Entertainment Television

Wednesday 23 October 2019

A Succession of bad people doing their absolute worst

  • Succession (Sky Atlantic)
  • The Loudest Voice (Sky Atlantic)
Russell Crowe in Sky Atlantic's The Loudest Voice
Russell Crowe in Sky Atlantic's The Loudest Voice
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

You won't go far wrong in TV drama these days with a media mogul. There are now two major series on Sky Atlantic which have a bit of the Rupert Murdochs about them - Succession, which has a dynasty not unlike that of the Murdochs in structure at least; and The Loudest Voice, which actually has Rupert Murdoch as a character.

And while he isn't even the main character in this, because "the loudest voice" is that of Roger Ailes - the man who created Fox News for him - there's a sense that none of it could be happening without Rupert.

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Indeed, it is a measure of the monstrous influence of Roger Ailes himself on our times, that he is the one played by Australia's finest Russell Crowe - and in later episodes Crowe will no doubt be required to portray the really dark side of Ailes, all the sexual harassment, rather than the regular dark side which enabled him to start up Fox.

Whatever side we're seeing in these dramas, it tends to be dark, and darker still. Succession is basically a succession, if you like, of really terrible people doing their worst, and saying whatever they have to say most savagely.

It is greatly loved by many people of taste and sensibility, although I am liking it rather than loving it. There are these tremendous contests between the family members to establish which of them is the absolute worst, and thus deserving of the old man's favour, and they're all very smart - but too smart maybe, in that familiar way of the American TV drama featuring people who are either very smart or too smart.

And when I think of the real Rupert Murdochs, the traditional media moguls in general, I see their main struggle not as an internal one within their own tribe, but against the tech gods who are even smarter than them, and all their sons and daughters. And perhaps even badder, in their own way.

I feel we need to see more on the way that they are all destroying the world, rather than just destroying each other.

Yes, Murdoch's creations, such as Fox, are indeed destroying the world, yet he still has powerful journalistic instincts which can be discerned in The Loudest Voice. And so did Roger Ailes, his appalling enforcer. The problem with these men is not necessarily that they make bad TV news programmes, but that they are informed by bad politics.

Ailes lets us know this straight away, when he argues that the main challenge for Fox, is to decide who they want their viewers to be - and then he decides that it should be the people who would eventually be voting for Trump, the ones who supposedly hate the "liberal elite".

Which is all very bad, except for this: Fox would actually be a great channel, if everyone on it was saying the opposite of what they're saying.

These monsters like Ailes were right about the fact that so much regular TV journalism is boring and as dishonest in its own way as anything coming out of "conservatives".

Indeed, they have been proved spectacularly right in the way that their own armies of the right have smashed through the ancient conventions of "liberal" journalism, taking every advantage of the spurious concept of "balance".

Murdoch and Ailes had this one great insight, that a strong point of view was good, and that a false neutrality was bad - though it is that insight which put the far-right in the White House, once it came into contact with their horrible politics.

It was his own badness which brought Ailes down eventually, his relentless sexual harassment of women who worked for him, and which became unacceptable even in a "conservative" organisation.

I will enjoy watching Russell Crowe's take on his downfall, and the fact that sometimes these guys don't get away with everything - indeed maybe this is the attraction of Succession too, this sense that even your media moguls can be having the terrible lives that they so richly deserve.


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