ENGL 111: Mini Collaboration #2

By: Hailey Bernet, India Roundtree, Mia Stout, Piper Cluff, Janiqua Morris, Lucky Ni, Nina Avallone-Serra

One of the most recognizable pieces of literature (and film) covering the 2008 housing crisis is Michael Lewis’s The Big Short. His book follows a cast of real-life individuals who began to notice and take advantage of the anomalies in the housing market which led to one of the most devastating crashes in the history of the country. The world of The Big Short is highly insulated, zeroing in on the specialized world of investment banks, stock and bond traders, and hedge funds, all of whom are wealthy, and a vast majority of whom are wealthy white men. The main cast of the book is estranged from the consequences of the crash, as are the peripheral characters and entities (like investment bankers and corporate heads) and as a result, we as readers of The Big Short fail to see the impacts of the actions of those on Wall Street in the context of the average American and can only theorize about the impending fallout.

The Big Short informs the reader about the events leading up to the housing crash solely from the perspective of wealthy investors, therefore providing an extremely limited viewpoint. Rather than providing the effects of the economic crash, The Big Short provides the cause by telling the stories of a few members involved, such as Michael Burry and Steve Eisman, and how they gained wealth and power through the manipulation of the market. The storytelling of The Big Short lacks the perspectives of the individuals and families who were directly affected by the actions of these wealthy investors, which adds to the idea that most of Wall Street was extremely out of touch with the rest of society. As mentioned on page 106 of The Big Short, “A tiny handful of investors perceived what was happening not just to the financial system but to the larger society it was meant to serve, and made investments against that system that was so large that they effectively gave up being conventional money managers and became something else.” This limited perspective demonstrated in The Big Short purposefully illustrates how egotistical the members of Wall Street were and how insensitive they were to the effects their actions would have on innocent families.

The Turner House shed light on what was missing in The Big Short by focusing on the Turner family as they cope with the economic troubles and ongoing misfortune in Detroit as a result of the housing market crash. The Turner House provides an important perspective because it shows a more relatable view of the housing crisis by demonstrating the unfolding of the crash in the context of a middle/lower-income family. The book, unlike The Big Short, also delves into the human emotions connected with the house itself and the subsequent loss of the house. Page 198 gives us an idea of the thoughts of one of the Turner children: “I’m too upset to pick up the phone. I hear you’re moving forward with the short sale. If you sell the 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.” It also contextualized the lives of those who were hit hardest by the crash, discussing issues like race, addiction, and poverty. The Turner House provided us with a unique perspective to understanding the housing crisis of 2008, focusing on how family values and conflicts play into the issue at hand, whereas The Big Short doesn’t begin to approach these issues.

The Turner House also gives us insight into the outcomes of bad loans, like the ones mentioned in The Big Short: for example, we know in The Turner House that the value of the Turner family home was reduced to a measly $4000 as a result of the churn of bad mortgages in The Big Short. The Turner House sheds further light on the failings of The Big Short by demonstrating the impacts within the city of Detroit itself, the abandonment and demolition of houses, the rise in crime, and the increase in unemployment citywide. It also touches on racial disparities and exemplifies how these played into the impact on white people versus Black people. Flournoy writes, “Lelah had been laid off from her job at the airport in 2002, and when she had visited the unemployment office then, the overwhelming blackness of her fellow unemployed seemed to be clear evidence of injustice. But the proliferation of these new white jobless was more disturbing. If this many white folks couldn’t find a job, times were certainly tough” (117).

Both The Big Short and The Turner House give commentary on what happened in the events leading up to the housing crisis, but they each have a different style of storytelling, with The Big Short providing an informative storytelling structure and The Turner House utilizing a narrative structure to tell its tale. Together, the two books give a well-rounded view of the housing crisis: The Big Short shows a highly specific breakdown of the economic causes of the crisis while The Turner House shows the emotional, financial, and social effects on a more relatable scale through the analysis of a large family.

One reason why the storytelling of both books is important is because each sheds light on how people of different races and classes can be involved in the same event but experience it differently. In The Big Short, the Wall Street giants manufacturing the events leading up to the housing crisis are white and extremely wealthy. In the aftermath of the crash, the consequences that they face are very minimal as they still have the chance to leave their jobs with pay and go back to their homes, and in many cases, retain their jobs and even head efforts to revive the economy. In contrast, The Turner House demonstrates the negative consequences of the actions of Wall Street bankers and how these play out for a black family.

The book hints that white people were also affected in a way, when Lelah notes more white people than ever being at the unemployment office. But overall, status and access to wealth and power completely transforms the event: for the white and wealthy, in The Big Short, the crisis was an opportunity to continue to accumulate wealth. For the poor minorities, in The Turner House, the housing crisis was a devastating blow to their livelihood. All that they had worked hard for was now invaluable and being taken away due to the actions of those at the top. Additionally, The Turner House gives us an understanding of how the financial crisis impacted whole cities, describing declines in infrastructure, demolition of houses, fleeing of neighborhoods, rising crime rates.

The Turner House gives us a humanistic perspective of the crisis, an area in which The Big Short lacks heavily. The Big Short lacks the humanness in its telling of the crisis probably because during the fraud that was being committed, many wall street bankers were so far removed from their clients that they failed to see them as people, and rather viewed them as pawns in their game. They had a duty to their clients to tell them the truth, but their greed made them incapable of doing that, putting plenty of people in harm’s way. If the bankers were empathetic and sympathetic, they would have maneuvered differently. If they stopped to think that it could be them in the other person’s shoes, maybe they would have had a better conscience.

So as The Big Short discusses the financial and economic side of the crisis, The Turner House adds the humanity of how minority groups dealt with the housing crisis. The Turner House and The Big Short complement each other in a way that allows their storytelling to “fill in the gaps” that the other story might have left out. The Turner House provides a more intimate perspective, as it sheds light on how one individual family was affected by the economic crisis, and how they almost lost their family home as a result. The Big Short, on the other hand, provides the perspective of Wall Street investors who were directly involved in the economic crisis, and the book sheds more light on the inner workings of Wall Street and how a lot of issues were overlooked in favor of gaining more profit from their risky actions. Unlike in The Turner House, where familial relationships are extremely important and the characters are all emotionally connected in a way, the characters of The Big Short are all stuck in their own bubbles and have little concern for the consequences their actions might have. The characters of The Big Short care mainly about the profits they’re going to gain, yet the consequences of their actions fall directly on families like the Turners.

Second Mini-Collaboration

Faith Griffin, Riley Griffin, Isabelle Hoff, Spencer Jurgielewicz, Abigail Kennedy, Alexandra Ross, Mairead Wilsch 

Michael Lewis’s The Big Short focuses on the 2008 global market crash and highlights the factors that lead up to said crash. It looks into the lives of the people who were involved in it. This includes but is not limited to individuals on Wall Street, the officials in the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush’s Administrations, and others involved in business. The book showed the views of those in charge on Wall Street and showed the making of the big decisions which affected the rest of the population. The book showed their lack of accountability. It also mentioned how many people were expelled from their homes due to the businessmen’s careless behavior towards their clients. The Big Short emphasizes a moral hazard, as the banks knew it was risky to loan money to people with the knowledge that they would not get the money back, they felt protected by the US government and believed that their system was too big to fail. The numerous loans distributed can be related to the overwhelming amount of characters that were presented throughout the story. Ignorance is a big theme throughout the book, consistently portraying the customers as “less than” the companies and investors having the biggest egos. Although the Big Short did give us a look into the Housing Crisis, there were many parts that were left out, including the parts that affected everyone else. 

The Big Short does not examine the people who were hit the hardest by the economic downturn which were groups such as lower income individuals such as, people of color, and women. Instead it mostly highlights the CEO’s and businessmen on Wall Street along with the overall financial crisis of the nation. The book failed to analyze the socio-economic repercussions of certain groups that were at a disadvantage from the start of the crisis. There was no personal connection with any characters in the book and readers were unable to empathize with anything that happened regarding the people of higher status and influence. The businessmen and CEOs were sometimes portrayed in a manner in which they seemed like they had a robotic demeanor with no personality besides greed and a drive for self-interest. The Big Short showed just how corrupt those in charge were, gaining wealth from others’ downfalls. “The CEOs of every major Wall Street…All of them, without exception, either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich, too.” (Lewis 256). Unlike the general population, the businessmen received immense help from the government, even benefiting from this crisis of their making. American investors seemed to care little about the rules as they wanted to secure as many wins as possible, no matter the risk it presented to themselves and the global market. They even mock some European bankers by calling them “Stupid Germans. They take rating agencies seriously. They believe in the rules” (93). By mocking the foreign investors, they show just how little empathy they have for consequences. All their focus goes to their own gains, they simply do not care about rules or honesty.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy sheds light on those who were directly affected by those in The Big Short. It shows the impact the housing crisis had on families, not only talking about the actions of the big companies and CEOs who caused the crisis. By showing the more individual reactions, and struggles of the Turner family, The Turner House shows many things that The Big Short wanted to hide, giving a new perspective many readers should know about when learning about this topic. The portrayal of addiction in both novels are vastly different;  the CEO’s use of drugs and prostitutes is for pleasure/enjoyment, while people in The Turner House used sex, drinking, and gambling as a means of coping with their financial situations.  “Lelah hooked Cha-Cha under the armpits and helped him sit upright on the bed. He reeked of beer. Sweat ringed his undershirt collar. She had never seen him like this before, ” (Flournoy 259). This example from The Turner House expresses the use of addiction as a way of coping with their struggles and as a way to avoid the financial strain they were facing, since they are in lower status it is viewed as pathetic. While in The Big Short, we see the “glamorous” side of addiction, used as a means of celebration or pleasure, hiring prostitutes, doing drugs and gambling, this is seen as an act of fun due to their higher status. “All three were worried that Bear Stearns might fail and be unable to make good on its gambling debts. “There can come a moment when you can’t trade with a Wall Street firm anymore,” said Ben, “and it can come like that.” (Lewis 219). In the novel The Turner House they highlight how the unemployment line was not helpful and both the private and public sectors provided minimal or no help at all. “She’d waited two and a half hours to watch someone push buttons on a keyboard. ‘It says you’re not eligible,’ the woman said. ‘I know it says that,’ Lelah said. ‘That’s why I’m here. I got suspended from my job without pay, so I should be eligible, right?’ ‘Your employer hasn’t put anything in here,’ the woman said.” (Flournoy 119).  Lelah, a member of the Turner family, is struggling with being laid off, evicted, and having a  gambling addiction. The text describes her trip to the unemployment office, the line being unbearably long, the employees being rude and unhelpful, overall not a successful trip as they sent her to call an automated response machine named MARTHA, rather than assisting her in person. This is an example of the many battles the Turner family faced when being used by the large companies seen in The Big Short.

The Turner House more specifically exemplifies the effect that the housing crisis had on families and groups with lower income, which often includes women, people of color, and people with different ethnicities than in the United States. In this literature, the Turner family tries to short-sell their family house on Yarrow Street. The mortgage of the house was $40,000, but by short-selling the house the Turner family won’t even make $4,000. The thought was to short-sell to Troy Turner’s girlfriend, Jillian, because at the time it was illegal to short-sell to relatives with the current market rate (Lewis 64). Ironically enough, Troy is a police officer in the family and he is the one who initiates breaking the law. People in these positions are supposed to enforce the laws for society, but end up becoming the ones who feel the need to break them. This exemplifies how people in power use their influence to benefit themselves and alter the rules to fit their agenda. This ties into the philosophical Immanuel Kant and his concept of categorical imperative. This is the concept in which people who act immorally and do wrongs such as steal, murder, etc. have a bad understanding of society as they expect others to abide by said rules but they are the expectation and do not have to (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).  Throughout both of the novels, corruption is a prevalent issue that takes place during the global market crash. The Turner House has a cop who is involved with questionable activities regarding short-selling the house, while The Big Short touches upon the issue of corruption within the banks and government regarding fraud. The banks continued to loan money to people knowing that they wouldn’t receive the money back, so it was relating to a ticking time bomb that would eventually explode. The Big Short, however, does not highlight many specific cases of who will face accountability and how it, directly or indirectly, still causes regular people economic issues post-2008: “He didn’t even notice you were here. He thought he was speaking in confidence to us. You can’t go holding him accountable for that.” Ever since joining the police force, Troy was quick to become litigious.” (Lewis 8). 

When the Turner family decided to short sell their house in order to keep it in the family, they also wanted to get the bank to take a hit. This showed how desperate times were for money, as mortgage payments were increasing and nobody was able to afford it as the house was worth less than what they owed the bank. The Turners have grown up in this house for their whole life, and now nobody is living there except for Lelah for a period of time. The house still is haunting them as they still owe money to the bank and they can almost never get rid of this old, moldy home. With the house still lingering behind the turners like a shadow and Lelah staying there for a period of time it is exceptional to think that, “humans haunt more houses than ghosts do” (Flournoy 312). The book was able to give us an emotional connection with characters such as Lelah and her personal life. We got to experience the effects from the housing crisis, one being unemployment. Lelah said “the prospect that so many white people are unemployed reveals how difficult times really are” (Flournoy 117). This shows that everyone, no matter race, was being affected. Lelah  not only was struggling to find a roof under her head, but she also was face to face with addiction and unemployment. The CEOs in The Big Short used addiction as a means of celebration and entertainment, while the people impacted in The Turner House used addiction as a coping mechanism. Lelah turned to gambling, while Cha-Cha consumed alcohol. After Lelah got evicted, she felt she needed to win back money, so even when she earned a profit she wanted more. Whereas, the oldest Turner child, Cha-Cha, reeked of beer, which surprised Lelah since she had never seen him like that before. Overall, The Turner House provided more personal details and a view of the consequences of the global market crash by showing the perspective of those who were impacted the most.

We have compared and contrasted the concepts from The Big Short by Michael Lewis and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy and several other works we have watched. First, “The Old Man and the Storm” shows how people were personally affected by crises’ just like how The Turner House shows the family’s struggles with the financial crisis. “The Old Man and the Storm” demonstrates more of the human side of a crisis, as compared to the business side shown in The Big Short. Unlike “The Old Man and the Storm” the documentary of “Inside Job” showed both points of view, though the documentary had a focus on those who were responsible for the crisis. The documentary showed how people lived in tent cities, how they lived as homeless due to the crisis. The interviews demonstrated the arrogance and lack of accountability in the businessmen of Wall Street. Finally, we made the connection between Fantasia and both The Big Short and The Turner House. Fantasia could be seen as a metaphor for the 2008 market crash: the wizard representing the U.S. government or nation as a whole. They did not stop Mickey who could be seen as the Wall Street tycoons when he kept slacking off and used the magic broom to move water or money in the market. When it got out of control nobody could stop the overflowing water well which could represent the crisis which would cause the market crash. Both Fantasia and the events which would lead up to the 2008 market crash demonstrate examples of moral hazard with both parties facing little to no consequences. All of these pieces of literature tie into one common theme: the market crash is a very complex topic and cannot be answered by one simple answer. Different books and films look at the crash and the events that led up to it with different outlooks and through different  perspectives. It is so important to look back at the 2008 housing crisis not only so we can learn from our past mistakes but also to recognize that people are still suffering from these actions fourteen years later. As a society, we should continue to educate ourselves and realize that people have a lot going on in their lives that we may not understand.

Mini Collaboration #2

Ryan Trebing, Ronnie Trebing, Bailey Foster, Aviana Freece, Riley Weaver, Armaan Garcha 

The Big Short by Micheal Lewis focuses on the events leading up to, surrounding, and consequences of the 2008 housing crisis. The pivotal characters involved are the “higher-ups” in corporations and sneaky CEOs on Wall Street. 

Although The Big Short sheds light on the housing crisis and the financial aspects that go into it, it is missing the real life consequences and the effects it had on people in the financial lower classes. 

One of the key points that is missing in The Big Short would be the discussion of minorities and the effects it had on the community. Minorities, essentially people of color, made up most of the lower financial class. Banks manipulated and took advantage of this group of people without discussing the long term effects of their actions: “…How do you make poor people feel wealthy when their wages are stagnant? You give them cheap loans.” (Lewis, page 14). This quote shows how the banks were giving mortgage loans to the people who could not afford them. They would do this just to cash in big money and become rich. The lower class people of color lost everything after this. The bankers did this because they did not care for this group, all they wanted to do was to make money as fast as possible. “In early October 2008, after the U.S. government had stepped in to say it would, in effect, absorb all the losses in the financial system and prevent any big Wall Street firm from failing…” (Lewis page 247). This quote shows that the “higher-ups” in the financial district of New York City faced no real consequences when their fast money making scheme failed. The U.S. government was there to dime them out when they needed to face the reality of their situation; but they never did, and still have not paid.  

    The Big Short tells about the housing boom that caused banks to give out even more mortgages. They even gave them to people who had no jobs, no income, and no assistance. The lenders were not verifying that the people borrowing the money to buy the house could afford to pay it back. Wall street investments institutions were borrowing heavily to invest in them. This causes them to inflate their value. The lenders offered adjustable mortgage rates that started out very low. People thought they might be able to afford these mortgage rates. Then as the housing market got saturated with too many homes for sale the real estate prices of homes dropped dramatically. People defaulted on their loans and these products became worthless causing a bursting housing bubble and a collapsing Wall Street. The Financial institutions were cut to make profits, even if they had to take advantage of the poor. Borrowers were at first told that they would be able to pay off their loan at a low rate, but this conversation isn’t real. It was a teaser, just to get them to sign up. Subprime loans ended up with high interest rates. The Turner House family went through his experience with their family home. The value of their home went from 40,000 dollars, which they still owned, to the actual market value at that time which was only 4,000 dollars. The Big Short never really went into this whole “Ponzi scheme”. This affected the poor families and their lives.Then as the housing market got saturated with too many homes for sale the real estate prices of homes dropped dramatically. These bankers were mostly concerned in making a lot of money really fast and dishonestly. In The Turner House the real life consequences and damage that Wall Street did is apparent through the unpayable loans and mortgages. For example on page 77 it reads, “The banks are being extra predatory right now. I saw it on the news. They know people can’t pay their mortgages, they knew it when they gave them the loans or let them refinance, but they refuse to renegotiate.” The banks did not care for the lower class people whatsoever. All they wanted was money and this was a great way to take advantage of someone who wasn’t able to do anything about it. The banks would do anything to get the money back that these people owed. “Basically, because you know how these banks are, running through your whole family tree trying to get their money…” (Flournoy page 66). The quote shows how in real life the banks would go through family ties in some cases to get the money they wanted. Some people even resorted to gambling to try and pay off the ridiculous loans and mortgages. Lelah is a prime example of this; even though her gambling was not necessarily related to paying off the family home mortgage, she still suffered the same consequences as a chronic gambler. The Turner House did shed light on situations that The Big Short did not cover or even think about. 

The relevance of these situations and books are prevalent because the consequences of the 2008 housing crisis are still connected to current day 2022 society and economics. People are still suffering and trying to survive from paying mortgages and loans over 10 years ago, while Wall Street still thrives with no accountability of the damages they have done. We see this happening all over the world today in many ways. For example in the Oneida area there are many casinos that are enablers for people with financial issues, possibly still trying to recover from issues caused by the housing crisis. Also COVID-19 not only had an affect on people’s health, it also had an affect on peoples economic situations. At the time of quarantine, a lot of jobs were forcibly shut down and lost, making people lose money and unable to afford basic needs. With this lack of money it can be imagined that it was even harder to pay off loans putting people further into debt. This affects many people’s lives and it will continue to do so in the incoming years. 

ENGL 111 Mini-Collaboration

Myah Dombroski

Annie Urig

Mackenzie Gillen

Giovanni Cicoria-Timm

Ava McCann

Andre Bianchi

Throughout The Big Short by Michael Lewis, the book focuses primarily on those who are going to be potentially benefiting from the infamous 2008 Housing Crisis and not those who were negatively impacted by it. The Big Short provides an insider perspective on the financial crisis and the creation of the credit default swap market. Unlike most portrayals of the crisis, The Big Short introduces those who gained from it, providing a story that had never before been told. The book takes place in mainly corporate settings and involves characters who are mostly employees in the finance sector. The Big Short shows the business side of the crash and does not involve the personal aspect of the effects the event has had on everyday Americans. The book goes in-depth about how the crash came to occur, discussing how risky the subprime mortgage bonds could potentially be and the eventual result it had on the economy and millions of people all across the country.

Although The Big Short provides a detailed depiction of the 2008 Housing Crisis, the depiction is not relatable to the average reader, which is a huge thing that is missing. The Big Short is a story written by an economist about the economy, using terminology and phrasings that, unless the reader is an economist themselves, is generally unfamiliar. On the other hand, The Turner House by Angela Flournoy provides a story about the same Housing Crisis, but through the lens of a middle-class family, something to which every reader can in some way relate. This makes it so that not only is it more impactful, but also more easily understood. Without relatable values, emotions, and moments, The Big Short makes the situation seem more distant, and less terrible, while the 2008 Housing Crisis was one of the most devastating things to hit the American economy in the last few decades. 

The Turner House sheds light on a more personal perspective on how people were affected by the 2008 financial crisis. The Big Short shows an economical standpoint on houses and loans, and how they only affect and benefit the brokers and the company. The Turner House shows the emotional values of the homes and the effects on a family. It also depicts how each sibling is affected in different ways and individually shows their thoughts and feelings. 

There are several examples of the emotional connection that The Turner House provides. While The Big Short provides an economical perspective, The Turner House shows the reader how the issues presented are applicable in real-world scenarios. Because there is an abundance of siblings within The Turner House, many of them hold different views on what should be done with their childhood home while living through the 2008 recession. While Cha Cha, the oldest Turner child, is conversing with Marlene, the fifth Turner child, she states, “If you sell the house I will never forgive you… do this and you break my heart” (198). This quote provides an example of the emotions that come along with the idea of selling the house caused by the recession. The main factor in this conflict of decision is the mother, Viola. Viola is in favor of keeping the house and although she does not currently live there due to illness, she has aspirations of being back in her home. She states, “‘And I don’t want to lose it,’ Viola continued. ‘I plan on movin’ back just as soon as I get strong again. Just a couple more months” (40). This issue also causes emotional conflict for her children and makes the decision much more difficult. 

When it comes to comparing The Big Short to The Turner House, the first thing that caught our attention was the different perspectives provided in each of these texts. The Turner House was a more understandable and relatable story, which made the book itself more effective. In The Big Short, most of the terminology was lost on us as readers, which made it harder to comprehend what was happening and relate to it. For this reason, The Turner House provided a clearer understanding of the situation for readers who didn’t have a firsthand experience with the crisis. As a group, we discussed being too young to remember the Housing Crisis, but The Turner House provides us with a better understanding of the struggles that our families may have experienced. Many families, such as ours, experienced one or more family members losing their jobs, which led to a decrease in financial stability and a need, in some cases, to sell their house to make up for it. The use of pathos within The Turner House makes it an overall more effective text than The Big Short and provides us with more insight into the challenges of the crisis. The use of many siblings allows us to see the different situations people were facing throughout the crisis and makes some characters relatable to what our families face as a result.