‘Succession’ and the dehumanization of today’s world

August 5, 2023

Succession is a TV series (2018-2023) that tells us the story of the Roy family, owner of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerate in the U.S. It is vaguely based on the history of the Murdochs, owners of the Fox Corporation in reality. It shows us the immense influence of such a company in the daily life of U.S. citizens, including the election of their next President—which has more than one parallel with how Trump actually reached the White House in 2017. But what shocked me the most is how the series depicts the dehumanization of human relationships in today’s world.

Succession occurs mainly in high buildings, private residences, luxury parties and cruises. This is where decisions that affect millions of lives are taken. Of the actual consequences suffered by workers or citizens, very little is shown. I see this as a good call by the creators, for they get to portray the dehumanized exercise of power by those in the top. For them, sexual harassment and murder are just one more point in the agenda that needs to be solved, not for the sake of justice or human life, but in order not to interfere with their own race to power.

In Capital, Marx referred to capitalists as the “subjective agents of capital,” meaning that it is not their greed or desires which actually “make the world go round,” but otherwise: The satisfaction of their needs, as exotic as they may be, is merely a byproduct of their service to capital. This is perfectly portrayed in Succession. Experiencies like love, empathy or unity mean nothing in the mouths and actions of the characters. Even when they resemble an emotion, they are inconsequential to it. In the next scene they are scheming against the very ones with whom they’ve seemed to be bonded. They are not human anymore. The only thing that actually moves them is the need to create profit and more profit.

The series also reflects the sharp contrast between the speculative and the material world. Although it is focused on a news and entertainment conglomerate, most of the “action” happens in board meetings, with characters playing tactics to increase the value of company assets. With a dose of humor poured in by the writers, the characters refer to themselves as “history-makers,” while shown in another context as totally incapable of dealing with practical life. They just demand “things to be done.” By whom? By employees, who are the actual unsung, unseen heroes of this family drama.

This alienation between virtual and material goes further with the use of technology and the world wide web. Succession depicts perfectly how “lots of things are happening right now,” meaning that a tweet by a character has more implications for the plot than the birth or death of another one. The accelerated rhythm of “events” in the series is no accidental. It is a most accurate portrayal of modern day life.

Succession is a show worth watching for its social commentary on 21st Century capitalism, its consequential construction of inconsequential characters and its dark humor. It is also scary, for it feels as closer to reality than to fiction.

Yes, what we watch on screen is the dehumanization of the “top political and economic players” of the world. However, one can’t but think that this dehumanization pervades all of society. The economic pulls of capitalism, our dependence on it in order to solve our needs, make it very difficult to stop and try to spin the wheel in another direction, a human-oriented one. Still, this is the only thing that can save us from our self-destruction as a species.

The New Acropolis, August 2nd, 2023

One thought on “‘Succession’ and the dehumanization of today’s world

  1. This is a very good piece! I have never actually seen this TV show, yet I have learned so much from your telling !

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