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Premiere & Finale
A little bit of Phish, a little bit of beef, and a whole lot of Succession stew
We’re going back Down the Pipes. If you’re new here, come on in. Free subscribers get some posts (like this one), people I know IRL and paid subscribers get all posts. Sign up for a free subscription and find out if I recognize your email address well enough to grant you a lifetime comp (or send me an email and say hi).
Firstly, a programming note!
Things have been a little quiet down here as I’ve been wrapping up my first podcast series with Gabby Bluestone and the good folks at Osiris Media and Section 119, it’s called We’ve Got A Band and, unsurprisingly, it’s all about Phish and some of their most notable fans. We had a blast making it, and I’ll be talking more about it here as the episodes come out (this is not-so-secretly a Phish blog, if you didn’t realize).
The first episodes will be out this week, check it out and let me know what you think!
Now, before we get into my Succession breakdown, we’re unfortunately going to start with a dose of what we’d call “too insidery” back at Gawker, just a mess of personal beef and rage blogging that I admit, is not a great look. I should just let it go and let the past be what it will be for the cursed few who seem determined to keep rehashing it.
But I can’t. When someone drags the past into the present in a way that conflicts with my own remembered version of events, I feel compelled to try and correct the record.
In case you don’t feel like reliving that much of a forgotten past, here are the relevant sections:
Either way the real problem for me was professional, because the post had pissed off the people who sold ads for our website. My sense, in retrospect, was that every post we did pissed off Gawker’s ad-sales department,3 but this post in particular was seen as beyond the pale, I suppose because it indicated in a relatively explicit fashion the contempt with which we on the editorial side held advertising as a concept, despite the fact that, or maybe because, it was “the whole business model of our publication.”
3As far as I can tell the ideal version of Gawker as far as ad sales was concerned was a blog that only posted brand-friendly stories, and if that could not be accomplished, then simply a version that never posted at all.
I wasn’t going to respond at all (we had a saying at Gawker, “don’t feed the trolls”), but for years this particular Gawker.com editor in chief has been grinding an axe against my sales colleagues and I, primarily focused on what were feeling and why were feeling it. As “business side” publishing employees, we generally keep our mouths shut on the internet, but that leaves a lot of space for someone else to write our narrative for us.
Max, if you’re reading this, I’d like to set some things straight.
Yes, we were pissed off at the Mein Coke stunt, not because it wasn’t a fair point to make about a heartless company that only sells heart disease in a can, but rather because the way in which you made the point (using Mein Kampf as your cudgel) made it impossible for us to defend on the merits of your argument. We were quite comfortable working around the Gawker Tax, we always defended your work to irate clients who demanded we take things down, and in my 8 years we never obliged them once.
My favorite, personally, was telling Samsung that yes, this dick joke would be costing us millions. And this was just 18 months after another site lead—who will remain unnamed—tried unsuccessfully to hook up with Samsung’s paid media director at a sponsored event, much to the chagrin of the Samsung lead client, who the site lead then attempted to fight in the lobby of a Residence Inn. I was exceptionally good at cleaning up those kinds of messes, which were plentiful with you lot, and again: We never removed a post on behalf of an advertiser request.
Defending a Hitler joke is, as you can imagine, a difficult situation to needlessly put your colleagues in. Still, we took the calls from the (don’t cancel me it’s true) disproportionately large number of horrified Jewish advertising clients, and I did my best “we’re all Jewish too, that’s why we can joke about it” routine.
That's what we were doing that week. Yes we were upset, it felt like an enormous self own on an otherwise fair point. There's really no good way to work Mein Kampf into a humorous blog post about a serious point, but you tried and we got screamed at for it.
Let the record show that your enemy wasn’t a sales team that wanted a version of Gawker that loved brands, that sounds like ass and is not a site I would have signed up for in 2008. I wouldn’t have dumped my life savings into equity for that version of Gawker, and I wouldn’t have spent most of my 20s proudly defending what that site meant to the world. It’s never what we were, it’s never what we wanted, it’s merely a narrative construct of your own design meant to place blame on the nameless sales team you evoke (whose names you knew because we all drank together semi-frequently). Our only sin was wanting Gawker to keep existing, a thing you seemed uninterested in preserving while doing your editorial calculus.
You won’t say it in your post so I’ll do it in mine: Dying on Geithner’s hill was clearly a performative attempt to come off like a martyr. You were seemingly looking for a story that was so repulsive that Nick and Company would be forced to reject it, and you’d get to take your high horse victory lap as The Last Blogger to be felled by The Man. Your “I killed Gawker” press tour is clearly still ongoing, but I beg you: Get over it. Let it go.
You’re a great writer and I have often enjoyed your work. You're funny and smart and usually right while being self-effacing, and I really do appreciate your way with blogs.
But please: Reconsider the narrative that your colleagues on the sales side were out to get you. Every one of the 60+ people on the sales team was a fan of Gawker before they joined (I know because I interviewed most of them), and many of us reinvested our bonuses right back into the company that you thought was ghoulishly exploiting your creative output. We loved what Gawker was, nobody was trying to shut it down or defang it from our side.
Everyone knows that was all Nick, heyoooo.
There was a way for us to co-exist, but you were the one who seemingly thought it was sales that had no place at our company.
It’s true by the way, we should destroy capitalism. Give the means of production to the workers, destroy the rich, ACAB. I believe this to my core and have the receipts, not that you ever bothered to ask. Some of us found it easier to dismantle from the inside than the outside; you were lobbing the grenades and we were supplying the ammo.
That you could interpret our symbiosis as anything less than that is just proof of how skewed and myopic your editorial lens truly is and was, even after all these years.
OK! Sorry about that! Little Logan Roy segue there at the end. Succession spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen the show or the season finale and want to, now would be the time to stop reading.
The finale of Succession got a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking this past week, ranging from the glowing “cannot be topped” to the deeply misogynistic (and simplistic) “Shiv is a bitch to betray her brothers.” Per usual, the internet is awash with takes both bad and good, and I’d like to toss my own analysis onto the pile, though I recognize, like Roman, this is nothing. I am nothing. We are nothing, obsessing over a thing on the TV is silly nothing, and we'd be better off drinking a martini by ourselves or sitting on a park bench.
Alas. The show was a sharp view of how a patriarchy (dis)functions in the 21st century, and it’s worth spilling endless ink to make that context clear.
Many of the reviews I’ve seen are broadly drawing parallels to the great tragedies of Shakespeare, though they generally seem to stop at King Lear, the story of a fictional English royal family that was too power hungry and egomaniacal to sincerely love one another enough to maintain their kingdom. Siblings fighting and screwing siblings in a make believe, earlier time when English kings worshipped Roman gods (they never did this). TIL: It was kinda like risqué sponsored content, at the time.
But Lear is not the only Shakespearean reference to make the cut in this series. We see glimpses of Lady MacBeth in Shiv’s decision to vote with Tom/Matsson, in order to put her child in the blood line to one day be king. The princess of the family became the deciding vote, making her a self-appointed queen and kingmaker. It will undoubtedly drive her to madness, but she ultimately recognized that she was always going to lose against the men in that room, at least with her husband and possible future lover at the helm she’d be able to exert some amount of soft power.
This, of course, is the bargain women are expected to accept in patriarchy…stand by your powerful men and maybe you can catch some afterglow. It’s dark and hard to watch, but like Game of Thrones, if you thought this show would have a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.
Elsewhere in the Shakespeare Succession Multiverse, we got nods to Hamlet in the cuckoldry of the King. When Matsson suggests that he could easily fuck Shiv to Tom’s face and he just…goes with it? It’s a foul bit of “locker room talk” (the “boys will be boys” fallacy elevated to the boardroom) between two of the most powerful men on earth, but it also serves to drive home the Machiavellian mammoth that is Tom Wambsgans, a man who truly knows no depravity he can’t learn to live with. He is effortlessly flexible when it comes to changing his position to suit his advantage, perhaps one of Logan’s best skills.
It is also the rawest exposure of what drives the all decisions in a patriarchy: who has the biggest dick in the room, and who is “man enough” to take it? From Shakespeare's Twelfth Night:
Maria: …my Lady will hang thee for thy absence.
Clowne: Let her hang me: he that is well hang’d in this
World, needs to fear no colours.
Shakespearean fingerprints are everywhere. There’s a Romeo and Juliet arc from an earlier season when Kendall falls in love with the daughter of the rival media family, the Pierces. Greg could be any number of valets, attendants, maids, servants, fools, gossips, and normal folk who litter most of Shakespeare’s stories…the average townsperson who finds themself not just present for history in the making, but inadvertently making history through their own misguided or misunderstood actions.
The supporting character of Willa Ferreya, a sex worker turned wife (really wanted to use the Latin cum here but y'all have ruined a dead language) to real eldest boy Connor, openly and sincerely chases the money in perhaps one of the most honest relationships in the entire show. Bianca from Othello is a courtesan who generally stands for the cruelty and manipulation women have to endure in order to be close to power, a naked representation of the crude sexual bargain proffered in a world run by and for men.
Towards the end of the finale, there’s a scene where the Roy children are fighting it out in the conference room, and a number of odd, power-drenched acts take place, each a representation for the trauma that Logan imparted on them. The father who only knew how to show his love through acts of emotional and physical violence, as fine a representation of generational trauma I've ever seen depicted on television.
First, there’s that weird hug. What was the deal with Kendall’s stitch-gouging Roman? At first I thought he was just trying to hurt him, but when I thought more about it, I realized he was trying to say “I love you” in one of the ways their father loved them: Through painful physical abuse and humiliation. Boar on the floor, anyone? Vulture did a good job of breaking this set down.
Later on, Roman returns fire by invoking Logan’s mastery of verbal and emotional abuse, reminding Ken that it’s actually Shiv who carries the bloodline, because Ken’s children probably aren’t really his. I barely caught this line when I first watched it, but it was definitely something Logan had brought up before as a potential liability to Kendall’s reign. Also about as low as you can go between brothers. Mashable explains it better than I can.
And lastly, it’s Shiv who lives up to her name and delivers one of daddy’s greatest hits, the betrayal of a promise made to her childish bros while quite literally preserving the dying wish of her father’s patriarchy: Sell the thing. It just so happens that doing so also solidifies her husband’s newfound power, and yet another powerful woman is degraded to propping up a coked up, abusive man.
And she’s not the only one who had their fate tied to their name, as the name-obsessives at Nameberry pointed out:
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Nothing more satisfyingly Shakespearean than names that have hidden meanings. Roy meaning King is the obvious one, but Kendall is a Ken Doll, Roman is a once great but collapsed empire (also sounds like “No man"), Shiv is a backstabbing knife, heck, even Willa Ferreyra breaks down to “Will To Live By The Firepit/Ironworks.” And a Wambsgans who gets a triple play in the World Series? Modern Shakespeare at it’s finest.
In a family where love is transmuted into physical pain, emotional torture, and betrayal, the Roy siblings never had a chance at bonding together and saving the company. They inherited their father’s worst impulses for love and we can see where it got each of them: Shiv’s loveless marriage, Kendall’s neglected (maybe not even his) children, and Roman’s humiliation kink.
A good tragedy is cathartic because the characters always wind up exactly where you’d expect them to, reckoning with their actions and getting what was always coming for them. It may not be a fairytale ending that satisfies our natural desire for family, unity, and triumph over evil, but life for the powerful is seldom a happy ending. Amassing that kind of money and control almost always requires making too many enemies, screwing over too many friends, and eventually finding yourself on the shit end of karma’s boomerang.
It does make me wonder if the Murdoch kids saw it and if they were horrified or inspired by the collapse of Waystar. I could imagine them taking notes (“Buy stickers for estate sale”), but I could also imagine them simply not watching or caring. After all, this is all a lot of hawing about not serious people who fancy themselves masters of the universe, confined to our TVs and a week’s worth of pointless public discourse on the internet.
It just doesn’t matter to anyone who matters. It’s simply more noise as public tragedy and vast amounts of generational trauma continue to spiral outward. Those vipers interested in keeping their illusion of control intact will do whatever they have to in order to maintain their sense of domination, regardless of who they need to attack, blame, destroy, or distract in the process.
The power of patriarchy is a narrative power, one that preordains roles based not on merit, but on a willingness to respect the made up, false narrative of the biggest dick.
But you know what they say: “You can’t make a Tomlette without breaking a few Gregs.”
Or you know, maybe, “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”?
Look at that, it actually kind of works for this one. Go figure.
Until next week!