TedTalk: Media Mogul

by Hannah Smith and Lauren Silverman

Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a novel characterized by the media, if not for a presence of media within the novel, then for the borrowing of people and names that all relate, in some form or another to the field of television media and entertainment. This is most prominent in the character of Ted Turner, who shares the accomplishment of his namesake from reality in his owning and founding of multiple news and television networks, including CNN and TBS, and is categorized as a ‘Media Mogul’ by many, such as Everett himself.  This is coupled by the sprinkling of comments made by various characters that speak against the growth of the media nation that America has slowly become. 

Working as the backbone of the novel’s media commentary is the character version of Ted Turner, media mogul. Throughout Everett’s work, Turner speaks in what can only be described as a stream of consciousness, moving fluidly from topics he discusses with Not Sidney, and musing of his own that often contain more significance than he intended. Often, Ted talks about the media industry and the things he plans for his own networks as if he could do anything at all without consequence to his viewers. 

At one point, he sits with Not Sidney in a common area between their sections of Turner’s mansion and he rants about the myriad of terrible shows on television, saying that “you can’t show the news and The Three Stooges all the time …And aw hell son, who can afford to make brand-new crappy shows, and who wants to? Especially with so many crappy shows just sitting in cans waiting to be aired again?” In this quote alone, Turner begins by grouping the news with The Three Stooges, the source that people look towards for the important events occurring in their country, with one of the classic comedy troupes of the mid-twentieth century. To Turner, there was nothing distinguishing one of those as more sober than the other, only two forms of entertainment. 

While she was alive, Not Sidney’s mother declares to him that  “it won’t be enough to report it, news will have to be made… That’s where we’ve gone, everything in this country is entertainment.” Ted, the owner of these networks, the dictator of what can pass through to viewers, proved Not Sidney’s mother correct in his acceptance of the presentation of the news as just another “crappy show” that audiences to tune into. 

Not’s mother disapproved of the news, and yet, for no given explanation, she invests her savings into the ideas of Ted Turner, media mogul. This may tie into a possible explanation for why Everett chose to call him “Not Sidney Poitier.” Sidney Poitier, throughout his career was distinguished in the eyes of the entertainment industry, and though Not Sidney’s mother never gave the impression that she had heard of the actor before, it is likely that she knew the name from the extent that he appeared on television. The significance then, of calling him Not Sidney Poitier may have been used as the intentional separation of the protagonist from the grip of the media. Ironically, it is his mother’s investments that place him on the path to involve himself in the industry that his mother loathed and warned him away from.

If it wasn’t for his mother, Not Sidney would have never been taken in by Ted Turner, media mogul. Subsequently, if it wasn’t for him living with Ted Turner, media mogul, Not Sidney would have never been introduced to Podgy Patel, who suggested buying a television network to Not Sidney, who cared so little about where his money was going, so long as he was spending some that he accepted the idea willingly. And so, Not Sidney Poitier became the head of a television network, similar to Ted Turner, media mogul, without the least desire to involve himself in the decisions of what to air, instead entrusting that to Podgy, who is implied to have changed the target audience of the network to suit his culture. 

Besides their living situation, the one common thread between Not Sidney, and Ted Turner, media mogul, is their extraordinary affluence. Not Sidney’s mother is described by him as “the kind of grass-roots, if not proletarian, person he [Ted] wanted to imagine his media world touching, however tangentially, on his way to great and obscene wealth.” Both men purchased networks as simply another thing to do with their money, and neither one seems to care if the shows airing on their networks had any value to society. Ted Turner, as a media mogul, cared only that his wallet was expanding, while Not Sidney cared only that he was spending money, and never cared whether it led him to greater wealth, or less. 

While young, Not Sidney’s tutor, Betty, once said that “‘The mass media and the oil, they’re the movers, the facilitators. Politicians are just tools used to make us think we have some choice and a little power.’” She groups together the oil and media industries for their reputations as existing in the country’s highest economic class. Like Sidney’s mother, Betty is against the media, viewing media moguls such as Ted Turner as if anyone with the power to shape the thoughts of others, or the progress of the nation as having the obligation to do the moral thing.

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