From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman examines the inner life of Rupert Murdoch, media mogul.
[The stage is dark, and then it is light. A number of attractive young women dressed as NEWSPAPER BOXES roller skate across the stage from left to right. They are wearing black leggings and they are singing, almost too soft to hear.]
The long climb up from way Down Under
How did it happen? Sometimes I wonder.
[The stage goes dark. When the lights return, there is a man standing onstage, his face covered by a newspaper. He lowers that newspaper to reveal that he is RUPERT MURDOCH. He begins to sing.]
To give a full account of my ascent into glory
I'll have to take a moment to recount a tragic story.
Do you know about Max Stuart?
I don't really see why you would
But unless I tell you about him
I don't think I can be understood.
This was fifty years ago
In South Australia, near Ceduna
Families were playing on
The beaches in the afternoon. A
Girl of nine went near the water—
Girls of nine will do that.
The parents could not find their daughter.
Her body was found with her face smashed flat.
Max Stuart was a carny.
He was traveling through town.
Suspicion fell upon him.
The law rose up to bring him down.
At the time I ran a newspaper
The News in Adelaide
We took up Stuart's innocence
As a passionate crusade
With journalistic pressure
We averted Stuart's hanging
I felt a surge of pride
We got results with our haranguing
[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. This time they move from right to left, stopping center-stage to twirl around slowly.]
It is every newsman's dream.
To bring real change to the regime.
You're right, I guess.
At first, well, yes.
What do you mean? Did something go wrong?
We sense that the answer is in your next song.
Stuart did not hang
He was sentenced to life
(Eventually he earned parole,
Began to paint and took a wife).
But my part in the trial
Wasn't taken in stride
The government and I
Were fated to collide
I was called on the carpet
By Playford, the premier
Stuart was guilty, he insisted
And I had interfered.
To avoid a charge of sedition
I would have to sacrifice
My best friend at the newspaper.
I bit my lip and paid the price.
Since then I have grasped
The meaning of true power
Without it, you are eaten
With it, you devour
A lesser man might have backed off
And withdrawn into contemplation
A great man such as I set out
To dominate the nation
[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. They are crossing left to right again, but now they are wearing short skirts.]
Did he fail? We tend to doubt it.
Extra! Extra! Read all about it.
My riches went up like an Australian pine
And soon the Antipodes were mine, all mine.
In sixty-eight, I went to Britain
In seventy-six, to the States
My need for expansion has proven
The most durable of my traits
I have the Post. I have Fox.
I have Sky TV and Star TV
I have the Times in London
I have MySpace and TGRT
My total combined holdings
Are far too vast to measure
And still, acquiring more things
Brings me a powerful pleasure
I think that I need to consider
Another major acquisition
What property can I snap up
That will advance my mission?
[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. Now they are wearing only brassieres and underwear.]
What now? What now?
How 'bout the Dow?
The Dow? Oh, wow!
That's right. And how.
[The lights go out suddenly. When they come back up, RUPERT MURDOCH is center-stage, bathed in a white light.]
How much for this?
How much for that?
I'll buy it all
In no time flat.
Ten thousand for that peanut!
A million for that stick!
I want it! I want it!
Not getting it will make me sick!
[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. Now they are topless.]
Getting things is what makes him tick.
Not getting things just makes him sick.
I know that I've made enemies
But am I that infernal
Just because I want to
Own the Wall Street Journal?
The price I'm offering
Is far more than fair
It works out in the end to over
Sixty bucks a share
[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. Now they are nude but mute—when they open their mouths to sing, no sound comes out.]
Hey, newspaper girls
I won't feel better
Until I've written a letter
So please, no more twirls.
[RUPERT MURDOCH starts to dictate a letter. As he speaks, the newspaper boxes open and papers printed with his words begin to fly out.]
"They say that I am evil
They say that I'm right-wing
They say that I am ruthless
These words have lost their sting.
"They say that I am trying
To consolidate my wealth
But I have found that buying
Things contributes to my health
"Soon I will own Dow Jones
And after that, who knows?
Maybe the planet Neptune
Or a zoo of CEOs.
"It's hard to know just what to buy
When you have this much cash
It gets more and more difficult
To do something that makes a splash.
"They say that I'm rapacious
Well, you know, no shit, Sherlock
This letter finds me quite loquacious.
Yours sincerely, Rupert Murdoch"
[RUPERT MURDOCH pulls up his pants legs to reveal that he, too, is wearing roller skates. He skates directly toward the audience; as he reaches the lip of the stage he disappears in a puff of smoke.]
Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, was recently published.
Previously: Fragments From 'Stung! The Musical'