'Crisis of masculinity' in Succession (2018)



Introduction

Succession (2018) is an American television series created by Jesse Armstrong. The satirical comedy-drama focuses on the life of an incredibly wealthy family dynasty headed by Logan Roy (Brian Cox), a wealthy authoritarian father, who lives in denial about his ageing health. The dilemma starts when Logan must choose the worthy heir for his position as a CEO of the Waystar Royco media company. His three cunning, intelligent children, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Siobhan ‘Shiv’ (Sarah Snook) are competing against each other to prove themselves worthy of taking over the top spot. The father is apprehensive in dividing his life’s work (the thing he values most) much to the displeasure of his family, which makes him a modern version of Shakespeare’s King Lear.


On Logan’s 80th birthday, Kendall is assured that his dad is going to retire and announce him the heir of the family-owned company. While the rivalry between the children is tense, the father informs them that he is definitely not stepping down, and in case of his death, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), his third wife, will replace his position in the company. The episode ends with the children rejecting their dad’s offer, which sends Logan straight to the hospital with a stroke. The above occurs within the first episode of Succession, titled Celebration - a direct reference to Thomas Vinterberg’s drama film Festen (Eng. The Celebration). Both share similarities in focusing on a family reuniting for a birthday of a powerful, ruthless father figure, with his children wanting to only live up to their father’s expectations. Most importantly, however, the viewer is presented, in both instances with an image of the witless and cruel family, where every member is morally corrupted. Logan Roy, a father figure, his ‘crisis of masculinity’ and the impact these aspects have on the whole family.


Patriarchal Masculinity

To understand the concept of ‘patriarchal’ masculinity, one must first define the term ‘masculine’. According to Lotz (2014, p. 34), ‘masculine was long simply assumed to be an adjective describing how men are and as designating the opposite of feminine.’ After the development of sociological and gender studies, along with the start of the second wave of the gay and feminist rights movement, the term has gained more elaborate and profound understanding, leading to the introduction of various types of definitions for the word. Gómez (2007, p. 116), quotes the sociologist R. W. Connell proposing four categories of masculinity, such as hegemony, subordination, complicity, and marginalization. Hegemonic masculinity can be defined by ‘generally exalted and is established by cultural ideals and institutional power’. Television scholar, Amanda Lotz (2014, p. 35), refers to hegemonic masculinity using the term ‘patriarchal’. She describes patriarchal masculinities as ones ‘that reinforce men’s dominant gender status in the culture’ visible in their behaviours and attitudes, which suggest ‘men’s natural place as leaders’, often visible in their ‘superiority over women’ is specifically common for the men that ‘are white, heterosexual, physically powerful, and educated or financially prosperous’ - males that have more power than the others. Succession’s Logan Roy can be classified as a representative of patriarchal (hegemonic) masculinity. He is the most powerful and financially stable character from the whole Roy family. Logan is introduced to the audience as a man that is controlling, not only his family but also the media and news department, due to his top work stand. One example of his dominance can be seen in the first season finale when Kendall confronts his dad about the company:


‘Kendall: I don’t owe you anything.

Logan: What have you had your entire life that I didn’t give you?’

(Succession, Season 1, Episode 10 - Nobody Is Ever Missing)


The above quote shows that Logan Roy is completely aware of his power and knows exactly how to use it for his own good, not hiding his arrogance and selfishness even from his own son.


According to Lotz (2014, p. 35), patriarchal masculinities either affirm being single or staying with one woman as long as one desires, in order to require sexual needs. Such men can be often presented as the only ones responsible for supporting the family financially (breadwinners). It has been stated that he was in a relationship with two women before marrying Marcia, his wife throughout the two seasons of the television series. Logan does not discriminate against females when it comes to the working environment. Many crucial positions in his company are taken over by women; however, it would appear he only uses them for the company’s good image. In the second season, Logan announces Rhea (Holly Hunter) as the next CEO of the Waystar Royco, surprisingly right after the company’s leaked cruise scandal, which took away many lives, mostly women. Rhea has become a victim of Logan’s games, as he appoints her purely for the company’s optics.


Wife figure

Marcia is a character which, from the beginning of the series, seems not to be involved in any family and financial prospects. She is not a typical American housewife, who only cleans the house, cooks, and takes care of her husband. During Logan’s stroke treatment in a hospital, Kendall, Shiv and Roman want to take control of everything, in order to avoid their father’s possible death. When the topic of moving him to a different hospital for intensive care is being introduced by the doctor, Marcia protests by stating: “No. No discussion. I am his next of kin. I am his proxy. I am in charge. Thank you.” (Succession, Season 1, Episode 2 - Shit Show at the Fuck Factory). Marcia is a character that can fully use her power and dominance when needed, which also was visible when she was taking care of Logan during his recovery. Rather than relying on family support for her husband, Marcia was also observed encouraging Logan to maintain his position as CEO of the company, despite Kendall’s interests. She is one of the factors influencing Logan’s state of masculinity in crisis, trying to become the head of the family during his recovery, and deciding on what actions she should take next. Another outcome of her influence can be her husband announcing her as the heir of the company after his absence. Marcia’s character still remains a mystery. It is hard to justify her actions, position, and influence which she has on Logan.


‘Crisis of Masculinity’

The theory about ‘masculinity in crisis’ was introduced by a British sociologist John MacInnes (1998, p. 11), who stated that ‘masculinity has always been in one crisis or another’. He explained that the mentioned crisis is caused by the failing modern principle concerning humans as equal beings and connected to its superiority of men towards women. One of the facts proving MacInnes’ statement is the biological difference between female and male organisms. According to Chopra-Gant (2008, pp. 39-40), the fact that ‘male bodies may be weaker and more vulnerable to illness than those of women is a fairly recent discovery’. He later explains that ‘men’s bodies age more rapidly than those of women’ and are ‘less resistant to most diseases, and with other hazards, his remaining is shorter than the woman’s’. Hamad (2008, p. 75), analyses the above theory from the perspective of American cinema, stating that ‘physical prowess, sexual vitality, social dominance and aggression are potentially at odds with an image of the ageing male.’ Masculinity afflicted by age, health issues or physical disabilities is the one touched by a ‘crisis’.


‘Masculinity in crisis’ is present in Succession in the figure of Logan Roy. His 80-year-old body cannot be described as an ideal masculine one. Moreover, he struggles with many health issues connected to his recovery after the stroke. His health issues are a threat to his position in the company, which results in him being in denial about his condition. Logan’s condition made him completely dependent on his wife during the first episodes of the first season. He was not able to participate alone in daily activities, which definitely contributed to him being in denial about his health.


Devotion to Work

Kimmel (2000, p. 172), cites Sigmund Freud: ‘Freud once wrote that the two great tasks for all human beings were ‘to work and to love’. He states that people have always been so engaged to their work in order to ‘satisfy their basic material needs for food, clothing, and shelter, to provide for children and loved ones, to participate in community life, as well as to satisfy more culturally and historically specific desires to leave a mark on the world and to move up the social ladder.’ Logan Roy, suffering from ‘crisis of masculinity’, has been deprived of his main source of power, because of his age and health complications. Moreover, from the character’s perspective, he failed as a father figure, not being able to raise any of his children as a worthy heir candidate. The above ideas explain why Logan is so desperate to pursue the only source of power that he has left; his work. He is prepared to ignore his health condition, which is blocking him from regaining the powerful position. According to Kimmel (2000, p. 175), ‘nothing is more important to a man’s pride, self-respect, status, and manhood than work.’ The above quote explains why the head of the Roy family will continue protecting his work position until the day he dies. The Waystar Royco company has become his only life success, which he had to fight for on his own from the beginning of his career. Work is the only asylum for Logan’s masculinity and identity, which contributed to his inability to allow one of his children to take his place as an heir.

Fatherhood

The theme of fatherhood has always been a popular and recurring motif in American television. Shows such as Breaking Bad (2008-2013), Dallas (1978-1991), and Dynasty (1981-1989) are one of many examples. Each father figure featured in the above series had a unique personality, behaviour pattern, and had to tackle different dilemmas, in order to provide safety for their family members. From a perspective of fatherhood, Lotz (2014, p. 157), explains that process as a development for a male character. Being a father teaches a man not only how to support and protect, but also how to express emotions and feelings; ‘emotions become particularly fraught and convoluted around fathers and fathering.’ The above quote cannot fully be applied to the father figure presented in Succession. Logan Roy is a father of five children, from two different marriages. The main three children (Kendall, Shiv, Roman), almost as cunning, ruthless, and intelligent as their father, have one thing in common – they will do everything to please Logan and make one of them the heir of the company. Logan is a very strict and straightforward father who believes that there is no place for any feelings and emotions in his family, thus, his children are having many social and relationship problems. Film and media scholar, Stella Bruzzi (2005, pp. 166-167), explains the television’s archetype of a Hollywood father: ‘He is in a stable economic position, he is held in high regard by his community, he has gone beyond needing sex (…) and he views fatherhood as a vocation’. This quote directly applies to Logan Roy in his view of fatherhood. He understands it as a profession, a task that he needs to complete in order to build a strong family that will support him. Parental traits such as affection and love have always been redundant.


According to Lotz (2014, p. 63), patriarchal masculinity representants tend to be portrayed on television as either antagonists or ‘flawed protagonists’. Logan Roy is a character with many problematic traits, which are portrayed by his actions towards enemies and sometimes family members. However, he is doing everything as a father to support his children and protect them from the outside world. He is not able to understand that he is only spoiling his children and not providing them with anything else than money and powerful social status.

Logan’s actions and behaviour as a father undeniably contributed to how his children developed. He might be the direct reason why none of them is able to become a worthy heir for his company. The second season character – Rhea, while asked about her opinion on one of the children acquiring the position as the CEO answered:


‘Well, Shiv thinks she's smarter than she is. Roman could actually be good, but, um nowhere near right now. Kendall's, I don't know. It's like you put him in a big diaper, and now he can shit himself whenever he likes. He has all the shots, but he doesn't know when to play them. I, I don't know.’ (Succession, Season 2, Episode 7 – Return).


The children do everything to please their father, observing his every move, and praising Logan’s every action. However, behind his back hating him for his huge influence on their lives and gradually becoming terrified of him. Such behaviour from the children can be seen as the consequence of their long contact with powerful patriarchal masculinity. Kendall, Roman, and Shiv are competing against one another in order to ingratiate with Logan. Most of the time, their father will ask them to do morally and ethically wrong tasks, and observe them doing whatever they can in order to not impress him again. In the last episode of the second season, Logan has chosen Kendall as the company’s public scapegoat, to take the responsibility for previously mentioned scandals. Later, he engages himself in a conversation with his son:



‘Kendall: Hey, dad, just out of interest, um, did you ever think I could do it? Logan: Do what? The top job? Oh, I don't know. Maybe. Kendall: You can say. Logan: I, well, you know, I just. You're smart, you're good, but I just don't know. Kendall: What? Come on. Logan: You're not a killer. You have to be a killer. But, nowadays, maybe you don't. I don't know. OK? Are we good? Are good? Kendall: Yeah. I deserve it. Maybe I deserve it.’ (Succession, Season 2, Episode 10 - This Is Not for Tears)



Kendall has always been the one closest to his father, maybe because he is the most emotional and vulnerable among the children. Logan sees the heir in him but wants him to abandon the feelings, in order to become even more powerful in the field. The only time Logan can be seen actually proud during the series is after the above conversation, when Kendall blames every scandal on his father during the press conference. Logan who is watching the telecast in his house, smiles enigmatically.


Fatherhood and ‘crisis of masculinity’

Logan Roy’s crisis lies among his figure as a father and fragile, elderly masculine body. The character’s fatherhood is deprived of its affection and lack of attention towards his children, teaching them the fundamentals of business strategies instead of giving them crucial social and emotional values. Logan’s only successful child was his work, which he was fighting for despite his alarming health conditions. Becoming a father and his way of raising his offspring was supposed to provide him a worthy successor. From his perspective, he was doing everything to secure and protect his family; to prepare them for the world. Instead, he has caused division between his children by only encouraging rivalry, neglecting their attention, while also ensuring they receive a constant flow of money. Such upbringing resulted in them value money over the familial bonds, which are crucial for healthy social development and integration. As an outcome, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman’s only way of winning his heart and approval were to engage in his morally and ethically unstable tasks. In the end, his only source of pride was Kendall’s “killer instinct”, resulting from their second season conversation. Moreover, Logan’s crisis was aggravated by his wife’s actions, which has heightened the deteriorating state of his health. According to Bruzzi (2005, p. 153), ‘the Average White Male’ (is) the ‘guy everybody is mad at and wants compensation from’ and who ‘theoretically owns the world but in practice, in this account, not only has no turf of his own but has been closed out of the turf of others.’ The above quote can be applied to Logan Roy’s situation. His reception of morals and values was skewed by his constant craving for power and success, which could possibly leave him with nothing secure for the future. Thus, Logan is a father struggling to let go of his power, not giving it away even for his children. He understands that giving away his position would leave him with nothing. He cannot allow anything to stop him from maintaining his power and identity, not even his family, ageing health nor moral/ethical grounds.


Conclusion

Logan Roy, in spite of his financial power, which allows him to provide the best support for his family, is a victim of the ‘crisis of masculinity’. The main character failed as a father figure by depriving his children of any emotional and psychological support, which emerged from his inability to differentiate between the family and work environment. Roy’s health conditions became an obstacle on his way to continue his work in the company, which he valued as the only success he achieved in life, resulting in him being in denial about his weakening body. Moreover, he has realised that none of his children is a worthy heir for his position, which evoked the dilemma between the whole Roy family. The character’s ‘crisis of masculinity’ can be visible in his weak body and inability to allow his children to follow in his footsteps and continue to expand the family business. Logan Roy is a father who was not able to emotionally support and raise their children, instilling in their heads values of money and power from the young age. His parenting contributed to his ‘crisis of masculinity’. Logan Roy’s main problem in the series is, not only his ageing, weak body but also his inability to find a worthy heir among his children. Even though the character has succeeded in protecting his family, he did not provide his children with anything but money and power, which they have no experience in handling properly.

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Further reading


- S. Bruzzi, (2005) “The Next Best Thing: Men in Crisis and the Pluralisation of Fatherhood in the 1990s and 2000s” in Bringing up Daddy: Fatherhood and Masculinity in Post-war Hollywood (London: BFI Publishing, pp. 153-192.

- Mike Chopra-Gant, ‘Case Study: (Re)-Reading Rare Window’ in Cinema and History. The Telling of Stories (London: Wallflower Press, 2008), pp. 29-49.

- Luis Fernando Gómez, Relations among Masculinities: Controversy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (2007), Available at: http://www.scielo.org.co/pdf/folios/n25/n25a10.pdf (Access: 10.05.2020).

- Hannah Hamad, ‘Film Stardom and the Paternalization of Aging Masculinity’ in Postfeminism and Paternity in Contemporary U.S. Film. Framing Fatherhood (London & New York: Routledge, 2014), pp. 70-90.

- Michael Kimmel, ‘Gendered Identities, Gendered Institutions’ in The Gendered Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 111-202.

- John MacInnes, The end of masculinity: the confusion of sexual genesis and sexual difference in modern society (Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1998), p. 11.

- A. D. Lotz, (2014) ‘Trying to Man Up. Struggling with Contemporary Masculinities in Cable’s Male-Centered Serials’ in Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century (New York: NYU Press, 2014), pp. 52-82.

- A. D. Lotz, (2014) ‘Understanding Men on Television’ in Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century (New York: NYU Press, 2014), pp. 20-51.

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