Deals and Dog Whistles in HBO’s Succession

December 17, 2021
Natalya Weiss

Farmington Hills, Michigan, United States

Class of 2023

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Since its debut in 2018, HBO’s Succession has anchored itself as the foremost show currently airing on television. The satirical drama now in its third season follows the Roys, the family behind multinational media conglomerate Waystar Royco. Succession stunningly weaves together elements of corporate greed and family dysfunction with morally grey characters with scathing wit. It’s no secret to viewers that 84-year-old CEO and patriarch Logan Roy is bigoted; he voices intolerant beliefs and exemplifies the old-school WASPy American businessman. So when it was announced that Jewish actor Adrien Brody would join the season three cast as implicitly Jewish investor Josh Aaronson, I, as a Jew and Succession devotee, had an offhand premonition about what might go down. 

It just so happens that I was proven right.

On November 7th’s episode, Logan and his son Kendall visit Aaronson on his private island to thrash out how both the ongoing federal investigation regarding company misdeeds and a resulting family rift is affecting business. We’re clued into the character’s heritage by a large mezuzah that can be seen on the door when Kendall enters the residence, but it becomes truly imposing upon Logan’s arrival. 

As a major shareholder, Josh’s vote is crucial in Waystar’s heated proxy battle, and Logan urges him to stay loyal. “Back me, sit tight, count all your gold in your castle right here, and I’ll make you whole,” Logan says. Kendall rolls his eyes, seemingly used to hearing things like this from his father. When Josh declines and proposes they instead go for a walk, Logan calls him a “New York wiseacre.” The men trek through sandy terrain before negotiating over lunch. Josh announces afterward that he’s going to call some carts to make the journey back easier, eliciting yet another snide comment: “Oh, city boy, huh?” Logan begins. “Well, you’re a bit far from your nearest coffee and bagel,” he says pointedly. His cryptic remarks may seem fairly benign on the surface, but there’s a broader intent, and Kendall sees right through to it: “He [Josh] hates you too, with your antisemitic bagel and gold [expletive].” 

Logan Roy is not the first to employ coded language, known as a dog whistle, as a tool for antisemitism. An entire lexicon of dog whistles (aka the specific words and phrases often used to indirectly refer to Jews) has been established by antisemites over the course of history. Logan’s “counting your gold” jab plays into the familiar stereotype of Jews as wily, wealth-hoarding figures, which dates back to the Middle Ages when the Church prohibited Christians from moneylending and left Jews to undertake it. His labeling of Josh as a “New York wiseacre,” however, is a bit more obscure. 

New York City is home to the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel, and its Jewish influence has inextricably linked the two in American culture. Senator Ted Cruz once said Donald Trump harbors “New York values” during a 2016 debate, arguing that “the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and focus on money and the media.” Discourse sparked over whether or not this was a dog whistle in operation, and a verdict came in when Cruz later joked that Trump “to use a New York term, has a lot of chutzpah.” His classification of the Yiddish word chutzpah as a “New York term” after stating that a focus on money and the media is a New York value made his veiled message crystal clear.  

Succession deserves props for shedding light on such an under-discussed issue and doing so with care. The show perfectly captured the strategic-yet-allusive manner of dog whistles, letting Logan’s words hang in the air for a while before being outright condemned. 

Logan Roy expressed to Josh Aaronson the same bitter notion our oppressors have expressed to us for centuries: The principles, needs, and desires of Jewish people are crooked and unreasonable, and Jewish people are only worthy if they bend to the intimidator’s will. 

Natalya Weiss is a BBG from Michigan Region and has an extensive knowledge of country flags.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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