Why Conservative Elites Make for Better TV: A Discussion on Succession
Class and elites, on the right and left
I recently spoke with Rob Henderson about the HBO show Succession. We both have found the series a smart and compelling take on our contemporary politics.
Some themes we touch on: differences between conservative and liberal elites; the unusual lack of diversity for a series in our “Current Year” atmosphere; how we define “pervert” and whether one of the Roy children qualifies; the portrayal of both the conservative and liberal perspectives on political divides; why even those on the left are probably more likely to find a portrayal of a conservative family more interesting than one of a liberal family; and how the show captures intellectual currents and dynamics within the conservative movement. At one point, a character actually says the words “He’s a neocon pretending to be a paleocon!”
The show includes a clear stand-in for Bernie Sanders. I also see depictions of Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, the version of Tucker that exists in the liberal imagination, and a senator representing some kind of integralist-alt right synthesis. Is there a Trump? His shadow hangs over the whole show, and we discuss the arguments for and against his existence in its universe.
I explain to Rob why I think that one particular episode serves as a kind of artistic representation of my article, “Why is Everything Liberal?”, while the series as a whole is also consistent with themes from “Liberals Read, Conservatives Watch TV.”
You can listen to the podcast here, or watch the video below. Make sure to subscribe to both the CSPI podcast and Narrative Control if you haven’t already.
I love the show, and I also loved Downton Abbey, (bear with me). I just wish Julian Fellowes had watched Succession when he was making what turned out to be his god-awful American version of Downton Abbey, Gilded Age. Fellowes has never understood America, and I think it's a remarkably easy country to understand. He just fundamentally doesn't care, which doesn't bode well for an American based TV series. I knew a show called the Gilded Age would be about the clash between old and new money, which is a very old topic but can still be entertaining. But so far there is absolutely no difference between the two castes. The Old Money family sits around saying we're old money and we don't talk to new money, and the new money family sits around saying I'm going to show those old money snobs blah blah. In reality it just wasn't talked about all the time, or ever really. It just was.
The reason I bring this up is Succession does an infinitely better job of exploring the same theme, particularly in Season 2. The old money family, whom I take to be the Boston Bancrofts selling the WSJ to the vulgar Murdochs, don't once say "we don't deal with new money". But they live in a rambling shingle style big house in New England and quote Shakespeare and nurse their pet intellectual interests and charities, while the Murdochs go to coke filled orgies and shout obscenities at each other. It's more subtle but so much more realistic and engaging than the Gilded Age representation of this age old conflict is.
And I realize I've strayed off topic quite a bit, but to bring it back, I guess what I'm saying is that what you're seeing is the conservative vs liberal dynamic I see as more old vs new money. But either way, the new money upstarts are almost always going to be conservatives vs the mellowed out liberal old money (all the big name families with foundations and university buildings named after them).
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