonstrates that "politics" means something entirely different to billionaires. US politics, for them, has nothing to do with healthcare or war or equality or labor. None of those things will ever affect them; they are free to do whatever they want regardless of the rules of the land. Politics is only a means of protecting themselves by protecting their wealth, and occassionally a hobby. Politics is about individual people--who will be useful to them one day? Who are they impressing? Who are they screwing over? All donations are just for buying new friends.

For Shiv, politics is a hobby that allows her to make slight adversarial gestures towards her dad, a classic Roy past time. For Connor, it's a way to past the time when all else has bored you.

And the Pierces, well, they're the one good use of the term "virtue signaling." Their politics are a personality trait, the way they differentiate themselves from others in their circle. The guy who is interested in politics is no different from the guy who gets PhDs for fun, except that they have slightly different dinner party conversation. Like PhD guy, who will never use anything he learns--why would he need to?--politics guy will never be affected by any of his theories that he pays politicians to explore. If their chef tossed the roasted chicken in Nan Pierce's face, it would probably affect her life more than passing the Affordable Care Act did.

Billionaire-ism is a disease.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:53 AM on October 21, 2019 [11 favorites]


Wait, the real meat is the second link. Succession is a piece about deliciously miserable 'humans' but the second article, about 'the hack gap' has the salient point, namely that But Trump had — and has — at his disposal something that Democrats simply don’t: organized, systematic propaganda broadcasters. Sure his propagandists might be fictionalized in the tv show, but they are there in real life and it's taking a heavy heavy toll on democracy in the US
posted by From Bklyn at 7:12 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


See also Succession: Trump, Murdoch and Getty – The rich and famous families reflected in the hit series.

The show is fantastic. It works more for me as a comic soap opera about horrible people. (And my sweet little Roman, you're just a victim aren't you little guy?) It's not much of a critique of wealth or power other than the sheer existence of the show and its premise. Piketty isn't going to pop up in an episode giving you a lecture about generational wealth accumulation.

If you haven't watched it, start from the beginning. Then join us on FanFare (spoilers!) to obsessively discuss every episode.
posted by Nelson at 7:12 AM on October 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


Because we are concerned with these and a handful of other characters in Logan’s inner circle, we rarely question the prize itself, which is valued in the billions but which the country, and indeed the planet, would surely be better off without.

The show emphasizes over and over again how an abusive family dynamic and an ultra-wealthy lifestyle capture and imprison people who might otherwise seem somewhat intelligent or sensible. We watch the prize very obviously make their lives worse in large and small ways, and then they just fight over it even more brutally. To me it’s the central point of the show: this season was bookended with Kendall leaving much-needed rehab to issue a bland press statement for the benefit of the current company structure, and Shiv reacting to her husband’s dire warnings about their relationship by begging her father for more involvement for them both in the company power structure. In a way, the show equates the family’s extreme wealth with their abusive father. And it shows outsiders portrayed as savvy falling for the same dual trick, signing up for the Roys’ money and their personal abuse.

Has there been a character on this show who recognized this poison as poison from the get go? The audience sees it clearly—perhaps this show is so addictive because we are so clearly the smartest people in the room.
posted by sallybrown at 7:31 AM on October 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


Real power lies with Logan, who has built his fortune on a bet: that by holding the average ATN viewer in marginally less contempt than he holds everyone else, he can dominate a market that his more cosmopolitan peers and heirs can only squabble over.

There are a couple of times in this last season when -- confronted with all the harm his company has done -- Logan defensively says that Waystar-Royco just give the people what they want. That is, by the way, what we're going to be hearing from Mark Zuckerburg for the next 50 years. The Pierces were trash, but Logan's outsized loathing of them came not from their intellectual pretensions (he puts up with Frank) but their moral ones. You can see something similar in Tom's baffled fury when Greg ventures to admit that working for ATN might be against his principles, or the ugly way Shiv torpedoes her job with Senator Stand-in Sanders when she thinks she might have a shot at the family crown. When these characters can't deny they're making the world worse, most of them jump to the other side and insist they can't be expected to do any better. And no one should, and no one would.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:07 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


Succession is a family drama so it’s not exactly hitting you over the head with trenchant political analysis. Those themes are under the surface of all of all of the interactions though. One thing that stands out for me is how, even though the uber wealthy like the Roys are mostly removed from regular society, they are still heavily reliant on the labor of many, many people to provide them with the comfortable life. It really brings home how much they rich need the little man to realize their lives of luxury. And for all the talk of automation taking over low level jobs, it’s hard to imagine how a family like this could function without hundreds of cooks, cleaners, body guards, chauffeurs, pilots, waitstaff, elevator operators, household managers, personal assistants, drug dealers...
posted by scantee at 8:31 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


The political awareness is, I think, my favorite part about Succession. I was trying to convince a friend of mine to start watching, and she kept being like, "Given real life, I'm not really in the mood for seeing rich people get humanized," and my reply was LOOK, THEY'RE GONNA BE HUMANIZED, BUT THE SHOW DOESN"T WANT YOU TO LIKE 'EM OR RESPECT 'EM.

Frankly, that's what sets the show apart form the 5,000,000 other shows about super-rich people -- I'm looking at you, Billions, which started out with SOME sense that the richies were law-breaking bad guys, scamming honest people, but totally forgot it in the soapy lathery delight of how much Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti like to chew scenery.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:43 AM on October 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


There was a fascinating exchange this season where Logan's bemoaning the fact that Rhea's a democrat. Shiv says "well, so am I", and Logan replies "Yeah, but you get it." Shiv will always be a Roy at heart; cynical, ruthless, and self-serving. She may occasionally pay lip-service to progressive values, but she would never let that get in the way of her family's power or her own ambition.

Succession is funny, but I wouldn't describe it as a comedy. Aside from the goofy Tom and Greg bits, it's just too dark and on-the-nose for that.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:56 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


LOOK, THEY'RE GONNA BE HUMANIZED, BUT THE SHOW DOESN"T WANT YOU TO LIKE 'EM OR RESPECT 'EM

I recognize that it's a great show in almost every respect but I just don't care what happens to those people.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:09 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm looking at you, Billions

The thing Succession gets that Billions doesn’t is that the very rich aren’t on the same playing field, or even playing the same game, as the public servants who are ostensibly regulating and policing them. Giamatti’s character is shown as powerful but unsuccessful at cracking down on the rich for reasons of personal ambition (and maybe delusion) and the rich characters think, worry, and care about him. Whereas the equivalent players in the Succession world are never even shown or discussed. The star politicians who question the Roys in the hearing are easily manipulated and appeased; no one ever mentions the level-below public servants that could block an acquisition or open a federal investigation. They barely exist to the Roys.
posted by sallybrown at 9:15 AM on October 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


I recognize that it's a great show in almost every respect but I just don't care what happens to those people.

Oh, I care. I care deeply and favorably about their immiseration.

It took me a few episodes to figure out what exactly this show was, mostly for reasons of not paying close enough attention to the opening credits (damn my habit of keeping my phone near while watching TV). Had I paid more attention I would have seen Jesse Armstrong's name and connected it to The Thick of It (another show about irredeemably awful people leading absolutely terrible lives) and I would have noticed the chyron seen during a brief blip of an ATN broadcast: "GENDER FLUID ILLEGALS MAY BE ENTERING THE COUNTRY TWICE". Once I clocked that, it all fell into place.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:26 AM on October 21, 2019 [6 favorites]


I recognize that it's a great show in almost every respect but I just don't care what happens to those people.

I think the show's message about this is one of its deepest, most meaningful parts -- there's this recurrent theme about how one of the most awful things about the Roys is that they divide the world into solely two categories:

1. People who they concern themselves with, either in their warped internal emotional landscapes, or in terms of being a pawn in the games that they play.

2. Everyone else.

And if you're in the second category, the Roys can look at you and feel nothing. No matter how awful or terrible the thing you're enduring, your agony doesn't mean anything. Your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your desires, your humanity are all less than a spill on the floor they step over, so they can get to what matters. If you prove yourself worthy, or their attention otherwise fastens on you, maybe you get elevated from Category 2 to Category 1, which means you're signing up for hurt and humiliation and fear.

And yet.

Again and again, the show presents these terrible humans in situations that break them down, that show them at their lowest point, and it's done in a way that calls out sympathy from the viewer. Even though we know the terrible things he has done, we feel for Roman when he is trapped in the car with his father, trying not to physically shrink away from him, having to agree with his abuser that he wasn't abused. Even though we know that Tom Wambsgans is an absolute shitstain of a human, we see him on the floor in the hunting lodge, and hope against hope that he won't [spoiler] -- and he doesn't, and when he sees his wife again, and she asks him how it was, and he says it was fine and there are tears in his eyes, you get a sense of the human underneath, and you feel for that human, even if you don't like or respect him.

I think the show is very intentional about eliciting that feeling, because it is something we have that the Roys do not. It is something they cannot buy. It is something they will never have. And it invites us to reflect on what it means, both in a broader social context and for us, including when we laugh at the humiliations that happen to them.

tl;dr: Succession is my favorite show about luxury real estate and the meaning of humanity.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:29 AM on October 21, 2019 [17 favorites]


And if you're in the second category, the Roys can look at you and feel nothing. No matter how awful or terrible the thing you're enduring, your agony doesn't mean anything. Your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your desires, your humanity are all less than a spill on the floor they step over, so they can get to what matters.

No Real Person Involved.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:24 AM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think the show is very intentional about eliciting that feeling, because it is something we have that the Roys do not. It is something they cannot buy. It is something they will never have.

That is perhaps the very best description of the show as it relates to the viewer. Thank you for writing that.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:52 AM on October 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


And if you're in the second category, the Roys can look at you and feel nothing. No matter how awful or terrible the thing you're enduring, your agony doesn't mean anything. Your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your desires, your humanity are all less than a spill on the floor they step over, so they can get to what matters.
No Real Person Involved.
NPCs.
posted by Pinback at 7:21 PM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


NPCs

The game motif rears itself early in the show. Via Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker:
A lot of the fun of “Succession” is in watching fancy parties go off the rails, from Logan’s birthday to that wedding, which takes place in a British castle. But its most striking motif is games. For the Roys, business is a game. So is therapy, so is sex. Even a Thanksgiving-dinner round of “What are you grateful for?” turns competitive. When Roman begs his brothers to confirm a terrible childhood memory, of his being treated like a dog, Kendall insists, “It was a game, you enjoyed it!” Connor tells him, “You asked to be put in the cage.” The family’s psychological stability relies on this brand of gaslighting: if everything is a game, nothing counts. All the money can feel like play money, in the end.

“Succession” has its gamelike quality as well. It’s a drama that plays as a comedy, and vice versa, with crises that feel both real and contrived. It hovers on a beautiful borderline for viewers: real enough for us to care, but stylized enough to let us stand, enjoyably, at a distance, judging. The season ends with a Chappaquiddick-like tragedy for Kendall that feels weighty and true, a showcase for Strong’s layered performance. But it also starts the game again, making the show a fable about the ugliness of endless second chances—the resource that is a family like this one’s truest wealth.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:06 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Had I paid more attention I would have seen Jesse Armstrong's name and connected it to The Thick of It (another show about irredeemably awful people leading absolutely terrible lives)

And Succession as a spiritual successor to The Thick of It works brilliantly—far better than Veep ever did, in my opinion. If The Thick of It was a show about people in politics who're far too obsessed with keeping their paltry places of power to ever worry about doing good, Succession is a show about the private sector equivalent. TToI's characters were obsessed with the media, and with the possibility of their ruining their lives in front of it. Succession's characters are the media, and the only people they have to worry about are themselves.

It's the terminal clause of our present-day dystopia: no matter how much you can lift yourself out of society and the state of the world, no amount of lifting will ever keep you from being human. The Thick of It couldn't be a drama, because its characters were too relentlessly dehumanized to be anything other than their job plus some sadomasochistic relief; in Succession, everyone is free to be anyone, and in their total freedom, they suffer without reprieve.
posted by rorgy at 11:54 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


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