As we keep watching the internal struggles within the Roy family and the external battles of their fictional conglomerate Weystar Royco, we tend to get wrapped into their perspective. Succession (2018 - present, HBO) is brilliant in its depiction of characters and craft of language indeed, but at the same time it is especially poignant in reminding us the real-world implications of its story. Weystar Royco exists in our world, only in different names.
The sixth episode of season 3, “What It Takes,” might seem exaggerated. As the promo suggests, the Roy entourage is in some kind of luxurious banquet again to pick the next president. Pick the next president? Isn’t the president elected by the people rather than Logan Roy? A process we have been wrapping our heads around, especially since 2016, sounds so easy in the show. The power to pick the next president lies in Weystar Royco’s eclipsing power in the news and media industry. As a result, Logan attends this conservative political conference in Virginia to choose who to “back,” to whom he bestows media exposure. We can see in the episode candidates approaching the Roy entourage, each with their own ways to ingratiate themselves.
Although there are more outside stakes dictating how Logan should choose, such as the DOJ's investigation and the threat from Silicon Valley, it is still striking how much sway a company has on politics today. When you almost monopolize the entire sphere of communication, you can control how information gets disseminated: who/what can be received by the public and how. And in our current era, this control of the media means the control of politics, ideology, and public discourse. In HBO’s podcast for S3E6, the host Kara Swisher interviews Anthony Scaramucci, American financier who worked for the Trump administration for only 10 days as the White House Communications Director. He notes that although the media cannot necessarily “manufacture” presidents like in the case of Kennedys, today it still maintains significant influence by controlling how information flows. “MSNBC, CNN, in addition to Fox News, picked Donald Trump. They kept showing him.” Apart from the press, he had the same reciprocal, symbiotic relationship with the more powerful media-entertainment complex: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, which banned Trump symbolically and so belatedly after he stepped down. In Succession, the Roys pick fascist Jaryd Mancken, a unique figure like Trump, but in his own ways.
Jean-Francois Lyotard, in his 1979 book The Postmodern Condition, points out that “Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already , and will continue to be, a major - perhaps the major - stake in the worldwide competition for power.” At his time, the advent of more and more information-processing technologies led to the propagation of information transparency (really it is all about efficiency), and the nation state system would be regarded as entropic forces disrupting “transparency.” (5) This is why Reagan and his neoliberalist agenda wanted the government out of the way. But capitalism/neoliberalism does not actually make information flow more transparent by doing that. It only creates a vicious and unfair struggle for the control of this flow by manipulating this very idea of “transparency”. If we think about it, Succession, and capitalist economy in general, are ultimately all about this struggle, about information. Back in S2E3, “Hunting,” Logan puts up a violent game of dehumanization simply to get the information on the mole out of his “snakes and morons.” In our season 3 episode in question, politics is rather a client of the media because it needs the media's information power.
Mark Zuckerberg's name change campaign can be regarded as an attempt to monopolize language, our fundamenal means to mediate information.
On the opposite coast, the Big Tech is also playing the same game, but better. Facebook/Meta, Google, Apple, Amazon, are Lyotard's “information-processing machines” themselves. They constantly strive for more and more control over information, trying to eclipse more and more wild, entropic openings where information freely flows. Entropy is never a good thing for our (post-)postmodern society dominated by Tech conglomerates that demand maximum efficiency and performativity in the machine, where input infallibly derives predicted output. But as they keep monopolizing information, we know less and less about what they are actually doing in terms of their technological infrastructure, apart from all the sleek attractions they want us to know. This problem of access is the opposite of transparency. This is probably why at the end of season 3 (spoiler alert), even Weystar Royco, which has the power to pick the next president, succumbs to Big Tech, whose infinite aspirations are now extending to the universe(s).
“What It Takes.” Succession, created by Jesse Armstrong , season 3, episode 6, HBO, 2018 - present.
"The Official Succession Podcast with Kara Swisher Ep 6." HBO Max, https://play.hbomax.com/page/urn:hbo:page:GYZUrtgsATJfCHAEAAAAq:type:extra
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Postmodern Condition. Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1984.