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Succession and the Tall Poppy Syndrome

Doug Garland
Doug Garland
5 min read
Succession and the Tall Poppy Syndrome
Turkey vulture pile on. Photo by author.

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The world is not driven by greed. It is driven by envy.
- Charlie Munger
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Succession is a television drama series that follows the Roy family, owners of a global media and entertainment empire. The show primarily revolves around the patriarch, Logan Roy, and his four adult children: Kendall, Roman, Siobhan (Shiv), and Connor. The family is wealthy, powerful, and constantly battling for control and influence over the family business.

The narrative explores themes of power, betrayal, family dynamics (especially familial envy), and the cutthroat nature of the corporate world. As Logan Roy contemplates his succession plan, tensions, that he encourages and cultivates, rise among the siblings. Each vies for the CEO position within the company (familial envy, Rome's Founding, Familial Envy & The Tall Poppy Syndrome and Envy, the Capollas, & The Tall Poppy Syndrome).

Over its four seasons, it garnered 75 Emmy nominations and 19 Emmys. The family dynamics involve two of my favorite subjects - envy and bullying. Bullying, sometimes confused with TPS, is hostile behavior involving a physical or social imbalance of power and repetition over time.

From The Tall Poppy Syndrome - The Joy of Cutting Others Down :

Although envy is normally considered undesirable, Aristotle distinguished a different type: emulation motivated people to improve themselves versus being motivated to take away things. Psychologists today have divided envy into various types but mostly to signify good and bad envy, or benign and malicious (also called malignant).
Good envy leads a person to admire others’ good qualities and seek to be like them. Malicious envy is not wanting people to possess what they have and desiring to cut them down (TPS) so the envier looks better by comparison. The point is to denigrate the person.

I do not think individual family members recognize their participation in familial envy and its effects. This is frequently a child's first experience with envy but it is only the beginning. Many experience school envy from kindergarten through college. Some become familiar with neighborhood envy while workplace envy is commonplace. The elephant in the room is social media envy driven by big tech. I submit that envy is the currency of the internet.

Logan Roy (father) is the Roy family's patriarch and Waystar RoyCo's founder. He is a shrewd and powerful businessman, known for his no-nonsense approach to corporate leadership. Logan is determined to maintain control over his empire and carefully considers who will succeed him.

As Logan's health deteriorates, the question of succession becomes a central theme. His decisions and interactions with each family member shape the company's and the family's direction. Perhaps a lack of love and encouragement of competition created dark emotions in the children. Although the series attempted to show Logan's character as both authoritative and vulnerable, revealing the human side of a powerful patriarch, I never bought it.

He is prideful, greedy, and somewhat lustful (Anatomy of the Tall Poppy Syndrome). Show me parental love and guidance, not conflict induction.

Connor Roy (eldest son) stands out as the unconventional and somewhat eccentric member of the Roy family. Unlike his more business-focused siblings, Connor pursues a life away from the corporate world, with interests in politics and the arts. Despite his wealth and connection to the powerful Waystar RoyCo empire, Connor remains detached from the family's high-stakes business dealings. His character is marked by a mix of idealism and eccentricity, and he often finds himself on the periphery of the family conflicts.

He has enough familial envy to prevent him from blowing off the family completely and following his north star.

Kendall (second-eldest son) initially appears as the heir apparent to the Waystar RoyCo empire. Ambitious and intelligent, Kendall is groomed by his father to take over the business. However, his journey takes a dramatic turn as he faces personal and professional challenges, including a struggle with addiction.

Kendall's character evolves as he grapples with the expectations placed upon him, the pressures of corporate leadership, and his desire for independence. His relationship with his father becomes increasingly strained, leading to pivotal moments in the series.

He struggles with his relationship with his father's lack of love, has his own pride issues, and wants to deny his siblings what he feels is rightfully his.

Roman (youngest son) is a witty, immature, and carefree personality. Despite his apparent nonchalance, Roman is a key player within the family business, often involved in the company's strategic decisions. His humor serves as a coping mechanism, and he is not as overtly ambitious as his siblings. Some would argue his behavior is typical for his birth order - the family clown.

He is in competition with all his siblings.

Siobhan or Shiv (only daughter) initially appears somewhat distanced from the family business. She has a background in political consulting and is initially not actively involved in Waystar RoyCo's operations. However, as the series progresses, Shiv becomes increasingly entangled in the family power struggles and corporate maneuvering.

Shiv's complex relationship with her father, brothers, and Tom and her ambitions form a significant part of the storyline.

She is sucked into her brothers' aggressions and her envy deepens as the story moves forward. She is in an open marriage with Tom and becomes even darker due to her jealousy (see Jealousy, a Love Triangle, & The Tall Poppy Syndrome).

Tom Wambsgans (Shiv's Husband) provides a unique perspective on the dynamics within the Roy family. Initially, Tom is portrayed as an outsider to the family's wealth and power. He works for the company but comes from a less privileged background compared to the Roys.

Tom's journey involves navigating the complexities of his marriage to Shiv, adapting to the Roy family's world, and striving for success within the company. His character undergoes significant transformation as he grapples with the challenges of being an "outlaw" to the Roy family.

Tom's lower social stature and lack of family connection empowers the others to vent their frustrations by using him as their personal punching bag (bullying).

Greg Hirsch (Cousin Greg) is Logan Roy's young and naive cousin. He initially worked in a low-level position within Waystar RoyCo. Greg becomes increasingly aware of the family's power dynamics and secrets throughout the series.

Greg's character is often caught in the crossfire of the Roy family's internal conflicts, and his attempts to navigate the corporate world provide moments of humor and insight (laugh out loud). Despite his seemingly peripheral position, Greg becomes a virtuous character with a role to play in the big picture.

Greg is an occasional punching bag for all the Roys - just because they can. Tom uses Greg as his personal punching bag to make him feel better for all the Roys' knocks he has to suck up.

The series is loaded with dark emotions. They begin with Logan's hubris and greed and the wedge he drives between his family who seek his love and favor. This leads to a megadose of familial envy which pits the family members against each other. All could have been prevented by Logan's love, humility, gratitude, and guidance.

Hollywood endings often result in schadenfreude (see It's a Wonderful Life & The Tall Poppy Syndrome) which brings joy to the viewers. The series did not disappoint when Tom was named CEO instead of one of the familial purveyors of dark emotions.

successiontall poppy syndromebad envyjealousyhubris

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Douglas Garland, M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery for 37 years in Southern California. Doug was also a Clinical Professor of Orthopedics at the University of Southern California.

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