“The Big Short” and other inside games


Poster for The Big Short from Wikipedia

I realize that even though this blog is called the Brooklyn CULTURE Jammers, I’ve never done much coverage of culture. I’m a picky consumer when it comes to popular entertainment. Part of that is about being a practitioner of sorts, something that works a lot of different ways. Also, I’m rarely taken with a play or movie. Then there was tonight.

I went to a big-screen showing of The Big Short, a movie based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book on the mortgage crisis and the meltdown of the economy. I was watching this in BAM’s movie space with a fairly large audience and (this being NY), most of the folks in attendance seemed to know their way around the language of the financial instruments of deception. If you don’t know a CDO from a .doc file, fear not–Director Adam McKay has figured out clever ways of breaking the fourth wall to explicate the way the big money was gaming the biggest speculative bubble in American history.  I went in expecting typical Hollywood fare. But the movie is cynical and smart and assumes the audience will go along on a long and sometimes painful ride through the destruction of the US economy.  And the film never loses sight of the fact that these prognosticators (who could see the devastation coming) also knew that their intuitive understanding of the tsunami on the way was useful only insofar as it made them a fortune. Great performances all around. And the reviews have been smart as well. Variety’s reviewer called the movie A spinach smoothie skillfully disguised as junk food.

But my ulterior motive here is to talk about the context of the 2008 meltdown. And the themes I’ve been exploring here include the idea that the People in Charge know what’s happening and simply don’t want to let the rest of us know. In The Big Short, some of the characters spend not a little effort to try to let People in Charge know what’s coming. Again and again, they are rebuffed. Nobody believes them. And when the tranches of mortgages started blowing up, the ratings agencies actually upheld the AAA ratings and downplayed any trouble, even as it became clear that borrowers couldn’t pay back the loans. The easy movie to make would have had the characters coming off as lovable scamps who were just getting back at a corrupt system–something like Trading Spaces. Instead, McKay and his impeccable ensemble let you know that the bad guys won. And (again) I’m watching this in a theater in downtown Brooklyn, a short walk and long swim away from Wall Street where the banksters are once again blowing up the economy (though it will be the rest of us suffering for their ‘irrational exuberance‘). 

So go see The Big Short. But as you’re watching, mentally click off how many times the Serious people deny there’s any problem with the mortgages or the bets Wall Street is making on them. Lying seems to be the modus operandi of all officialdom as politicians run out the clock on infinite growth on a finite planet. Face it– whether it’s an economic meltdown or the end of a habitable planet–they don’t plan to tell us.


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