Puzzles of Collective Intention, Corporate Authorship, Family Business Insurrection, & HBO’s Succession with Lisa Siraganian & Michael Szalay


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This semester Elmira College has launched a Media Studies, Communications, & Design major. The founding director of this program is executive producer and primary host of The American Vandal Podcast, Matt Seybold. As part of the inaugural term, he is teaching a course “HBO, From Pulp To Prestige” exploring the ideological and aesthetic influence of the HBO brand, as well as its complicated corporate history. Parallel to this course, he will be producing the sixth season of American Vandal, conversing with scholars about HBO’s original programming, both current and past, as well as the challenge of interpreting and historicizing televisual texts.

The series launches with special attention to what Dr. Seybold considers the central problem of his course, and perhaps Media Studies more generally: corporate authorship. He explores this problem with two scholars deeply versed in the modern history of the corporation, as well as the peculiar example of HBO, and the network’s current tentpole drama, Succession.

Lisa Siraganian is the J. R. Herbert Boone Chair in Humanities at Johns Hopkins University, and Chair of the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature. Prior to her arrival at Hopkins, Professor Siraganian was the Ruth Collins Altshuler Director of the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute and an Associate Professor of English at Southern Methodist University. She is the author of Modernism & The Meaning of Corporate Persons (Oxford UP, 2020), which offers the first multidisciplinary account of corporate personhood, exploring how disputes over corporate intention provoked conflicting theories of personhood, race, meaning, and interpretation still debated today. It has been awarded the Modernist Studies Association 2020 Book Prize and the Modern Language Association’s 2021 Matei Calinescu Book Prize. Also pertinent to this episode are her first book, Modernism’s Other Work: The Art Object’s Political Life (Oxford UP, 2012), and her essay for Amerikastudien, “Distributing Agency Everywhere: TV Critiques Postcritique”. [Twitter: @ProfGirl]

Michael Szalay is Professor of English at University of California Irvine. His third book, a history of prestige television titled Second Lives: Black-Market Melodramas & The Reinvention of Television (U Chicago, 2023) is forthcoming. Several selections (or prequels) have already been published, notably in Representations, Journal of American Studies, Los Angeles Review of Books, Theory & Event, and The Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics. Professor Szalay’s previous books are New Deal Modernism: American Literature & The Invention of The Welfare State (Duke UP, 200) and Hip Figures: A Literary History of The Democratic Party (Stanford UP, 2012)

Special theme music for this season of The American Vandal Podcast has been provided by The Snarlin’ Yarns. [Twitter: @ryan_ridge]


(A Small Selection of) Programs Discussed (HBO & Otherwise)


Episode Bibliography

Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick (1867)

G.E.M. [Elizabeth] Anscombe, Intention (1957)

Erich Auerbach, “Odysseus’s Scar” from Mimesis (1946)

M. M. Bahktin, “The Bildungsroman & its Significance in the History of Realism (Toward a Historical Typology of the Novel)” in Speech Genres & Other Late Essays (U Texas P, 1986)

Jerome Christensen, America’s Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures (Stanford UP, 2012)

Jerome Christensen, “Taking It to the Next Level: You’ve Got Mail, Havholm & Sandifer” (Critical Inquiry, Autumn 2003)

Jerome Christensen, “The Time Warner Conspiracy: JFK, Batman, & the Manager Theory of Hollywood Film” (Critical Inquiry, Spring 2002)

Melinda Cooper, “Family Capitalism & The Small Business Insurrection” (Dissent, Winter 2022)

Melinda Cooper, Family Values: Between Neoliberalism & The New Social Conservatism (Zone Books, 2017)

Peter Havholm & Elizabeth Sandifer, “Corporate Authorship: A Response to Jerome Christensen” (Critical Inquiry, Autumn 2003)

Hal Holbrook, Mark Twain Tonight!: An Actor’s Portrait (Pyramid Book, 1968)

Deborah Jaramillo, “The Family Racket: AOL TimeWarner, HBO, The Sopranos, & The Construction of a Quality Brand” (Journal of Communication Inquiry, January 2002)

Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of The Metaphysic of Morals (1785)

Adam Manno, “Laid-Off HBOMax Execs Reveal Warner Bros. Discovery Is Killing Off Diversity & Courting ‘Middle America’” (Daily Beast, 8.25.2022)

John Ames Mitchell, “A Long-Expected Ceremony” (Life, 6.4.1908)

Richard Powers, Gain: A Novel (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1998)

Lisa Siraganian, Modernism & The Meaning of Corporate Persons (Oxford UP, 2021)

Lisa Siraganian, “Against Theory, now with bots!: On the Persistent Fallacy of Intentionless Speech” (Nonsite, August 2021)

Lisa Siraganian, “Distributing Agency Everywhere: TV Critiques Postcritique” (Amerikastudien, Winter 2019)

Lisa Siraganian, “Ang Lee & James Schamus’s Neo-Indies: The Ultimate Movie Machine” (Post45, 12.20.2011)

Matt Seybold, “Mark Twain’s Portfolio: Hell-Hound Rogers, Anaconda Copper, & The Spider Aristocracy of Finance” (CMTS, 6.19.2019)

Matt Seybold, “Barnum Presidents & Benevolent Monopolists: Mark Twain, Amazon, & The Futility of Antitrust” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 8.30.2017)

Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans: Being A History of a Family’s Progress (1925)

Michael Szalay, Second Lives: Black-Market Melodramas & The Reinvention of Television (U Chicago P, 2023)

Michael Szalay, “Streaming Enthusiasm & The Industrious Family Drama” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 6.23.2021)

Michael Szalay, “Melodrama & Narrative Stagnation in Quality TV” (Theory & Event, April 2019)

Michael Szalay, “The Real Home of Capitalism’: The AOL Time Warner Merger & Capital Flight” in Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018)

Michael Szalay, “The Author as Executive Producer” in Neoliberalism & Contemporary Literary Culture (Johns Hopkins UP, 2017)

Michael Szalay & Catherine Fisk, “Story Work: Non-Proprietary Autonomy & Contemporary Television Writing” (Television & New Media, 2017)

Michael Szalay, “Pimps & Pied Pipers: Quality Television in the Age of its Direct Delivery” (Journal of American Studies, November 2015)

Michael Szalay, “HBO’s Flexible Gold” (Representations, Spring 2014)

Michael Szalay, “The Writer as Producer” in Mad Men, Mad World (Duke UP, 2013)

Michael Szalay, “The Incorporation Artist” (Los Angeles Review of Books, 7.10.2012)

Mark Twain, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873)

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953)

David Zaslov, “Warner Brothers Discovery Second Quarter 2022 Earnings Call” (Warner Bros. Discover, August 2022)