Science Fiction's Army Of Rupert Murdochs

Illustration for article titled Science Fictions Army Of Rupert Murdochs

Fifty years ago, nobody could have imagined that one person would wield the mind-shaping power Rupert Murdoch now holds. His print and electronic media empire is in itself science fictional, so it's no surprise that scifi is full of Murdoch stand-ins. Click through to find out which science fiction creator named his lethal tumor after Murdoch, and which one of Murdoch's best friends skewered him in a scifi book.


Actually, there are two lists here: a list of pre-Murdoch stories that predicted the rise of a media omnivore; and a list of more recent works which use a Murdoch figure to make a point, either satirical or serious. For convience's sake, we'll date the Murdoch era as beginning in full force in 1985, the year Murdoch took on American citizenship so he could legally start buying up U.S. TV stations.

Stories which predicted Murdoch:

Illustration for article titled Science Fictions Army Of Rupert Murdochs

Diana Christensen in Network. Faye Dunaway's character gets some dynamite footage of terrorists robbing banks, which propels her to the top of her network. But she's not satisfied, and ends up merging the network's news and entertainment divisions into one monster, which she controls. Then she decides to give some Maoist terrorists their own TV show, and their first episode consists of killing the last "mad as hell" newscaster who clings to truth and all that crap.

Palmer Eldritch from The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K. Dick. Eldritch is the ultimate media mogul, because he controls your dream afterlife, via his substance Chew-Z. Forget controlling what you watch on TV or at the movies — getting to be in charge of your eternal afterlife is the ultimate media-whore rush. At least this guy is convinced Palmer Eldritch is a Rupert Murdoch archetype.

The Great Zapparoni from The Glass Bees by Ernst Jünger (1957). The Great Zapparoni runs a huge entertainment empire that depends on animatronic robots. He's achieved "global domination" in the information and entertainment industries thanks to super-sophisticated artificial intelligences. But he's paranoid about the scientists who work for him selling his secrets, so he tries to hire a war veteran to be his head of security and keep tabs on his employees. Bruce Sterling praised the novel's prescient social commentary and technology.

Stories which poke fun (or a scorching-hot poker) at Murdoch:

Illustration for article titled Science Fictions Army Of Rupert Murdochs

Christof from The Truman Show. The creator of the ultimate reality show, Christof crosses over from media megalith to mad god. He wants to keep Truman terrified of water, so he'll stay trapped in the fake reality Christof has created for him. And when the two of them finally speak to each other, Christof sounds both paternalistic and omnipresent, his voice echoing out of the sky.

The Jagrafess from Doctor Who, "The Long Game". At first you think the Editor, in his natty suit, will turn out to be the Murdoch of this far-future dystopia. After all, the Editor is the one making the eloquent speeches about how you can control people completely by feeding them fake news and emphasizing just the right word to create a "climate of fear." But it turns out the frozen head office of Satellite Five, the huge media empire, is really run by a giant slug overhead, the Jagrafess, which spits venom down at the pathetic Editor.


Grossman from Max Headroom. The head of Network 23 has an evil scheme to create "blipverts," which cram 30 seconds worth of advertising into just 3 seconds, so you can't change the channel or walk away. The only problem is, they make people explode after watching too many of them. Reporter Edison Carter starts to uncover the truth, so Grossman orders him dead. But instead, Carter is transformed into the cyber-personality Max Headroom.

Hiram Patterson from The Light Of Other Days by Arthur C.Clarke and Stephen Baxter. Patterson's news company OurWorld develops the WormCam, which uses wormhole technology to spy on anywhere in the universe instantly. And then Patterson also develops the SmartShroud, the only thing which can hide someone from the WormCam. And eventually, he can even use his WormCam to spy on events in the past. But his ultimate aim is even more sinister — to use wormholes to suck power out of the Earth and the stars, all to help his energy company crush the competition. The greedy and psychotic Patterson has "certain elements" of Murdoch, Clarke conceded. (Clarke and Murdoch are very close friends. After a Murdoch paper reported the accusation (later discredited) that Clarke was a pedophile, Murdock assured Clarke those reporters would never work again. And Murdoch's Harper Collins published Clarke's anti-Murdock novel.)


Daniel Siltz from Cold Lazarus by Dennis Potter. It's the 24th century, and everything has gone to shit. Britain is dominated by American media oligarchs, and all real experiences are illegal. The only legal experiences are virtual ones, which you have to pay for. Siltz, who's clearly meant to be Murdoch, wants to resurrect the mind of dead 20th century author Daniel Feeld, so he can make money by selling Feeld's memories on his virtual entertainment network. But Feeld's mind becomes conscious of his predicament and begs for death, arousing the sympathy of anti-VR guerillas, who eventually kill Feeld and Siltz. Potter wrote this TV drama while he was dying of the pancreatic cancer which he named Rupert after the man who represented everything Potter loathed most.

Linderman, from Heroes. He's an evil omnivore who controls everything and manipulates everyone from behind the scenes. And actor Malcolm McDowell says he's lost count] of how many times people have asked him if Linderman is based on Murdoch. (I can't quite see it, myself. But then again, McDowell himself says the alleged Murdoch resemblance holds true for many of the characters he's played in recent years.)


Fred in Planet Fred, a movie which Dreamworks optioned back in 1999, and which probably will never come out at this point. Supposedly it's about a microscopic alien who settles on the head of a Murdochian media boss. It sounds sort of How To Get Ahead In Advertising-esque, so it's too bad that we're getting Eddie Murphy's new Starship Dave (about tiny aliens living inside Eddie's head) instead.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Charlie Jane Anders

@extracrispy: Hmmm... yeah I did think about that... TND is clearly meant to be a super-obvious jab at Murdoch. I just didn't think it was science fiction. But I haven't seen it since it came out. It's got the usual supervillain plot of, "I will blow up something or other, and that will cement my media dominance!!!!" right?