In this new series for Research group Change Management, I am watching and talking about movie clips with colleagues and students. The film fragment is first of all framed by the movie maker, and afterwards viewers makes sense of it with their own framing perspective. The aim of this blog is to look at the selected scene from an International Business (IB) education context: in my case framing it as an IB lecturer/researcher of critical thinking education connecting it to film. And each time I invite a guest who gives his/her own point of view. We kick-off with Peter Heinen, lecturer of Finance & Accounting at IB THUAS. He used to work in the financial sector but 4 years ago made the switch to education. He is fascinated by the Financial crisis of 2008, loves movies and writes his own blogs as well. Here are parts of our conversation about the first clip of The Big Short (2015).
Peter: I actually read the book […] I would not say this film is fiction because Michael Lewis (the author of The Big Short) actually used to work in finance and that’s where his first book Liar’s Poker is about. It’s mainly about his career in one of the big banks like Goldman Sachs as a bond trader. The guy that you see in The Big Short, the bit of autistic guy (Michael Burry), that person really exists and what he did, he really did that.
Wypkje: But it’s made like a fiction film, well kind of fictionalized truth in a way, which you can see coming back in the clip with its actual pictures that they show in the beginning. It’s really pop culture, politics, and of course the bank sector growing very rapidly. You see Monica Lewinski as well, and the Blues Brothers, and Ali G. So you see the pop culture, the growth of the banking sector with hip, jazzy kind of music as a soundscape. Why do you think that’s all done in this way? To show that growth?
Peter: I think they tried to show what the developments were because you hear the narrator make a remark about that: that the booming industry was first good old boring banking, and it literally was like that – someone who was a stock trader before the 1980s. Some of them even had an additional job to make sure they could support themselves. So until the 80s it was a boring bank job, someone who traded stocks. I’m not talking about the guys in the pit, but people in the banks. And that sort of changed throughout the 80s, and I think the shots very nicely show the development in the 80s that it all of a sudden became this booming thing, sexy. And although the 80s had its fair share of crises, especially between 1982 and 1988-89 there was a short boom in the economy as well and then everybody thought, this will never stop. The Big Short is a very recent production, but for instance the movie Wall Street, with Gordon Gecko, also beautifully depicts the mentality of the 80s.
You see that in this intro – everything is shiny. What I like so much about this clip is that it turns pitch black for a few seconds. And that is a turning point where it suddenly moves from everything being honky dory and everyone is happy to unemployment and lay-offs.
Wypkje: You see that a few times. Actually, the turning point is when the crisis happens, when it all collapses and you see a black screen, and then it shows a crisis picture, then a black screen and then another picture of the new poor. People become poor because of it. And the jazzy music stops as well.
Peter: Well, maybe it also shows the difference, because if you look at it a bit more deeply, the people you see in the shiny parts are not the same people that are being laid off or lose their houses. You see a similar thing happening now in the corona crisis. The working class tends to be the one who takes the hit. And not the people on their yachts.
But the shiny images is what people are being fed and aspire to. It’s the image we constantly show everyone. The series Breaking Bad for example shows a fairer picture of part of the US. The image we have of the US is of course Wall Street, Manhattan, Hollywood Boulevard. And I think most people want to fantasize that they live in that shiny world themselves. That is not realistic. So to come back to my point, I don’t blame the working class for that because that’s the image they’re being fed, and we’re sort of pushed into thinking that you have to want that. Then you’re happy if you have that same live. So whatever chance you have your everyday job, being a truck driver or working in a supermarket will not get you all that money but maybe this financial product that you don’t understand will.
Wypkje: Talking about these financial products actually, I also find them very complex. That’s also what The Big Short shows – how almost no one understood them except some people like Michael Burry. He is actually the only one who gets it by reading everything, reading exactly what the products are made up of, which no one had done. The narrator in the clips says this shiny stability was all a gigantic lie but just a few who saw it coming because ‘they looked.’
Peter: The key thing you see in this clip: first the booming 1980s, then the clip turns dark and all of a sudden the picture changes to homeless people. evictions, unemployment and so on. Then you hear the US Minister of Finance, Henry Paulson saying ‘our financial system is sound’ which it wasn’t. And then I think one of the most powerful things is when the narrator says at the end: ‘No one saw it coming, but some did. They looked’ and they zoom out of this cul-de-sac with all the houses. The game was played with ordinary houses, especially in the US with these NINJAs (no income, no jobs and assets), which is explained in the film – that is the average Joe wanting to own a house, like the American dream. Because what they zoom out of is basically suburbia, not the exciting part of the US, most people’s life is like this. But that is also the reason for the entire problem. So I find that a powerful image how they in this one frame make a few turns and when they zoom out and say: basically, we start here, this is your life.
Wypkje: Yes, that is very powerful. But some people did see it coming and hopefully we can learn something from them.