Succession, Murdoch, A16Z empire and the Web 3 revolution
The narratives that surround us and the revolutions we are promised
This is a long one (2000+ words) and so I’ll keep the preamble short. Howdy! Hope 2022 is going well for you. It certainly is (so far) for me and as promised, here’s the second post of Jan.
One of my goals this year is to get back to watching good TV and movies and it’s off to a fantastic start. Two in particular:
I finally jumped on the Schitt’s Creek bandwagon (since it became available on Netflix in Thailand) and have binged through three full seasons in record time already. These bite sized 20 minute fun watches are amazing fillers for lunch breaks.
I bought a 3-month HBO Go subscription (since Disney Hotstar remains inaccessible for me in Thailand) and finished watching season 3 of Succession. Oh, boy have I missed HBO and Succession. And now, since we have a 3 month subscription, we are planning to go full HBO for the next 3 months. Finished The White Lotus too. But, let’s talk about Succession.
Is Succession the second best TV ever? 📺
Best three TV series ever (according to me):
The Wire - do I hear an argument?
Succession - arguably, the second best ever
Veep - it’s really something amazing that the best comedy series that Julia louis-dreyfus has been a part of isn’t Seinfeld.
As you can see I am a little bit of a HBO junkie. HBO’s built a culture of producing great TV. They also hire the best (presumably paying them really well) and let them perform. An old Quora answer from James Altucher:
HBO did this by not just focusing on good shows but bringing in and training and mentoring great talent…..At HBO talent was everything, both in its executives and its stars. If talent was in the building, it was all hands on deck.
What HBO does well (apart from tasteful nudes and gratuitous sex) is create flawed and complex characters and let them have an arc that actually changes who they are.
In Succession though, HBO has dialled up its flawed character meter. The show is populated by morally bankrupt, rich, corrupt and selfish characters. It’s part caricature (almost like a monty python sketch). Part reality TV. A tragicomedy that keeps you so uncertain and yet hoping for something human and real to emerge at some point. And talking of arcs, Succession’s characters are more like sine waves so far completely unable to breakfree from who they are fundamentally.
And yet, they make you root for them at different points, especially the broken, insecure bravado-filled Kendall Roy. Not to spoil but season 2 conclusion of succession was one of the most satisfactory season finales i’ve seen on TV for a long time. While Season 3 wasn’t as dramatic, it only cemented the reasons why Succession is breathing on the back of The Wire for being the best TV ever because in the immortal words of cousin Greg, “Souls are boring.”
Murdoch’s ‘evil’ empire 😈
The ultra rich, media empire family of Logan is loosely based on the Murdochs.
From Jesse Armstrong, the show writer:
“.....I’d written a screenplay about Rupert Murdoch’s family and it never got made. And it got me interested in the similarities between all these guys — Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black — who are passing from their position of predominance as tech takes over. But, also, how cable news and newspapers are still shaping our political climate.”
Murdoch is an Australian billionaire who owns the Wall Street Journal, Fox News (until 2019), New York Post, The Sun, a Hollywood studio and a few more of the machinery that influences and manipulates you. From what we know about him he is, if anything, even more ruthless than Logan Roy:
Murdoch’s influences have been across the globe largely in British, Australian and American politics; Beyond media, he’s ruled through inducements and intimidation.
Fox News in the US and The Sun in UK have single handedly seeded conflict resulting in shifting political landscapes (Donald Trump) and future of the respective countries (Brexit)
In Australia he’s ousted a few prime ministers and kept pushing for fossil fuel industry
“Anything we do is OK. We’re News Corp. — so fuck you and fuck your mother.” Words like that sound very familiar for succession viewers.
Has 4 grown children all making a claim to the throne; In 2019, Murdoch sold most of his entertainment assets to Disney, without securing a position there for either of his sons.
The media as we’ve known it has always been influenced by its source of funds. And Rupert Murdoch has been a big part of that media and a tycoon controlling our narratives. That is, until the technology disruption (which we see show up in Season 3 of Succession) starts upending the balance of power.
From one type of white tycoon to another. The beautiful part about HBO is it tends to capture really powerful themes quite subtly. Watching the two white men separated by a generation or two - the new-age tech bro and the old wizened media mogul negotiate while being oblivious to an incredibly beautiful vista in Italy pretty much says it all about the world. Out with the old and in with the new - as long as they are privileged men, ideally white.
A16Z’s war on media ⚔
Talking of new tech bro white boys and upending old media, let’s talk about A16Z.
In the old world there were different empires. People like the Murdochs owned the media. Hollywood celebrities and musicians owned culture. Big government owned regulations and freedom (lol). Central banks owned money. And old world rich owned countries.
A16Z wants to replace them all. They want to build a new-media, law-defining, culture-making empire of their own. It’s hard to make a comparison really. They’ve just raised $9 billion, have more than 240 people working in the company (one of the largest VCs in silicon valley) and have a hand in some of the biggest era-defining companies of our times.
But that’s not all. They want to actively shift the cultural and political landscape and become arbitrators of what’s right for…don’t snigger….humanity.
Steps to rule the world
1: Own the narrative
2. Fight the ‘enemy’
2: Rule the world
In the words of Benedict Evans, former analyst of A16Z’s it is: “a media company that monetizes through VC.” That’s step 1.
Let’s talk about A16Z’s burgeoning media ‘empire’ which has come with a very clear war they’ve declared on the old media:
It started its own publication / media property called Future in 2021 to cover topics in broad theme of “rational optimism.”
A16Z has a network of extremely popular podcasts that it has been building carefully for several years with listeners in millions
A16Z’s partners and friends are single-person publishing armies of their own on twitter and other social media.
They all call for bringing down old media and it goes something like this:
Old media has vested interests.
Old media does not understand technology.
Old media thrives on baiting people and hence has only pessimistic takes (out with this cynicism!).
And so, it’s time to distribute the media to experts, to individuals and let the power flow from a few concentrated elites to the millions. It’s a narrative that like all revolutionary narratives is partly based on truth. We are indeed moving to a world of distributed truth and information dissemination.
However, I wonder if the big, powerful venture capitalists are motivated by something more than selfish interests. I mean, Mark Andreesen has such a thin skin that at one point he was blocking people for talking shit about Theranos. Without cynical independent voices, our sources of truth might as well be drowned by the voices of the vested ‘experts’ giving us the illusion of distributed truth. I mean, the crypto scams are only beginning, aren’t they?
But A16Z is on a media blitz through its partners, regulatory recommendations to governments and its distributed army of friends of A16Z all crafting narratives of a new revolution that’s going to take over our world: Web 3.
Web 3 - a revolution….. 🦧
If a revolution is successful, citizens have as much obligation to obey the new regime as they had to obey the old one - Immanuel Kant
Ok, first things first. There is something fundamentally shifting with the web. There are many technological movements going on right now (starting with the blockchain) that potentially have the power to change our society quite significantly.
My goal this year is to understand all of these things (Blockchain, crypto, NFT, Dapps, DeFi, etc.) better. If you want to call it Web 3, so be it. I want to strip away as much of the fluff as possible and learn about it from three lenses:
The engineering / technology changes happening - the stack and its components. Some great pieces on this: a) Preethi Kasireddy (ex-A16Z) b) Coinbase Blog (A16Z funded) c) An open source resource (yay!)
The social and cultural implications; The promised vision of utopia in web 3
Gavin Wood - the man who coined the term in the modern context: “Consider Web 3.0 to be an executable Magna Carta — “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.” (* insert multiple eye rolling emojis here).
What are the real world applications today and in the future and what can they do including decentralized apps, decentralized finance, the minted apes etc.
This is a tall ask but I think I will approach it in the order I mentioned. The socio-cultural visions of the future (e.g. death to central banks!) follow the engineering breakthroughs even though they may have inspired them.
Web 3 - a revolution…..minted in the VC metaverse? 🤑
The more I read about Web 3, the more I see a pattern. There’s a lot of articles by smart, articulate folks in multiple places (Twitter, publications, company blogs, etc.) that take you on a journey. It’s insightful, inspiring even. Makes you even feel a little anarchic. But if you start tracing their connections inevitably a lot of these roads lead to A16Z.
This gives me just a bit of pause. A big chunk of the Web 3 narrative is being influenced by one powerful VC with a lot riding on it.
Just recently A16Z raised a new $2.2 billion crypto fund and have put their weight behind it both with their money and their mouths. They have an active crypto portfolio of 40 investments (an exit already with Coinbase) including other crypto trading platforms, NFT marketplaces and many other interesting protocols and platforms that are building Dapps. Like I said before, they are a burgeoning media empire and their mouths claim a revolution with articles like this: Blockchain Can Wrest the Internet From Corporations' Grasp (in old media for now until they presumably fully kill it off).
The big pitch is this. Web 3 is a revolution. It is bringing the ownership of the internet back to builders and users, orchestrated with tokens (that last bit is a small caveat). More from Chris Dixon (A16Z):
Now let’s talk about Web 3. In Web 3, ownership and control is decentralized. Users and builders can own pieces of internet services by owning tokens, both non-fungible (NFTs) and fungible.
The big premise is decentralization and distribution of ownership. But is it actually decentralized and is ownership really spread out in Web 3? Not really:
Alchemy calls itself the “AWS for blockchains” and is “relied upon by the majority of the world's top blockchain apps” - runs on traditional web servers (peak centralization).
Metamask - world’s leading non-custodial crypto wallet - owned by Consensys runs all traffic through centralized servers.
Nearly all crypto exchanges are extremely centralized entities who manage the complexity for us.
The counter argument has always been that eventually these platforms or ethereum protocols would create some sort of lite clients that move a lot of decision making to the users. Or servers distributed on people’s computers. Here I’d listen to Moxie Marlinspike:
Even nerds do not want to run their own servers at this point. Even organizations building software full time do not want to run their own servers at this point. If there’s one thing I hope we’ve learned about the world, it’s that people do not want to run their own servers. The companies that emerged offering to do that for you instead were successful, and the companies that iterated on new functionality based on what is possible with those networks were even more successful.
At this point, Web 3 is being piped through platforms that feel pretty much centralized. Maybe we need to slow down the world changing proclamations and instead focus on immediate applications. Maybe we need to not pay too much attention to VCs telling us how the world should be while they look for returns from their portfolios. Are they, after all, looking to move wealth from an existing set of centralized platforms to new ones?
Maybe Jack (with his own vested interests and investments) has a point?
Could be worse,
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