HBO’s ‘Succession’ Holds up a Dark Mirror to our Political Times – HBO的“继承”给我们的政治时代留下了一面黑暗的镜子。

Opinion - 15 Aug 2018

HBO’s ‘Succession’ Holds up a Dark Mirror to our Political Times

Landing only months before the US midterm elections, it’s impossible not to understand the show foremost in the context of the Trumps and Kushners of the world

By Ian Bourland

There’s a big reveal in episode 8 of HBO’s summer prestige drama, Succession – a family drama played out in the shadow of a global media company, Waystar Royco. The company’s heir apparent, Kendall (played by Kieran Culkin), takes an unexpected meeting at an exclusive Brooklyn warehouse party with a longstanding rival of his family’s business, learning that, in financial terms, he’s now in bed with the enemy: one who rode in on the back of vulture-capitalist financing, a ‘parasite on a parasite’ looking to strip Royco down for parts. And this is one of the less pathological moments in Succession, an interlude of Mitt Romneyesque calibration amid a caustic interpersonal landscape. The historian T.J. Clark once said of modernist painting that to serve as effective critique, it would have to mime its subject matter to the point of ventriloquism. By that standard, the show presents a dire view of life in 2018.

In fairness, Succession was conceived before the full scope of the current political landscape in the US had become apparent. Its production team includes Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, suggesting that the project was intended as a kind of dark comedy, a humorous extension of earlier work by novelist Brett Easton Ellis in the 1980s, or McKay himself in his 2015 film The Big Short – a thoughtful if incredulous look at the origins of the 2008 financial crisis. Succession relies on a series of familiar tropes: broadcast media vs. digital media, New York vs. Silicon Valley, boomers vs. millennials, sentimentality vs. cynicism and so on. Its central conceit is Shakespeare’s King Lear for a Rupert Murdoch-dominated world, a passel of spoiled scions scrambling for the lion’s share of an aging tycoon’s empire. Early on, Logan Roy (played with gravitas by Brian Cox) is poised to step aside from Royco, a conglomerate that blends aspects of Disney and Newscorp, only to be felled by a stroke. In the ensuing melee, Logan re-emerges, wounded, mad but newly committed to holding on to power. His four children – Kendall (the tortured striver), Roman (the charismatic black sheep), Siobhan (the canny, fair-haired daughter), and Connor (the eldest, a loopy dilettante) – step into the breach. Psychodrama ensues, old wounds are re-opened, the long knives come out. 

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HBO’s ‘Succession’ Holds up a Dark Mirror to our Political Times - HBO的“继承”给我们的政治时代留下了一面黑暗的镜子。

Real estate developer Charles Kushner attending the U.S. District Courthouse August 18, 2004 in Newark, New Jersey. Kusher would plead guilty to 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. Courtesy: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Early reviews of Succession suggest a juicy satire, water cooler fare that’s as ruthlessly arch as its subjects. But landing as it has months before the US midterm elections, it’s impossible not to understand the show foremost in the context of other corporate families – the Trumps and Kushners of the world – and to feel an uncanny recognition of damaged protagonists navigating a binary world of winners and losers, strength and weakness, moral compromises in pursuit of paternal acceptance always held at arm’s length. From the vantage of 2018, Succession is less timeless tragedy and more timely synecdoche. In this sense, the show is not so much a voyeuristic romp, but an unsettling index fossil for future historians. In effect, Succession is difficult to watch, and one can’t be blamed for seeking lighter fare or schmaltzy bromides in their entertainment diet. The question, then, is whether the series emerges as poignant critique or, in Jean Baudrillard’s terms, simply a ‘mirror of production,’ a symptom of the thing it purports to investigate.

One thing is certain: even for audiences habituated to a world of post-moral antiheroes like AMC’s Breaking Bad’s Walter White, it is unclear whom to root for in Succession; so complete is the ethical perfidy, so fully do they reflect the harsh contours of US greed – for acceptance, authenticity, status, narcotic excess. So glaring is Kendall’s ambition that he becomes a chameleonic cipher, only happy when lit up on methamphetamine in the New Mexico sagebrush. His brother Roman oscillates between insecurity and sleazy exuberance, plainly wounded but ultimately too callow to redeem himself. Connor is ensconced at his hobby farm in the desert, channelling the now archetypically cliché Coachella-Santa Fe-Yellowstone Club set. Siobhan is conflicted but still dabbles in the dark arts of politics, portrayed here, à la Netflix’s House of Cards, as a vacuous and calculating parallel world in its own right. She wants to escape the gravity of her family for something like normality but can't shake the feeling that to be decent is a sucker’s game, and she casually torments her straight-laced mid-western fiancée Tom as a way of steeling herself. Tom, in turn, is a proxy for the audience – one foot in each world, even his speech patterns distort as his moral compass wildly gyrates somewhere between naivety and perdition. Even Rob Yang’s tech guru, openly queer and bullish on new media, lapses into the macho posturing and boardroom elbow-throwing that remains, it seems, the coin of the realm.

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HBO’s ‘Succession’ Holds up a Dark Mirror to our Political Times - HBO的“继承”给我们的政治时代留下了一面黑暗的镜子。

Succession, 2018. Courtesy: HBO

The message here is that even if the players change or outward appearances shift, power (and by extension money) is ultimately the only certain measure of value. This is an anti-humanistic world in which nothing, at last, is sacred. Smaller plot points send up the now undeniable symmetry of finance capital and technological utopianism, the way bro culture pervades, and the Patrick Batemans of the world casually shift between secret bacchanal and Michelin restaurants, impact/eco venture and cryptocurrency. A young art start-up, too, seeks an injection of capital in order to expand the reach of young artists, taking early career makers and marking up their work for a wealthier set. The start-up's founders are at the same secret parties, the same pitch meetings, but bask in the glow of their anti-establishment credentials. To his credit, Kendall, in a brief meeting, sees right through them. He pinpoints the contradictions of the contemporary art world too precisely for comfort but yearns nonetheless for some last bastion of authenticity beyond the realm of finance that the young founders might represent.

Though even Kendall, like his siblings, can’t get away from his name, can’t make a clean break. They are held in orbit by the titanic presence of the father, the patriarch who won’t go quietly. In a chilling boardroom scene, a carefully engineered no confidence vote is derailed by Logan himself who scoffs as a motion is called, simply dismissing it with a ‘No. Bullshit.’ He violates his own bylaws, refusing to leave his seat at the end of the table, pugnaciously twisting the vote back in his favour. The children, for the moment, fall back into line.

There is Freudian drama here, but also echoes of our larger, shared family saga. What happens when even the thin mores of the capitalist system are pushed beyond their limits, revealed to be only as strong as our willingness to enforce them? What happens when those reading the winds align themselves with the strongest man in the room rather than a sense of duty to something greater? In advance of the decision, Kendall whips the votes, including his brother Roman and his best friend, a school chum and fellow board member. They both betray him in the moment, but Kendall was warned: he asked in advance if he could trust his old pal.  Stewy replies with an unapologetic ‘No.’ The only offer of loyalty in the room comes in the form of Logan’s brother Ewan (the evergreen James Cromwell), a keeper of the old adage that blood is thicker than water. But fittingly, he too has exiled himself to a rural life, and he represents a vestigial, indeed Canadian, branch of the family. He warns his dopey grandson – Tom’s protégé Greg – to steer clear of the ‘viper pit’ of his own kin. There is no place for him here.

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HBO’s ‘Succession’ Holds up a Dark Mirror to our Political Times - HBO的“继承”给我们的政治时代留下了一面黑暗的镜子。

Succession, 2018. Courtesy: HBO

Ultimately, Succession is tough medicine, even as Brechtian theatre; even for a generation weaned on the cool cinematography and moral inoculation of dramas like FX’s Damages or House of Cards. If one looks back to the turn of the millennium, a quirky optimism still pervaded popular entertainment, even on premium networks. HBO’s The Sopranos humanized gangster life and Sex and the City celebrated the emergence of New York as an adult playground. The characters that populate those shows at least seemed to be having a good time – not so for the Roy family, all of whom struggle for tenuous purchase in the cramped offices and deadened corridors of a Manhattan high-rise, for whom sex, drugs and exclusive parties are either banal or insufficiently potent tonic. And maybe this is the most powerful message of a show that is decidedly (and contrary to a great deal of critical opinion) not ‘fun to watch’ – if this is the life of the 1%, then who wants it? Or worse, if it’s this bad for them, what of us?

During the last years of the Clinton and Bush presidencies, by contrast, audiences could enjoy the nostalgic escapism of dramas like Aaron Sorkin’s NBC drama, The West Wing. The message, in brief, was that for the moral lapses on either side, there were deeper values that united both the US and the West itself; that beneath the veneer of incivility there was a deeper spiritual or social cause that would outlast the turbulence of the present. The West Wing lives on now, especially in contrast to Succession, not as a useful parable but as bittersweet nostalgia. It’s fitting that for a show about a media empire, Succession tarries little in the actual complexities of perhaps the defining industry of our political era. Succession, by design or not, holds up a dark mirror for our inspection. Once upon a time, the excesses of books like Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991) seemed so egregious as to register as satire. But such a gulf between reality and fancy, the real and the unreal is increasingly imperceptible, and Succession plays the same neural notes of cable news and social media as another kind of documentation of our daily life. The viewer is left feeling like Greg, the show’s bumpkin cousin, after inhaling three lines of cocaine – more-or-less involuntarily. As he notes, ‘it’s a nightmare.’

Main Image: Succession, 2018. Courtesy: HBO

Ian Bourland

Ian Bourland is a critic and an art historian at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, USA.

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15—8月2018日HBO的“接班人”给我们的政治时代留下了一面黑暗的镜子,仅仅在美国中期选举前几个月,在W的王牌和库什纳斯的背景下,不可能理解最重要的节目。ORLD的Ian Bourland有一个大揭露在第8集HBO的夏季声望戏剧,继承-家庭戏剧发挥出来的影子在一个全球性的媒体公司,韦斯特罗伊科。这家公司的继承人,肯德尔(由基南·卡尔金饰演)在一家布鲁克林区专营店举行了一次意想不到的会议,这是他家族企业长期以来的竞争对手,从财务的角度来看,他现在和敌人上床了:一个骑在秃鹫CA后面的人。皮特主义融资,一个“寄生虫寄生虫”试图剥离罗伊科的零件。这是一个不那么病态的时刻,一个介于米特罗姆尼斯克的插曲在一个苛刻的人际关系景观中。历史学家T.J. Clark曾经说过,现代主义绘画要成为有效的批评,就必须把它的主题模仿成口技。根据这一标准,该节目在2018呈现了一种可怕的人生观。公平地说,“继承”是在美国当前政治格局的充分范围之前就已经显现出来的。它的制作团队包括亚当麦凯和威尔法瑞尔,这表明该项目的目的是作为一种黑暗喜剧,一个幽默延伸的早期小说家Brett Easton Ellis在80年代的工作,或McKay自己在他的2015电影“大短”-一个深思熟虑,如果怀疑地看TH。2008次金融危机的起源。“继承”依赖于一系列熟悉的倾向:广播媒体与数字媒体,纽约对硅谷,波米尔人与千禧年,感伤与愤世嫉俗等等。它的中心骄傲是莎士比亚的国王李尔为一个Rupert Murdoch统治的世界,一个被宠坏的接受者争夺一个老大亨帝国的狮子的份额。早些时候,Logan Roy(与布赖恩·科克斯一起玩Grimistas)准备离开RooCo,这是一家融合了迪士尼和NeXCORP方面的公司,只是因为中风而被砍倒。在随后的混战中,洛根再次出现,受伤,发疯,但最近承诺继续掌权。他的四个孩子——肯德尔(被折磨的奋斗者)、罗马(魅力的黑羊)、西沃恩(精明的、金发的女儿)和康纳(长者,一个笨拙的独裁者)步入了突破口。心理剧接踵而至,旧伤口重新打开,长刀出来。”BydyGigTyIGES-51 181875 7MasthopCopy.JPG HBO’s ‘Succession’ Holds up a Dark Mirror to our Political Times - HBO的“继承”给我们的政治时代留下了一面黑暗的镜子。房地产开发商Charles Kushner出席美国区法院2004年8月18日在新泽西纽瓦克。Kuress将认罪18个非法竞选捐款,逃税,证人篡改罪名。谦恭:克里斯·洪德罗斯/盖蒂图片的早期审查继承提出了一个多汁的讽刺,水冷却器的费用,作为残酷的拱作为其主题。但在美国中期选举前还有几个月的时间,不可能在其他公司家族——世界上的王牌和库什纳人的背景下不明白这场秀——并感受到一个神秘的承认:在赢家的二元世界中,被破坏的主角们是一个不可思议的主人公。失败者,力量和弱点,道德妥协,在追求父亲的接受总是保持在手臂的长度。从2018的优势来看,继承是不那么永恒的悲剧,更及时的随笔。从这个意义上讲,这场展览与其说是一次窥探,不如说是对未来历史学家的一个令人不安的索引化石。实际上,继承是很难观看的,不能因为在娱乐性的饮食中寻找较低的票价或SmialtZy兄弟而受到责备。接下来的问题是,这部剧集是否表现为尖锐的批评,或者在鲍德里亚的术语中,仅仅是一个“生产的镜子”,是它所要调查的事物的一个征兆。有一件事是肯定的:即使对于那些习惯于像AMC的坏家伙Walter White那样的后道德反英雄的世界来说,还不清楚谁是继承人的根源;因此,伦理的背信弃义是完全的,所以他们完全反映了美国贪婪的严酷轮廓——接受,真实。性质、状态、麻醉过量。因此,肯德尔的雄心壮志是他变成了变色龙密码,只有在新墨西哥山艾树上的甲基苯丙胺点燃时才会快乐。他的兄弟罗马人在不安全和懒散的繁荣之间摇摆不定,显然是受伤的,但最终还是太自以为是了。康纳在沙漠里的嗜好农场里安顿下来,他现在就开始了一个典型的克里斯蒂安-卡切拉圣菲菲黄石俱乐部俱乐部。西沃恩是矛盾的,但仍然涉足政治黑暗的艺术,描绘在这里,拉涅特里克斯的纸牌屋,作为一个空洞的和计算的平行世界在其自己的权利。她想逃避家庭的压力,因为她有点像常态,但不能动摇的感觉是,体面是一个傻瓜的游戏,她随便折磨她的直系中段西方未婚妻汤姆作为一种自我折磨的方式。汤姆,反过来,是一个代表一只脚在每一个世界,甚至他的讲话模式扭曲,因为他的道德罗盘疯狂地徘徊在天真和灭亡之间。即使是Rob Yang的技术大师,公开地对新媒体感到奇怪和看涨,但他却陷入了男子气概的姿态和董事会弯道的投掷,这似乎是该领域的硬币。LIFE -1-寿命7038 27 01y PRO3510 10-1.JPG WPA6022602IMG继承,2018。礼貌:HBO这里的信息是,即使玩家改变或外观变换,权力(和通过扩展金钱)最终是唯一的某种衡量价值。这是一个反人道主义的世界,没有什么是神圣的。较小的情节点会带来金融资本和技术乌托邦主义的不可否认的对称性,Bro文化的传播方式,世界的Patrick Batemans在秘密酒馆和米其林餐厅之间随意转移,影响/生态风险和隐秘性。一个年轻的艺术初创公司也在寻求资本注入,以扩大年轻艺术家的影响力,吸引早期的职业创造者,并为更富有的作品做标记。初创公司的创始人是在同一秘密党,同样的会议,但沉浸在他们的反建立凭据辉光。值得称赞的是,肯德尔在一个简短的会议中,看到了他们。他准确地指出了当代艺术世界的矛盾,恰恰是为了安慰,但仍然怀念一些年轻的奠基人可能代表的金融领域之外的真实性的最后堡垒。即使肯德尔,像他的兄弟姐妹一样,离不开他的名字,也不能一刀两断。他们是由父亲泰坦尼克号的存在而在轨道上运行的。在一个令人寒心的董事会场景中,一个精心策划的不信任投票被洛根自己出轨了,他嘲讽地称之为“动议”,只是用“不胡扯”来驳斥他。他违反了自己的章程,拒绝在座位的最后离开座位,恶毒地扭曲了投票。对他有利。孩子们,暂时退缩了。这里有弗洛伊德戏剧,但也反映了我们更大的、共同的家庭传奇。当资本主义制度的薄薄之心被推到了极限之外时,会发生什么样的情况,仅仅表现得和我们执行它们的意愿一样强烈?当那些读风的人与房间里最强壮的人保持一致而不是对更大的事物有责任感时会发生什么?在作出决定之前,肯德尔挥动选票,包括他的兄弟Roman和他最好的朋友,一个学校的同学和董事会成员。他们两人都出卖了他,但肯德尔受到了警告:他事先问他是否能信任他的老朋友。斯蒂文回答说:“不”。洛根的弟弟Ewan(常青詹姆斯·克伦威尔)是这句老话的守护神。血浓于水。但是,他也把自己放逐到农村生活,他代表了一个残存的,实际上是加拿大的一个分支。他警告他的狡猾的孙子——汤姆的儿子格雷戈,要避开他亲族的“毒蛇坑”。这儿没有他住的地方。BAD.JPG WPA6026060IMG序列,2018。礼貌:HBO最终,继承是艰难的药物,甚至作为Brechtian剧院;即使在一代断断续续的酷毙的电影和道德接种的戏剧,像FX的损害或纸牌屋。如果回顾一下千年之交,一种古怪的乐观情绪仍然弥漫在大众娱乐圈,甚至在优质网络上。HBO的女高音人性化的歹徒生活和性别,城市庆祝纽约作为成人游乐场的出现。那些展示这些角色的人物至少看起来很开心——对罗伊家族来说并非如此,他们都在曼哈顿高层的狭窄的办公室和死寂的走廊里艰难地购买,对于性、毒品和排他性的政党要么平庸要么不充分。非常有效的补药。也许这是最有力的信息,这是一个决定性的(与大量批评意见相反),而不是“有趣的观看”——如果这是1%个人的生活,那么谁想要呢?或者更糟的是,如果这对他们不利,那我们呢?相比之下,在克林顿和布什总统任期的最后几年里,观众们可以欣赏到像Aaron Sorkin的NBC戏剧《西厢记》这样的戏剧的怀旧逃避。简而言之,这两条消息是,无论是哪一方的道德败坏,美国和西方自身都有更深层的价值观;在不文明的外表之下,有一种更深层次的精神或社会原因,足以超越当前的动荡。西边现在还活着,特别是


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