Liquidity of Narratives

In light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic, we as a society have been forced to look upon the structure of a narrative. Going into this global crisis, we may understand that we are dealing with a historical and global narrative that will be told by historians and future generations. Alongside this narrative, however, we all also have our own individual narratives. I believe that what we are seeing today allows us to better understand the complexities of narratives, their beginnings, and endings and how they work together. Similar to what is going on today, the narratives of those affected during the 2008 crisis also had a greater global complexity playing into the individual narratives, intertwining and flowing like water.  I believe that the readings of both The Turner House by Angela Flournoy and The Big Short by Michael Lewis pair well as both sides of the narratives are covered.  The Turner House offers more insight into the individual narratives of those affected by the 2008 housing crisis which is something that The Big Short struggles with. The individual narratives humanize the crisis, but alongside The Big Short, it also allows us to see how the actions we are so quick to demonize in the world of business, occur on a smaller individual scale. With both narratives working side by side we can see how these narratives are quite similar, despite their scale and it is arguable that without the pairing of these two narratives a well-rounded perspective of the crisis is lost.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis offers readers the narratives of Wall Street’s head honchos and insight into what led to the 2008 economic crash, offering a perspective to a narrative many of us don’t usually have access to. Although the reader is offered insight into the perspectives of those who were at the frontline of the events leading up to the crisis, much of the narrative can also feel distant to the reader still. This is created by the way the book is written. As discussed in class, Michael Lewis’ book mirrors the way a novel would read, but also reads like a textbook. This is where the narrative gets tricky and confusing, pushing the reader further away from the global narrative of the crisis as the reader may find themselves caught up in the financial terms. Although this may push readers further from understanding the global narrative, it actually allows the reader to connect to the narrative as it becomes clear that those in the business world don’t even understand it themselves. As Eisman states at one point, “I didn’t know what the fuck was in the things…No one knew what in them…it was all the pieces of shit we’d already shorted wrapped up together, into a portfolio” (Lewis 116). Once the reader comes to terms with this fact, the line separating the global narrative from the individual narrative becomes blurred allowing for more insight into the actions of those at the frontline. However, once inside the global narrative,  we begin to demonize the actions of those at the forefront.

The attraction towards risk and moral hazard is something readers of The Big Short are so quickly to criminalize in the global narrative. In The Big Short, the attraction towards risk comes to the forefront of the narrative as those interpreting the narrative begin to question the morale associated with the risk. As Eisman put it, “‘It made me feel good that there was such inefficiency to this market….I saw how sausage was made in the economy and it was really freaky” (Lewis 16). We can equate these business actions to moral hazard as a moral hazard is defined as a lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from consequence. This is exactly what the big businesses were doing in the selling and buying of CDOs. We are therefore so quick to demonize these actions and equate these risks to moral hazard which led to the stock market crash of 2008. This comes largely as a result of knowing the forthcoming of the individual narrative, as a consequence of the global narrative; however, The Turner House allows us to see the correlation between these narratives, not that one caused the other, but that the individual narrative is much more similar to the global narrative. 

 Flournoy’s novel essentially liquifies the narrative of The Big Short by humanizing the actions of those of Wall Street into her character’s similar addictions to mirror the actions of those at the forefront of the economic crisis. Through the characterization of Lelah, the demonization of risk and moral hazard comes to a more personable level as Lelah attempts to overcome her gambling problem. The addiction Lelah feels to her gambling problem, therefore mimicking the addiction of those selling CDOs as, “It was about knowing what to do intuitively, and thinking about one thing only, the possibility of winning, the possibility of walking away the victor, finally” (Flournoy 49). The risk that we see Lelah so attracted to is similar to the risk of those involved in the negotiations leading to the crash. Just as Lelah can’t see the coin’s monetary value and the money she is losing, on a larger scale those in big business do not understand the lives they are messing with. Despite it being on a drastically larger scale, the readers can connect the thrill of risk to humanize the people we were so quick to demonize in the first narrative.  The reader also sees how the impact of Lelah’s gambling life plays into her relationships, as her daughter disowns her, her love life failing, and she loses her home. All these results, therefore, mirror possible realities for those affected during the crisis. The narrative offered in The Turner House, therefore, allows the reader insight into some of the individual narratives of the 2008 crisis, but also allows connection on a much larger scale, thus allowing the stories to flow together and pair well. 

Although the narrative of The Turner House sheds light upon personal and individual narratives of the 2008 crisis, there is much more to be understood when The Big Short is paired with it. Just like anything, there are two sides to every story, just as there are two narratives when it comes to global events. The first narrative is the one that we all see as a society which is seen in The Big Short, but there is also an individual narrative that each person faces which is seen in The Turner House. When we focus on the individual narratives, however, we can see the fluidity and connections between the greater global narrative and the individual narrative itself. This is the connection that can, therefore, be made between the narratives of The Big Short and The Turner House, humanizing the global narrative by the individual. In connection with the recent pandemic, we may want to apply this concept as we see how the coronavirus rewrites our current narrative globally but also impacts us closely. By examing them both, however, we can see how these narratives work hand in hand and through both narratives, we can trace the beginnings of the pandemic and also plan to have the two narratives flow together for an end. 

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