It is interesting to note that just one day later, the film The Big Short was competing in the best picture category. The story is based on a true story published in 2010 in a book by Michael Lewis. In it Lewis recounted how some Wall Street businessmen predicted the 2007-2010 financial crisis before anyone else, how they bet against the Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO) instruments —that is, they went against the current in the financial market—, and how, when the collapse occurred, they earned over 500% of their invested capital.
Adam McKay decided to direct the movie, Brad Pitt produced it and The Big Short was born. It reminds us of others on the same topic such as the documentary Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010), the film Margin Call (J.C. Chandor, 2011), or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Oliver Stone, 2010), fictions (perhaps not so fictitious after all) that help us understand where we are stuck in the 21st century.
The Big Short deserves credit for bringing to the fore the divine details that are revealed almost like a system lapse. For example, the film reenacts the American Securitization Forum held in 2007, highlighting —by means of all the film language available— that the location chosen for the forum is the city of Las Vegas, which is as revealing as noting that the World Economic Forum is held in Davos, above stacks of money from shady deals hiding in Swiss bank vaults. Of course, nothing happens by chance.
It is precisely there, in Las Vegas, Sin City, where The Big Short protagonists verify that their operation will eventually succeed. While they are celebrating their good fortune in advance, the character played by Brad Pitt tells them: “You just bet against the American economy. If we’re right it means people lose homes, jobs, retirement savings, pensions. They aren’t just numbers. For every point unemployment goes up, 40 000 people die. Did you know that?” The faces of the other characters suddenly change, as if it had dawned on them that they are not in a casino, that human lives are at stake.
Further on in the film, the character played by Ryan Gosling is rebuked by a group of investors who bet on the crisis that’s still not coming: how is it possible that, just as banks have started laying off people and the deficit is already obvious, triple-A securities are not being downgraded and the US Treasury remains confident that nothing serious is happening? The character then says: “Listen, I told you when we did this deal the ratings agencies, the SEC and the big banks are clueless. So now their foot’s on fire and they think their steak is done and you’re surprised? … I just don’t think you guys realize how clueless the system is.”
In fact, when the crisis was already imminent, everybody kept lying and concealing the real facts in order to save the banks.
Eventually, the collapse took place, and when it did, there were 8 million new homeless people in the US and the economy of several countries was left on the edge of a precipice: Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Spain. Some banks went bankrupt, others disappeared, and bankers did not pay up. Only their clients did, as well as the Governments that had to come to the rescue (that is, their citizens). What finally came to light was that the crisis was the effect of the huge business done by the collusion of bankers, credit rating agencies, insurance companies, and financial organizations from several of the world’s central countries. They knew what they were doing; it is not so hard to understand: …they make it seem difficult so that people will think Wall Street is only for geniuses and leave it all in the hands of banks, says the character played by Christian Bale.
So what do newspapers mean when they point out that the Pope asked the Argentine president to fight corruption? Might he have asked the American president to do the same? Might he have asked the chancellor of Germany to do the same, considering her country was home to the greatest business fraud in 2015 over the Volkswagen case?
The Big Short shows that if we believe that corruption is a Third World problem, we should remember that the chain is as strong as its weakest link. This story emerges from the very heart of the Hollywood star system; it is a new film about the way in which corruption is an intrinsic effect of late capitalism, where a speculative system only wants ever-increasing profits, amassing fortunes that are impossible to handle. This system can afford the luxury market and, as deemed convenient, it moves forward by preying on the real sources of production and development. This is the corruption the mass media hardly speak about, that which is not denounced until everything explodes.
Control systems should be put in place by modern states, NGOs, diverse civil society organizations, and the like. However, these systems are inefficient.
Here resonate the words of Lacan in the midst of the May events in France in 1968, when he explained in his seminar that the power proposed by capitalism, connected with science, is “anarchic” power, “… I mean divided against itself, … as embarrassed as a fish on a bicycle”1.
1Lacan, J. El Seminario, Libro 16: De un Otro al otro, Paidós, Buenos Aires, 2008, p.219.