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In Defence of Logan Roy

24 May, 2023.

The word on the street is that Logan Roy was a bastard. The patriarch of HBO’s Succession inflicted abuse upon his children and wrecked havoc upon the world. Don’t believe me? Just turn to YouTube, where people are labelling Logan “evil” and something approximating the devil.

Succession is fiction, of course, and Logan and his family don't exist, but the show is taken seriously, and people talk about as if it were real life, exposing their worldview in the process. Seen another way, Logan is as real as any figure in the media or the news, insofar as we’re never going to meet him, but we’re able to judge him. The news of his passing - and his resulting funeral - is designed to split fan opinion. Logan’s brother, Ewan, an Eeyore figure who lives off his brother’s success, gets up in the church and criticises his brother’s life and career - albeit with a few caveats. A counter argument, by way of Logan’s son Kendall, follows. That Succession offers two takes on the show’s main character is exactly the sort of heightened reality that gets audiences talking.

And what you find is troubling.

Many fans believe Kendall's nuanced assessment is wrong (more on this later) and that Ewan's bitter and resentful takedown is right. There is, in their world, a winner and a loser. Logan, fans say, was “evil”. "A monster". And good on Ewan for sticking it to him - at the man's funeral no less. To the uninitiated, you might be wondering whether Logan was some sort of Ted Bundy-type character. No, he was a business mogul. Yet the anonymity of the Internet emboldens people, and it gives them the licence, or the desire, to simplify arguments in the extreme. In real life, we're almost always forced to be more measured. This in itself should be self-evident: how many “evil” people do we actually know? And should they exist in our minds, how likely are we to tell them to their face?

A binary view of the world is usually reserved for children, or comic book stories, or action movies, but the advent of the Internet means it’s now common for adults to speak in terms of "good" and "evil". We see this in politics too - Right vs Left - and in many other realms of human endeavour. This juvenile way of classifying complicated topics (and by extension, thinking about them), is tightly bundled with the prevailing wisdom that it's okay to cancel somebody, a coordinated attack often channeled through social media channels or an instant messenger like WhatsApp. It's not enough to reach out to the person in question and ask for a debate; no, that would be far too triggering. Instead, a takedown should happen behind the person's back. Think about this: it’s not simply a reality that some people are cancelled. No, they should be, often at the hands of a baying social media mob. And even the smallest infraction, from, say, 30 years ago, when social norms were very different, can land a complete stranger on the chopping block. Where’s the forgiveness in a world endlessly beating the empathy drum?

There’s a safety net in this behaviour, of course. If you can condemn someone else, irrespective of your own mistakes in life, you convey a certain moral authority. But this trend illustrates an alarming and wilful lack of self-awareness. And it speaks to an almost messianic desire to deem certain behaviours and modes of thinking sacrosanct, and anything else heresy.

Back to Succession. Not only is Logan accused of being evil, but he’s also guilty of that most ubiquitous and vague of crimes: “abuse”. That his children are petty, feckless and unworthy of inheriting the business he started doesn’t matter. No, the point is that Logan abused his children by being bad-tempered and disagreeable. It doesn’t matter that Logan’s own son Kendall stands up at the funeral and offers a stout defence of his father. This is evidence, fans say, that Kendall is a victim and is unable to get out from under his father’s shadow. It's exactly the sort of new-age thinking that enables people to shirk responsibility and to remain in a perpetual state of adolescence. In reality, Kendall’s viewpoint is trying to capture the very nuances people watching are determined to miss.

Horror of horrors, Logan is even alleged to have smacked his youngest son, Roman, when Roman misbehaved as a boy. Crucially, we never actually see this, but it’s commented on in passing by the siblings. And boy, is it commented on by the legion of fans who watch the show. Well, there are two sides to every story and were Logan asked, he might borrow the late Queen’s quote: “Recollections may vary.” But even if he were guilty of this “crime”, who are we to forget that society used to cane children at school? Why are we so blithely ignorant to the reality that social norms were very different even ten years ago? Or, more crucially, that in fifty years’ time, our own way of doing things will inspire horror in our grandchildren?

Finally, the notion that Logan’s bad-tempered ways are “bad” implies that there is real utility, or virtue, in being the opposite. Why? Thousands of people are employed because of him. And even after he dies, his empire remains. For someone who’s so vile, he’s sure done a good job of getting by.

That Logan was doing good by employing people doesn’t matter. One assumes he needed to be nice to people too. And because he was often not nice (he shouts and screams and even fires people from his own company!) it enables Eeyore Ewan to take the moral high ground. Those that are team Ewan are, in the real world, indirectly signalling their own virtue too.

That’s the key. The moral puritanism that’s infecting the world must be, in some small part, an act of self-interest. After all, we are all obsessed with self-preservation. And by denigrating someone else, we can wash our hands clean and feel that all is right with the world. That this dogmatic, warped view is largely confined to the Internet is irrelevant: online opinions now have real world consequences. I don’t need to list all the names of people who have been crushed by cancel culture. And those are just the ones we hear about.

The show doesn't offer an opinion on whether Logan is good or bad because Succession is designed for adults who revel in all the shades of grey. Much of the audience, it appears, isn't. Logan must be given a label and put in his box, much the same way he's boxed and delivered to the funeral. It's a depressing, uninteresting way of looking at the world - and it's frightening. Logan in Succession is complicated, conflicted and charismatic, but from reading much of the online commentary surrounding his death, you wouldn't know it. That his children in the show are disillusioned by their lot says more about the human condition -- and our perplexing inability to ever find contentment -- than it does about Logan’s parenting skills.

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