Poor Us: The Great Depression 2.0

May 21, 2009

Bubblicious: From NPR to MGM Recession Tales Defy Reality

Girl And Movie Poster, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1938 by WPA Photographer John VachonA couple of weeks ago on NPR Planet Money, a podcast often referenced by Poor Us, reporter Adam Davidson interviewed TARP Oversight Committee Chair Elizabeth Warren, who also happens to be a Harvard law professor with 30 years of experience studying  contracts and credit. Davidson proceeded to get all “yelly,” dismissing Warren’s focus on the plight of the family in the financial crisis as “not in the mainstream of views on this issue,” and finally instructing her on what her job should be:

“What it feels to me is what you are missing is that — I think we put aside your pet issues. We put them aside. We put them aside until this crisis is over.”

The response from listeners was immediate and fierce as hundreds of comments appeared on the Planet Money blog deriding Davidson on his unprofessional conduct and his undisguised pro-Wall Street,  anti- family bias. Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review blog The Audit explains:

If you want a peek inside business-press mentality, and why certain stories get reported and others don’t, you can do worse than start here. It sees Warren as an outlier whose views, based on decades of research, are suspicious. It would never, ever have badgered a former bank exec, say, like this if one had been chairman of the panel.Davidson has been talking to too many bankers and insiders who sneer at someone not inside their bubble.

It’s really no surprise that Wall Street’s interest in wage-earners ended as soon as our pockets had  been picked clean. Still it was a shock to witness a reporter claim the oligarch’s POV as “mainstream.”  Perhaps Davidson needs to get out of the bubble and visit the “real” America.

Of course, he might get more than he bargained for on his Sullivan’s Travels. In that 1941 Preston Sturges’  satire, a movie director famous for his screwball comedies decides at the height of the Great Depression to take to the road incognito as research for his next picture.

Sullivan:     I want this picture to be a . . . document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity . . . a true canvas of the suffering of humanity.

LeBrand:    But with a little sex in it.

Sullivan: [reluctantly] But with a little sex in it.

Davidson might find out as Sullivan did that “true humanity” is not a  “pet project” with which to trifle. Of course, Sullivan retreated right back into Hollywood’s bubblicious version of reality, but his dream of holding up a mirror to our suffering lives on. As we speak, hundreds of empathy-fueled network execs and studio chiefs are struggling to fathom the petty concerns of the worried, out-of-work sad sacks who litter the landscape beyond the San Andres Fault.  They mean to care, and they certainly want to sell tickets and garner high ratings, yet too often when they let their imaginations roam outside the bubble they get reality wrong.

For expample, what made them think that now’s the moment we’re itching to be reminded  that “greed-is-good”?  Yet they’ve fast-tracked Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2, with the unavoidable Shia LaBeouf in the Charlie Sheehan role.

And surely the perfect entertainment for a nation with  six million unemployed is  Fox network’s upcoming reality show:

Someone’s Gotta Go, where each week employees at an actual small business that needs to cut costs will pick who gets the heave-ho.”

Of course, for every lame attempt to relate, such as this gag-inducing pitch:

The Company Men, John Wells (“ER” executive producer) writing and directing, now in production. Ben Affleck gets downsized from hotshot corporate gig; salt-of-earth brother-in-law Kevin Costner helps him find blue-collar work.

There will be a snarky effort to crack wise like this “Friends” without benefits sitcom:

Canned, ABC, sitcom Group of Generation X friends all get laid off from their banking jobs.

Nonetheless, for all its faults, we’re only on the hook to Hollywood for the price of a ticket, whereas Wall Street and their bedfellows in corporate media cost us everything we’ve got or ever hoped to have. Tip to Davidson: if you or your ilk do step outside the bubble, travel fast and incognito or you could end up in reality according to director Sam Raimi (Spider-man, Evil Dead), who is always looking to tear the bubble a new one. :

Drag Me to Hell, Loan officer (Alison Lohman) forecloses on elderly woman, causing demonic curse. May 29 release.

Here’s a round up of greenlighted economy-themed films and TV series (after jump)  from Recession’s star rises in Hollywood:

Recession Films



March 2, 2009

Catch up on the crash:Planet Money guys on Bad Banks

Filed under: Wise up — Tags: , , , , — debacled @ 12:47 am


You should listen to this week’s episode of NPR’s This American Life. It’s  an hour devoted to helping us understanding the Bad Bank idea that I highly recommend even though I haven’t heard it yet myself.

I know it’s going to be worth your while because it’s put together by Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson, two of the guys behind NPR’s Planet Money podcast and blog, which is the go-to source of information about this financial crisis for people like myself who have limited experience with money outside of collecting paychecks and paying bills, but who now find themselves victims of the huge,  financial vortex we scarcely knew existed until it started to suck the life savings directly out of our paltry,  direct deposit retirement “savings,” and then went after the actual paycheck.

I first encountered Davidson and Blumberg back in May 2008 when  I heard Giant Pool of Money, the jaw-dropping, mind-boggling episode of This American Life that explained the subprime mortgage mills that sold anything to anyone because Wall Street wanted more mortages to bundle and sell off to hungry investors. In October 2008  they came back with Another Frightening Show About the Economy that cleared up the mysteries of commercial paper and credit default swaps.

In this third installment, Bad Bank, they enlist the help of MIT economist Simon Johnson to explain what it means for a bank to be insolvent, and why we are bailing out bankers who caused their own businesses to fail in the first place.  Johnson who was an economist at the International Monetary Fund, also shows up on Planet Money, and has a very helpful blog The Baseline Scenario, which also provides a great primer: Financial Crisis for Beginners.

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