More to The Story: Seeing the Whole Picture of the 2008 Housing Crisis with The Turner House and The Big Short

Both Michael Lewis’s The Big Short and Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House shed light on the 2008 housing crisis. Yet, comparing these two works right off the bat proved to be a rather difficult task as the perspective of each is incredibly different from the other. Similar in their narrative style of story-telling, these two look at the housing crisis of 2008 from two very different points of view. One from the perspective of wealthy offices of Wall Street (The Big Short) and the other from a house on Yarrow Street that has been the home to thirteen children, their parents, and all of their stories. 

The first time I came into contact with The Big Short, I was 18 years old and just a month out from graduating high school, and we watched the movie version as something to do after the AP Exam in my AP Macroeconomics class. I can remember thinking it was so dense, and how it “wasn’t relevant to me” and how “2008 was like ten years ago”. I didn’t pay much attention to it. About two years later, and the book that inspired that film appears on my required reading list. About two years later, and I started to see that it was relevant to me. The personal relevance started to hit me more after reading The Turner House, but nonetheless The Big Short started to make more sense. In class we looked at pictures of “Human Landscapes” in Florida and then discussed how those photos helped increase our understanding of The Big Short. All the communities were made of streets that twist and turn and look very complex upon first glance. However, all of the streets connect and make the neighborhood whole, just like all of the character’s narratives in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short. It was, and in a sense, still is kind of dense to me with its perspective coming from a very economic world that I am not really immersed in, with many of its words and phrases being outside of my vocabulary. After picking up the “missing pieces” from the stories told in The Turner House, it all started to make a little bit more sense. 

The Turner House provides the humanistic approach to the 2008 housing crisis that The Big Short lacked. It sheds light on how this time of economic crisis affected real working-class people and their families. It travels through time and follows thirteen siblings of the Turner family, as well as their parents, Viola and Francis. The story switches perspectives from the 1940’s, and the time of Viola and Francis, who just moved to Detroit with their first-born  son, Cha-Cha, to Detroit in the 2000’s, where the Turner siblings must decide the worth of their family home as it falls victim to the financial crisis going on in the United States. Flournoy uses stories and intricate details of the Turner family through flashbacks and shifts of time in the narrative that help to create this humanistic perspective that The Big Short was missing.

Not only does it shed light on the economic hardships faced by the Turner family, but interpersonal struggles within their relationships with each other are shown as well. We specifically see the character’s interpersonal struggles through Francis’s addiction. Francis’s addiction is a personal battle of his own, but it affects his wife, Viola, and his children. Each person, like Francis, has their own story. That’s real life, that’s how people are. All of the stories and struggles are connected through a specific place, The Turner House on Yarrow Street, making it into more than just a house, but a home. 

The Big Short taught me a lot about the 2008 economic crisis. In my reading of The Big Short I stumbled across lots of economic terms, and it taught me a lot about money and economic hardship. It wasn’t until reading The Turner House, that I started to understand the 2008 housing crisis on a personal level. There’s more to an economic crisis than fraudulent stock brokers and bankers. A lot more. There’s home-owners, there are families, who have to come face-to-face with incredibly difficult decisions- like putting a dollar amount on a place that holds over 50 years of memories.  As someone who comes from a working-class family, who no longer has their childhood home due to financial issues, it hit home for me and finally made some sort of sense. There is so much more to a house than its dollar value.

Motives Behind Madness

                       As humans, we are faced with infinite choices and it’s natural for us to judge the choices of others especially when they don’t align with what we believe to be best.  The Turner House sheds light on the true motives behind what drives our choices as people whereas The Big Short revealed the motives behind those who pursued justice or the truth. Even though both works read like novels, we shouldn’t mistake that life reads the same way. Better understanding the motives behind people’s choices, good or bad, can bring us closer to better understanding our own humanity and that of others whom we have otherwise dismissed as just “bad people.” After all, humans are born with the ability to make choices, not with the ability to make only good choices. 

           In The Turner House, Flournoy explores the lives of the Turner children focused on throughout the novel and how they grew up influenced decisions they make now. The family is a small-scale view, the individual Turners on an even smaller scale, of a financial crisis that in its largest scale affected the world’s economy in some way or another. Even though this novel takes place during the housing crisis, it feels as though it is only an underlying current while we delve deeper into the lives of the individual Turners and what has shaped them. Throughout the novel, we explore the Turners’ motivation to their actions and even though we have special insight as readers we are left wondering what Tina also wonders when hearing about Cha-Cha and Alice: “Can a human being ever truly know another person’s heart?” (Flournoy 290). Cha-Cha’s actions are largely shaped by his haunting father and the fact that due to all of the weight on his shoulders, he doesn’t feel like he’s being listened to. What drives him to pursue a relationship with Alice is that there is someone who he feels finally is listening and validating the good and bad of him. Lelah acknowledges her addiction to gambling as the possibility of victory rather than the possibility of a fortune: “The exact amount wasn’t as important to her while in the thick of the game as much as the feel of her stack of chips” (Flournoy 49). It’s easy to see a person who gambles and question why they would continue with large money at stake rather than look for what they really are getting out of it such as the chance to actually succeed at something. Often the truth behind our actions may not be known to others or even ourselves. As Francis Turner puts it: “It took courage to let a woman in on one’s disappointment, one’s fear” (Flournoy 278). Sometimes it’s difficult to be vulnerable in why we make our choices to other people, so we instead don’t offer an explanation or don’t expect one we’ll receive to justify the judgments we cast on the action.

           In The Big Short, Lewis explores actual people’s lives and while he discloses what went on behind the curtain of those uncovering the crisis from beginning to burst. Lewis focuses on bringing the understanding of the reader from the viewpoint of those working against CDOs. After reading the book, you had very real humans exploring a version of the same side through the lens created by their own lives. It also becomes apparent that money was a big motivator for both sides of the equation, not just those who were screwing people over but also those betting against them. However, we still get their backstory and how their circumstances have shaped who they are. Steve Eisman was known for his blunt personality and we learn that although it may not directly correlate with his financial decisions, his son’s death played a big part in his life thereon after. As Eisman puts it, “’From the point of view of the history of the universe, Max’s death was not a big deal,’ said Eisman. ‘It was just my big deal’” (Lewis 12). Our experiences may not seem to matter in the grand scheme of things, but the ripple they can take on in our own actions unto others are infinite. Burry always believed himself to be defined by his glass eye until he later discovered that he has Asperger’s. Both parts of him were viewed both negatively by himself and others but they are part of what drove him to make important life decisions. With Vinny Daniel, he was motivated to be inclined to see the darker nature of humanity that we tend to overlook because of his experiences: “Maybe it was Queens, maybe it was what had happened to his father, or maybe it was just the way Vincent Daniel was wired, but he viewed his fellow man with the most intense suspicion” (Lewis 10). Lewis gave us these insights into why these people were motivated to look for and/or bet against Wall Street, but his lack of exposing the deeper motivation behind those at Wall Street leads us to just take their unethical choices as purely villainous.

           Although The Turner House is a novel, The Big Short also abides by storytelling elements especially when introducing the “characters.” As mentioned by Sandy in class, The TurnerHouse appears to humanize the villains we see in The Big Short. However, I believe we feel like this because The Turner House works to expose the real human motives behind what we may gauge as bad choices. When telling a story, the “why” is something we search for to explain the characters’ decisions, actions, and words. This was only delved into from the point of view of those working “against” the unethical practices of Wall Street while those in higher positions seemed to only be ruled by ignorance or greed. To me, the people in these positions aren’t painted as not human, but rather they only represent the worst in humanity itself. This is a part of humanity we willingly turn a blind eye to or cast under the label of the classical villain. I am also eager to do so when initially reading The Big Short, however, this part of humanity is very real and needs to be understood if hope to better understand ourselves and the choices we’re inclined to make. Maybe this knowledge will also help us think twice about the why before we carry through with the do.

           Understanding people’s motives and better understanding our own may help us think twice when passing judgment on the choices of others. It’s easy to pass judgment as if the world was painted like a movie: there are only people driven by greed or desire who seek to hurt others and there is everyone else who either falls under the heels of the former or rises to challenge them. The reality is that the world is grey, and the worst of the best of what makes us human exists in all of us. In the words of Flournoy, “Here is the truth about self-discovery: it is never without cost” (Flournoy 106). We are influenced by our past, our current environment, our desire, our morals, and our experiences. One decision doesn’t dictate who we are, but the motives behind these decisions and how we deal with the consequences can say a lot about us as people. I think, given at a time like this, exploring motives is key especially when shuffling though all the fake/false news we are being faced with. Right now, fear is behind many people’s actions. Fear is driving a lot of media as well whether the information is instigated by fear or meant to spread it. I hope we can all respect each other’s humanity, the good and the bad, even if we disagree with other people’s choices. In retaliation spread facts and kindness rather than hate since we are all human and we are all in this together. 

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.

A House Doomed to Fall

In The Big Short, Michael Lewis provides an investigative approach to explaining the involvement of those in Wall Street and the implications of fraudulent behavior that caused the 2008 financial crisis. The story leaves off with an uncertainty as to how everyday people would be affected by the crisis. The Turner House gives a much deeper insight into the lives of a family that were personally touched by the crisis. Having a background knowledge of the members involved, financial concepts such as home mortgages, defaulting, and short selling made understanding The Turner House much smoother of a transition. From understanding the incentives that caused major players to profit off the housing bubble to the story of a family who were expelled from their home as a result of the actions from those who benefited off loss. After the implosion of the bubble, we realized just how big the crash was. It was the cause of many bankers’ decisions and a lack of concern for the lower and middle class. The Turner House shines a light on how the crisis affected the lives of everyday people that The Big Short does not. 

Angela Flourney’s The Turner House follows how the financial crisis parallels multiple ongoing personal crises in each individual’s life. The diminishing status of Detroit during the time of the financial crisis is evident throughout the novel. Viola and Francis moved into Yarrow Street in a booming suburb, celebrating the start of a family. At the time of the crisis, those dreams were crushed. Violet owed forty thousand despite the house being valued at only four thousand dollars. The actions of corruption and greed are clear even to the family as they talk about short-selling the house. Netti says “We sell it today and in ten years Donald Trump or somebody will buy it, build a townhouse, and sell it to some white folks for two hundred grand..” They want nothing but to keep the home that they have grown up. While reading The Big Short, it was clear that the cause and effects of the financial crisis were disastrous. After reading The Turner House, we are left with nothing but sympathy and anger for those who have been on the other end of the corruption. 

As someone from New York City, you can still see unrest between the “everyday people” and those who work in finance. Occupy Wall Street is a movement that started on September 17, 2011. I went to high school in the financial district and was able to witness the yearly protest against economic inequality. There was and always will be a power dynamic that is shifted towards those on top. It is of most importance to hold members of the upper class accountable and share a conversation about social/economic inequality.

Glass Houses

How often do we pause to think about the spaces that have formed us? I don’t do it often, but I recently drove past my uncle’s old apartment and had the stark realization that I would never form another memory there again.

The house on Yarrow St. becomes the heart of The Turner House, just as it is the heart of the Turner family. It becomes a liminal space where Francis and Viola are able to feel hope, where Cha-Cha’s haint resides, and where Lelah lives after being evicted. In a literal sense, the house is an asset to the family; in a figurative sense, it is a security blanket—the place where Lelah and Cha-Cha go when they have nowhere else.

The chapters set in the 2000s show us that the house is not in the same condition as it once was. It’s not in the safest neighborhood, it needs work, but that doesn’t diminish the memories and milestones associated with a home. However, when faced with a crisis, this sentimentality often seems to come second to pragmatism and numbers.

The Big Short gives us the numbers, the evidence, the how. It fulfills our immediate, innate craving for information. It makes us into detectives hot on Wall St.’s tail. We blame the subprime industry, Wall St. itself, and anything we can to make sense of the disaster. We scornfully disapprove of AIG, Bear Sterns, Deutsche Bank, and whoever else engaged in predatory lending. We listen to Eisman’s speech, “Why This Time is Different” and think to ourselves, boy, was he right! It satisfies our craving for knowledge, but some things are too subjective to really be known.

It’s not possible to crunch thoughts and feelings down into a science. They are unique to every individual’s experience. However, fiction allows us to explore the realm of the subjective. In the more recent chapters of The Turner House, the family is struggling to decide between keeping the house on Yarrow St. or selling it. Some siblings have strong attachments to the house, but others worry that keeping the house is not worth the monthly payments.

As the chapters move forward, the siblings begin to think that Cha-Cha wants to sell the house. Marlene gives him an ultimatum via text message:

“I’m too upset to pick up the phone. I hear you’re moving forward with the short sale. If you sell that house I will never forgive you. I don’t put down my foot on anything in this family, not ever. But you do this, and you break my heart. Not trying to be dramatic, just how I feel.”

The Turner House, pp. 198.

Marlene’s response to Cha-Cha possibly short selling the house fills in the blanks that hard numbers and evidence can’t fill. A house is far more than brick and mortar, it is a place where memories and feelings are preserved. A house is a freezer for the subjective human experiences that can’t be measured and studied.

Nothing is really free. The Turner family house, a box of memories and legacies passed on through generations, is valued at $4,000 (half the price of my Pontiac vibe.) Yet, after 57 years of owning the house of Yarrow St., the family still owes $40,000. These numbers show us another narrative:

Francis and Viola buy the house when Cha-Cha is seven, in 1951. According to the United States Census of Housing, the unadjusted average value of a house in Michigan was 7,496 in 1950. With adjustments that number looks more like, $45,400. If we were to assume that the house on Yarrow St. costs similar to this average, that would mean that after 57 years, the Turner family had barely paid off 10% of the original cost. This, of course, is not the case once the effects of interest rates and other fees are factored into the equation. Then, another number to consider is the number of Turner children. Each of the thirteen siblings would need to pay roughly $3,100 to keep the house as an asset in the family, which is roughly 75% of the house’s current value.

As someone who can’t even balance a checkbook, I can’t interpret this information in an informed way. However, I can observe the absurdity of the situation. 57 years of payments and 15 different individuals are not sufficient means to keep a house that is currently valued at $4,000. Something is not right about this. Imagine how many other families experience the same dilemma over half a century, and then try to imagine when exactly this bubble started to form.

It is no secret that inflation and bad loans add to the confusion that everyday people like me have. The numbers just don’t make sense to me. How is anyone supposed to buy a house if the amount they owe only seems to increase, while incomes remain stagnant? Something doesn’t add up. Among the dozens of explanations and calculations featured in The Big Short, nothing seems to balance this equation.

Eventually, the family is caught in a push and pull of sentimentality and pragmatism. The house becomes so burdensome that Cha-Cha and Troy wonder if it is worth keeping. As the narrator words it, “humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time”. I understand this to an extent; the things we own are not what define us. However, it is interesting to compare the situations of our protagonists in The Big Short, to the Turner Family. Yes, The Turner House is a work of fiction, but it is based on real people: the author’s family.

Eisman, Burry, and Vinny play central roles in discovering and exposing the 2008 subprime mortgage industry collapse but are merely spectators compared to the people who are deeply affected. None of them would struggle to pay a $40,000 mortgage, and could probably pay the $3,100 each Turner sibling would owe upfront.

It will always be interesting to observe what those with power and privilege do in the weeks leading up to a crisis. The crash of 2008 revealed the social Darwinism underlying American culture. Now, it is 2020, and we are on the verge of another crisis. As COVID-19 sweeps across the States and the rest of the world, the stock market is doing a familiar dance.

News came out as recently as today, that some members of congress began selling stocks after the COVID-19 briefing on January 24th, and then proceeded to vote against the relief bill. Much like how those who predicted the stock market crash of 2008 were able to line their pockets before the consequences fell onto the most vulnerable.

This is evidence that privilege allows some people to have stronger foundations than others. For the Turners, there is not a clear distinction from one catastrophe to the next. They don’t suddenly owe $40,000 on their house in a matter of weeks. However, these events still impact their lives, and may even force them to sell the house of Yarrow St. Rather than dwelling on one instance, The Turner House alludes to something more systemic. The narrator exposes us to the earliest cracks in the foundation when telling of Francis Sr.’s death as a sharecropper. Then again as they allude to the fail of the auto industry in Detroit, and again as see how insurance companies handle Cha-Cha’s accident, and again, with how Lelah is affected by the rising unemployment rate. When the foundation finally breaks, we must critique the system that built it, rather than the people who are living on it.

As Karl Marx once said, “revolutions are the locomotives of history”. Who knows what this new decade will bring…

Text to Text and Text to World Connections within The Turner House and The Big Short

When starting the book The Turner House by Angela Flournoy, I did not know where the story was going to go, or how it was going to connect to The Big Short by Michael Lewis. Shortly after reading The Big Short, I started to see different themes from the book in my life and, that was when my understanding deepened on many levels. In the literacy education classes I have taken, we learned about text to text, text to self, and then text to world connections. How this works is you have one book or a text, and you or the students try to make connections to other texts, to yourself. Then to the outside world all bouncing back to the original text/book. My original understanding came from making text to text connections with The Big Short and then The Turner House, which then enabled me to seek out and dive into a  text to world connections with The Big Short. In ways such as explaining a DBQ question to 8th-grade students about why African Americans were not allowed to get mortgages in certain parts of towns. Supporting the students with the background knowledge of what a mortgage was, and conceptual knowledge of the process on how to get a mortgage from my own learnings at college gave the students a different insight on this DBQ question.  Going back to the text to text connections between The Big Short and The Turner House I can see some resemblance; similar ideas in the means of addiction, and the housing crisis,  but the Turner house is putting the characters into perspective, giving them a true story, giving them emotion, and a long line of the family.  How could a “real person”, or “real family” be similar to the Big Short? Then looking and using this new text to world connection and seeing how this topic did not only impact people in the past, but it is still being taught and influencing the students of today.

The Big Short was the big perspective looking down on millions of little houses all sold together. The Turner House is the smaller perspective looking up, it starts with the families, and the one home that the bankers would take for granted, and it shows the characters have troubles, short selling the house, gather money to pay for the house, and then all of the internal struggles that ALL humans have the opportunity to face. Addiction. It can be defined as, “Becoming attached to something that one cannot go without it, one becomes dependent on an activity, drug, or food” as mentioned in Merriam Webster’s definition.  Mentioning explicitly here activity.  The Bankers on Wall Street, they could gather, “ 100 different triple- B rated bond… they persuaded the rating agencies that they weren’t as they might appear…They were a diversified portfolio of assets”(73, Lewis) Meaning these bankers would take the lowest of the low bonds the bonds that would never get paid off, and mortgages like the Turner Houses (text to text connection), and combining them all to seem like a triple-A bond. Triple-A bonds are the highest and securest place to store money and the hardest mortgages for costumers of Wall Street to get.  “Turning nothing into something” often looks like fraud and these bankers enjoyed a well, high-paying paycheck, the risk was high, but who was the risk actually high for? They started wrapping and rolling as many housing mortgages as they could find and labeling them higher and higher quality. One could say it was an addiction. The draw of the money, the ease, the appeal. It was all there.

This is where the men of The Big Short connect with The Turner House(text to text), zeroing in on Lelah. Mother of Brianne, who is the mother of Bobbie. Lelah is the youngest of the Turner family, and she has a serious gambling addiction.  “She was just a mind and a pair of hands calculating, pushing chips out, pulling some back…” (49, Flournoy) That quote really emphasizes how drawn back and taken away the character is from herself as if the addiction itself had moved in and taken control.  When Lelah was pushing the chips, and manipulating them to her will, or the addictions will she also was not feeling anything. “ It wasn’t to feel alive, but it also wasn’t to feel numb. It was about knowing what to do intuitively, and thinking about one thing only, the possibility of winning…” (49, Flournoy) Lelah was gambling not to feel anything, but to win. Lelah had an addiction that was so strong, regardless of her family, she wanted to hit the jackpot, to win big. Similarly, men on Wall Street did not care about how they felt, they wanted to win big as well, bring home a big paycheck. “Morgan Stanley’s elite bond traders did not spend a lot of time worrying about this” (208, Lewis).  The meaning of “This” is the subprime mortgages that the companies on Wall Street were combining and selling. They did not worry, they did not process, it was their addiction. They were only concerned about winning, and not they other feelings. I guess one could say it is our human flaw, the will to win at whatever it takes. The increase of debt among the nation, hurting our own families, the will to win is a game, is an addiction. Taking a step back, and placing no blame on anyone who has this disease of addiction. Lelah is a great example it first starts off as a choice, but then it becomes a habit that is too strong to break. Many of my peers had mentioned that the book The Turner House had made The Big Short much easier to grapple with the understandings of addiction. We became able to empathize why she would gamble to try to earn money for the house, and how the book says she was strict on counting her money for fear to not go broke. The Turner House humanizes some situations from The Big Short that were seeming “too big” to understand at first glance. 

It can become easy to blame the greedy men on Wall Street, but humans all have in common is the capability to want more. It is a good lesson to learn to be quick not to judge one another and learning how much we do all have in common. These ideas and concepts are not uncommon. One last text to world example is, in the show Parenthood, there is a Grandfather(Zeke) who is trying to get rid of a not so great piece of property he bought and his daughter (Julia) is a lawyer and had a friend (Timm) who could “rearrange” the property for her grandfather and bundle it into other properties and get it off their hands, for the family could possibly lose their other house becuase extra piece of property. When I heard this going on in the show, I paused the show and said to my family, ” That is NOT okay, what he is doing is going to bundle this mortgage and try to hide this poor property with better ones. This is what we talk about and learn in my English class.” These situations will come up, everyone will be exposed to them, knowing how to respond, and when to say something is important. Sure enough, the Grandfather did not really like the deal, because he thought it was shady, and did not end up doing business with the man.

Scope and Humble Comprehension: Why English Matters

            The Turner House and The Big Short are such drastically different works that it is difficult to compare them outright. In discussing if The Turner House is integral to understanding The Big Short, I certainly think that it helps to place a well-developed narrative at the crux of the crisis to understand how the crisis impacts individuals. We are all indeed individuals—not vast numbers ascribed to the “lower-middle class” or other denotations of status used in The Big Short. Cramming a narrative the size of The Turner house into every one of the numbers mentioned in The Big Short is nearly impossible, or would at least take a lifetime to document and understand with any degree of accuracy. The story telling aspect of The Big Short is remarkable given its task to explain the 2008 crisis in a succinct manner, evidenced in part by our struggle as a class to refrain from discussing the individuals present in the non-fiction work as “characters”. However, the scope of The Big Short is many degrees larger than The Turner House, which aims to flesh out how one family struggles as individuals and as a unit through evictions and unreasonable mortgages. Each text can stand alone outside of this course, but both are necessary to understand each other more fully, a point that ties in the danger of a single story, suggesting strongly that its counterexample of the importance of a multitude of stories is also true to better understand the depth behind large decisions, many of which we have attempted to dive into already in this course, including The Old Man and the Storm, King Lear, Inside Job, and David Cay Johnston, to name a few.

Continue reading “Scope and Humble Comprehension: Why English Matters”

Unpacking and Relating Moral Hazard and Swapping in The Big Short and The Turner House

Reading The Big Short and The Turner House back to back, allowed for us to be able to compare perspectives of people partaking in two opposite ends of a spectrum regarding their role in the housing crisis. Both books shed light on “the other side of the story” and the cause and effect nature of big bankers’ decisions that affected so many people including the Turner family. To people like Eisman and Burry, those in the financial situation that the Turner’s faced were but mere concepts to them; too distant from their own lives to be considered human. The decisions they made in their offices were risk factors, but not necessarily as risky for them. They saw their own personal gain and ran with it. They may have also seen the idea of fraud surrounding what they were doing, but since it was still only a concept, something not yet materialized, and was not directly affecting them, the negative impact of it did not seem so bad. However, relating all of this back to the idea of moral hazard, it seems that the bankers in The Big Short, relished in their protection from risk by their wealth. So, would those who weren’t protected by those means (The Turner Family) act differently if they were? Reading these two books back to back seems to highlight the concept of human nature being something that sits on a selfish foundation, but yet even at the end of the day, setting the scale of that selfishness aside, we all take part in it; alongside the pain and beauty of human existence.

The Big Short is obviously a story that recalls real events and the storylines of real people. The basis of the book is obviously the events that occured and decisions that people made that all led up to the 2008 recession, that negatively impacted so many people. However, something that Micheal Lewis does to give the book and the people who took part in those actions more depth and human-like characteristics, was to dive into elements of their lives outside of Wall Street. What was their family life like? What was their childhood like? How did they even become a banker or stock broker in the first place? Lewis made it a point to provide readers with information along these lines. Even if many of these men had committed actions like fraud, diminishing any trust people had within them; Lewis attempted to show they are still human at the end of the day, with their own set of emotions and traumas. Diving into Eisman’s life, we see he faced a terrible circumstance in regard to his son dying soon after he was born. He stated that prior to this he had always thought he had an “angel on his shoulder,” but this tragedy made him start to believe otherwise. Another example would be when Burry found out that he  had Aspergers, which changed his entire outlook on his life and his career. “After a few pages, Micheal Burry realized that he was no longer reading about his son but himself… ‘My wife and I were a typical Asperger’s couple, and we had an A perger’s son’” (Page 182). Both of these incidents were life altering for these men, the death of a child is a pain no one should experience and finding out about something that alters your self perception and identity can definitely have a huge impact on many areas of your life. 

However, they weren’t known by society, or their co-workers on the basis of these facts. They were known for selling subprime mortgages, and making millions of dollars without losing anything, and ultimately were viewed as selfish terrible people. At their cores, as the insight we get from learning their backstories, they may not be that terrible, but rather blinded. Blinded to a world outside their own, which is something they could’ve tweaked to be a more empathetic person. Eisman, we see, does this to an extent by the end of the book. “And he started being nice. And he liked being nice! It was a new experience for him” (Page 250).  However, at the end of the day they took advantage of the fact that they had an advantage, and tended to pay very little attention to anyone outside of that realm. Even if Eisman learned to “become nice” by the end of the book, that in many cases can’t replace the damage his actions had on people like the Turner family.

 The Turner family, as Flournoy displayed through many generations, struggled a lot with their finances. We are shown this as early on as Francis and Viola’s first  years as a married couple; when they had to live apart and Francis had to send money to Viola. However, we also see these struggles through their children, such as Lelah and Cha-cha, and how they were affected by their financial situations as they got older. They were a part of a generation who’s socioeconomic status was in many cases directly hindered by those in the realm and generation of the men we read about in The Big Short. Looking at Cha-Cha and even Troy as examples, they both, in a way, eventually had to take care of their mother, or at least made intentions to. 

Over the previous few days his original idea about the Yarrow Street house had crystallized into a plan. He and his girlfriend Jillian might not have the $40,000 needed to absolve Viola of her debt, but they had enough to buy the house for the price an interested stranger would be expected to pay. (Page 64) 

Viola had undoubtedly taken care of her children, especially in their early years, when Francis was out “working” and she was left to raise the children mostly on her own. “Viola had to work for white folks after all. She needed the money, and in the end she couldn’t bear to be in those fields” (Page 113). She worked the best she could, with the best she had. 

We see this financial struggle presented very vividly in Lelah and Francis’s early life as well. However, compared to Viola’s early struggle for example, it could be said that their financial problems were brought on by themselves. “What folks said about idle hands and the devil was true for Lelah; busyness was her best defense against the urge to fondle those chips” (Page 96). We as readers unpack a bit of Lelah’s life outside of her association with “The Turner Family” and are able to see a dark addictive side to her. “She did not think of Troy or Jillian, or Brianne or Viola. Only herself” (Page 134). These are tendencies that on a larger scale could be more detrimental to people other than oneself or those close to you. So in a way, Lelah’s actions are reflective of those of the big bankers. A sort of addictive need to always have more. However, she cannot perform anything on a drastically large scale, being that she has no protection from a greater force, the force of big business that those in the The Big Short were protected by for much too long. This protection allowed the big bankers to let their addiction flourish, an addiction that we can see through Lelah, that many if  not all people may suffer from in different forms. 

Both texts use a sort of “flipping through time” method to encompass different emotions pertaining to various time periods in the characters’ lives; this shows the effects of the past on their present-day selves. The Big Short does this in a more subtle way, whereas it’s much more obvious in The Turner House. It’s through these personal narratives that we’re able to see a more complex version of those written about than we would have had we not known their backgrounds. It is through this glimpse into their backgrounds that we are able to see the different struggles with identity, with addiction and greed, but also with heartache and sorrow all of the characters in each book experience to an extent. These universal experiences,  played out on different scales and settings, call into question the definition behind moral hazard. Had the bankers’ lives been swapped with those they were affecting, would each party see things differently and do things differently with such a drastic change in socioeconomic status? It isn’t a question with a trusted and factual answer, since this is not possible. However, what it does seem to bring awareness to is the neverending and ever-unfolding layers of human nature. We become so wrapped in our own realities and feed into our own addictions to bring about temporary pleasure, but they will ultimately negatively impact not only our lives, but those around us as well.

Large-scale vs. Small-scale Perspectives – 2008 Housing Crisis

The crash of the United States stock market in 2008 led to a severe housing crisis across America. Trying to understand why the stock market crashed is a difficult task. As I read The Big Short by Michael Lewis to familiarize myself with the crashing of the stock market in 2008, I realized that the process of subprime mortgage loans, credit default swaps, and artificial securities was confusing to me. However, I realized that the professional businessmen who created them didn’t know what they consisted of; in fact, nobody knew exactly what the loans consisted of. The complexity of the financial crisis wasn’t just big scale, but also small scale. After reading The Big Short and trying to gain a financial perspective of what happened on the business side of the financial crisis, I then read The Turner House by Angela Flournoy, which gave a smaller scale perspective of how the Turner Family in Detroit was affected by the mishandling of mortgage loans on Wall Street. 

Continue reading “Large-scale vs. Small-scale Perspectives – 2008 Housing Crisis”

The Incomplete Story of the 2008 Housing Crisis

When we first began Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, I was quite apprehensive while reading it as I had no clue about what was happening with all of this business/finance talk. I found myself referring to Google searches or Investopedia trying to identify certain terms to help me understand things a little bit better such as a credit default swap, but it was still difficult to follow along as the material was heavy on the business side of things. I feel as though this was Lewis’ intention, emphasizing the idea that people had no idea what was happening unless you were a banker yourself. While I enjoyed the language (mostly metaphors) that Lewis uses in discussing the events leading up to the housing crisis, I couldn’t help but feel as though the story was incomplete or missing something from it allowing me to feel connected with the work and feel fully satisfied with the story. While we saw what led up to innocent people being hurt by the housing bubble burst, we didn’t really get to see how they were affected and if they recovered from it. Yes, there is some mention toward the end of the book in how the people on Wall Street knew this would broadly affect the average American, but we didn’t get to see beyond that. We did not get to see a more human aspect to it, which as a result added to my sense of disconnect from The Big Short

Directly after reading The Big Short, we jumped into Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, a novel that turns its attention toward an American family that would be affected by the actions of the investors. To some level after reading both The Big Short and The Turner House, I would say that they work well together to tell somewhat of a complete story and nearly complete Freytag’s Pyramid that we have discussed in class in explaining the housing market crash. Each work tells one half of a version of the story (The Big Short telling the first half and The Turner House telling the second) that nearly completes Freytag’s Pyramid where there is a rising action, a climax, and a falling action, except in this case there does not seem to be any real resolution to complete the pyramid, therefore showing the 2008 housing and financial crisis does not really follow the complete storyline structure we are accustomed to.

Continue reading “The Incomplete Story of the 2008 Housing Crisis”