Addiction and Human Interconnection

Since humans are inherently interconnected, one person’s addiction, whether it be to a substance or to something else, affects other people. Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.” In The Turner House, the various addictions of Turner family members affect other members of the family; however, the addictions of the risk-taking investors and brokers in The Big Short affect the entire economy of the United States. While Angela Flournoy in The Turner House, directly acknowledges addiction and the effects of addiction on individuals, Michael Lewis only indirectly mentions addiction in The Big Short. A direct acknowledgment of addiction, and the effects of addiction, is missing. Therefore, while The Big Short and The Turner House both tell stories of the financial crisis, The Big Short masks the effects of addiction on individuals which The Turner House illuminates.

The Big Short takes a subtle and indirect approach to discuss addiction. Addiction is primarily discussed, and largely dismissed, through the frequent use of the word “obsession.” Lewis describes a group of investors for whom “the trade became an obsession” (106). The use of the word “obsession” seems to suggest, and largely gloss over, a gambling addiction. While this gambling addiction extends far beyond an average poker table, the effects are also much greater; however, Lewis never directly addresses the effects of these large-scale addictions on individuals and dismisses addiction as “obsession.”

The only individual person that Lewis suggests has an addiction is Michael Burry, yet he still never directly calls it an addiction. Within the first paragraph of introducing Burry, Lewis refers to Burry’s “new obsession” (26). He later clarifies that Burry’s “lifelong obsession [is] the inner workings of the stock market.” and that he “dragged his obsession along with him through high school, college, and medical school” (35-36). Lewis’s focus on Burry’s “obsession” shows that Burry is addicted to the stock market, even though Lewis never directly calls it an addiction. Instead, Lewis suggests that this addiction to the stock market is due to Burry’s Asperger’s syndrome: “it explain[s] an awful lot about what he did for a living and how he did it” (183). By implying that Burry’s addiction is due to Asperger’s, Lewis further masks the effects of addiction on individuals and the part that these addictions played in the economic crash. Unlike Lewis’s negligible attention to addiction and the effects of addiction on individuals, Flourney sheds light on the effects of addiction on both the addicts and their families. 

By showing the emotions and inner workings of individuals and their families, The Turner House presents addiction in a way that is far more direct than in The Big Short; this presentation directly shows the effects of addiction on individual people and their families. Flournoy very clearly shows the specific addictions of every member of the Turner family:

There was Francis, who Alice had called an alcoholic […]. There was Lonnie, […] he had dabbled in heroin as young as thirteen and was clearly still on something […] at the age of fifty-three. Troy […] was obsessed with success […]. There was Marlene, and with her Viola Turner herself, not really hurting anyone with their obsession […] they were downright absorbed with the flea market stall […]. There was [Tina], not a Turner by blood, but thirty years rubbed off on people. He felt a pinprick of guilt calling Tina’s church involvement an addiction, but that’s how he thought of it. Now here was Francey standing before him, obsessed with nutrition and vegetarianism and kitchen gadgets. […]. Maybe Cha-Cha himself was addicted to being in charge of the family, or going to therapy with Alice, or even this revived idea of a haint. (Flournoy 85)

Through this passage, Flournoy shows the various addictions of many different people which stands in stark contrast to Lewis’s ignoration of the investors’ addictions. In addition to showing the addictions of the Turner family, Flournoy continues to directly display the effects of addiction on individuals and their families. 

One example of the effects of addiction on individuals and their families is Flournoy’s depiction of Lelah, a gambling addict: “What folks [say] about idle hands and the devil [is] true for Lelah; busyness [is] her best defense against the urge to fondle those chips” (96). Through this passage, Flournoy directly addresses one way that Lelah’s addiction affects her daily life—she needs to constantly keep herself busy. Flournoy also shows the devastating effects of Lelah’s gambling addiction on her life when she gets suspended without pay for borrowing money from her coworkers, and when she gets evicted from her home (45). 

In addition to the effects of addiction on Lelah’s own life, Flournoy shows the effects of Lelah’s addiction on her family members. Lelah needs money, so she searches through the basement of Viola’s house for things to sell. She eventually sells “things that weren’t hers, maybe for a lot less than they were worth” (104). If her siblings were to return for their Asian-style dagger or gold earrings, they would not find them. Lelah sold these things without her siblings’ consent, in order to finance her addiction. Flournoy presents a complete description of Lelah’s gambling addiction, giving addiction a specific face and allowing readers to feel a human connection. Therefore, The Turner House sheds light on what is missing in The Big Short because while The Big Short and The Turner House discuss many of the same concepts, The Turner House personifies these concepts in a way that The Big Short does not.

The Big Short does not emphasize the devastating effects on addiction on individuals; it does, however, indirectly show what happens when individuals in positions of power are addicted to risk-taking and the effects of that risk-taking on the U.S. economy as a whole. On the other hand, The Turner House shows not only the effects of addiction on individuals and families that are struggling with addiction, but also the economic effects of the U.S. economy on these individuals and these families. The addiction of the risk-takers in The Big Short alter the lives of the people in The Turner House, who have addictions of their own. A major difference between both narratives is that the addicts in The Big Short do not take any accountability for the consequences of their addictions, even though the extent of the damage caused by their addictions is far greater than any member of the Turner family. Due to human interconnectedness, one person’s addiction inevitably affects the lives of others. This is a concept that is made extremely clear in The Turner House, yet is mostly neglected in The Big Short. By giving readers a more direct insight into the effects of addiction on individuals and their families, The Turner House allows readers to feel more human compassion. Lewis fails to hold the investors accountable for their addiction, and the effects of their addiction on their families and the entire U.S. economy. On the other hand, Flournoy clearly and directly illuminates the effects of addiction on addicts and the families of addicts, and also shows the devastating effects of the investors’ and brokers’ addictions that Lewis masks. Therefore, The Turner House sheds light on what is missing in The Big Short: a direct acknowledgment of addiction and its effects.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.