Scatological Language in The Big Short

As i’ve been reading The Big Short i’ve found it really interesting to focus on the concept of scatology that Dr. Beth introduced us to towards the beginning of the semester. Scatalogical language, as defined here, is obscene language that particularly deals with excrement or excretory functions in a humorous manner. Scatological words and phrases are frequently peppered throughout Michael Lewis’ novel, and I’ve noticed that they often function to drastically change the tone of a conversation.

Right from the beginning of the book scatalogical language is used to bring a snippet of humor to an otherwise very serious situation.”‘Steve knew this was going to create a shitstorm, said Vinny. ‘And he wanted to create the shitstorm. And he didn’t want to be talked out of it…'” (Lewis, 15) Here, the language used is very important because it shows that it was easier for these executives to call the severe disaster that was being created a “shitstorm” than to name the actual reality that was occurring for what it was. Scatalogical language is used so often in our western society to describe negative things, but for big financial executives to be using this language to describe situations that would affect so many people’s lives in such profound ways, it just seems wrong.

It is clear throughout the novel that some of these executives were well aware of the situation that they were creating, yet they continued to call the disaster they were brewing “shitty” or “crappy” to diminish their culpability. “No one but Vinny, so far as Vinny could tell, ever really understood the crappiness of the loans they had made.” (Lewis, 15) Lewis further exemplifies this when he writes, “There weren’t enough Americans with shitty credit taking out loans to satisfy investors’ appetite for the end product.” (Lewis, 143)

All of this leads me to believe that in this context, this kind of language performs the act of normalizing the devastating crises that were created as a result of the actions of these ultra wealthy and powerful people, which in turn performs a violence to the masses of people who’s lives were upturned and changed dramatically.

One comment

  1. Mary Rutigliano says:

    Melissa,

    This is a thought provoking post. It makes me wonder about why we use those scatological terms. As someone interested in discourse analysis, you’ve re-piqued my interest on this. I definitely agree with your statement that scatology normalizes crises. Expanding on that, what is it about the word itself that would make them choose it? I’m specifically thinking of sh*tstorm here.I wonder if excrement, as a thing that naturally happens and can’t be avoided takes away ownership and responsibility from the people who use it. The elimination of an agent (the thing performing the action) certainly makes it harder to place blame. I’ve started to look up some articles on this, thank you!!

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