Tuesday, July 3, 2018


Reality offers abundant evidence of the morally desrtuctive character of capitalism, without the need to resort to TV dramatization. But, if one wanted a TV drama to make the point, HBO's Succession (now 5 episodes into its first season) serves this function quite effectively.

Succession portrays the personal and corporate struggles of the Roy family  – Waystar Royco founder and CEO and family patriarch, Logan Roy, his four children, and various other relatives and hangers-on. Logan controls one of the world's largest media and entertainment conglomerates. He is also 80 and starting to decline, but so far at least seems unwilling to step back from complete control of the company.

There are no nice people in this show. Logan is a thoroughly reprehensible moral monster - and, unsurprisingly, a bad father whose children are his most disastrous personal legacy. Only two of his heirs, son Kendal and daughter Shiv, seem even minimally competent at any actual work. No one seems to have much of a moral compass, although a few show some occasional and very faint glimpses of ethical awareness. Some, like Logan himself, appear consumed by ambition, although for others ambition does not seem to be that driving a force.

The fundamental problem for all of them is that they are rich. Wealth - and the power and privilege that it buys - are the air they breathe. But it is polluted air, poisoning all of them and all their relationships.

As we may increasingly expect on HBO (e.g., The Leftovers) most of the characters seem completely incapable of expressing themselves in ordinary, non-profane English. It is really hard to imagine even the super-rich as too emotionally impoverished even to be able to put together a decent, non-vulgar sentence in ordinary family conversation. 

But emotionally impoverished they certainly are. Ambitious Kendal seems somewhat more conscious of this and so seems to suffer that much more. His brother Roman seems more like some utterly unrepressed Freudian Id and so glides more easily from situation to situation. 

Although as a society all of us may have been victimized by capitalism, most of us are not wealthy and cannot identify with the corporate conflicts on display at Waystar Royco's headquarters. But we all have been part of families and have experienced family life, love, and conflict. By allowing the ravages of capitalist acquisitiveness to be played out not just in the unfamiliar setting of the corporate boardroom but in the all too familiar setting of the family dining room, Succession has created a powerful parable the non-rich audience can comprehend and identify with.

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