If we follow the logic of Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, we could say that Rupert Murdoch is not so much a man, or a cultural force, as a portrait of the modern world. He is the way we live now; he is the media magnate we deserve. It is almost impossible to say a single conclusive, summing-up thing about him. The range of his interests is so diverse as to defy summary, and almost to defy listing. We in Britain know about the Sun and the News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times and the Times Educational, Higher Education and Literary Supplements; we know about HarperCollins, and hence about Jack Higgins, and about Fourth Estate, and hence about The Corrections; we know about the BSkyB network in Britain, about its role in pioneering multi-channel TV, and about its ownership of the rights to transmit Premier League football, which have just been diluted by the European Commissioner for competition, Mario Monti. (His requirement was that Sky sell eight games a season to other networks. Golly, what a fearsome sanction.) If we think about it for a moment we remember that he owns the Fox network in America, and 20th Century Fox the film studio, and Fox News the toxic right-wing news channel, the Star satellite network in Asia, and the LA Dodgers baseball team, and part of Ansett airlines until it went broke, and the US TV Guide. Some of us may be aware that he owns 70 per cent of Australia's newspaper industry, and one of its main television channels. He is the unmoved mover behind The Simpsons, That 70s Show, Married with Children, Fight Club, The Full Monty, Ally McBeal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, King of the Hill, Titanic. We can usually think of one or two of these at the same time, but the sheer extent of Murdoch's businesses is so vast that it is hard to hold them in the mind simultaneously. When his wife Anna filed for divorce and was asked the extent of her husband's assets, she said she didn't know what his assets were. In his response, Murdoch was asked the same question, and gave the same answer. The strange thing is that he may have been telling the truth.
LRB 5 February 2004 | PDF Download