The Power of Perspective

               Every event that occurs has multiple perspectives, interpretations and stories. Today’s political climate and current health crisis illuminates that for me even more. Take people who think they are invincible against the virus and continue to go about activities as normal, negligent of people in more dire situations who cannot afford that kind of luxury, students in public school who need school for meals and shelter, parents who cannot afford to keep their kids at home, families that can’t afford to hoard up on supplies and are left out to dry after the people who can clear out stores and so much more; and while we have never experienced anything like this, past events that cause mass devastation (in an almost similar fashion) illuminate the need to perspective take. A full picture of as massive and devastating an event as the housing crash of 2008, to me, begs that I look at multiple stories to begin patching together my own interpretation of the events, acknowledging when there are holes in my understandings and admitting that I may not be able to understand each unique and personal perspective. No one person is affected completely the same when it comes to crisis, as was seen then with the housing crash and now with the Corona outbreak. This difference in experience is highlighted when comparing The Big Short by Michael Lewis and The Turner House by Angela Flourney.

               The Big Short is about a more. Corporate perspective on the housing crisis. It follows several characters with high positions on wall street who were able to predict the crash and profit from it because of that. It also is chalk full of financial jargon which turned out to be a rather divisive obstacle for me while reading. Stopping every couple of sentences or paragraphs to look something out and diving into these dizzying rabbit holes of definitions made me realize just how much of finances, mortgages, loans etc. that I just don’t understand. However, to both my comfort and discomfort, Lewis’ writing suggests that not even these high up wall street employees completely understand what or why they do some of the things they do. Lewis’ narrative often seemed cold and informative and less humanizing, which I partially attribute to all the jargon. Even when introducing the death of Steve Eisman’s son, it seems glossed over even though it’s meant to indicate a major shift in his character.

               The Turner House follows a family headed by Viola and Francis Turner and their lives on Yarrow Street and after as their children, now adults, struggle to cope with the housing crisis. This novel gives a totally different perspective on the housing crisis as it illuminates how people at the bottom, as compared to Wall Street big shots in The Big Short, were affected by the crisis. With everyone out of the house on Yarrow Street, and Cha Cha being the executor of Viola’s affairs, they have to decide whether pay off the house which was refinanced for $40,000, or short  sell it to the bank for $4,000 and not see a penny of profit. All the siblings all have different issues of their own as well, such as Cha Cha struggling with his marriage, Lelah struggling with homelessness and a consuming gambling addiction, and various expenses, mortgages and things of their own. The narrative arc of this novel, which is somewhat cyclic in nature in how it follows separate lives of the siblings and Viola and Francis in both the past and present, illuminates just how deeply the housing crisis can effect a family, and how problems began even before the official crash.

               What The Big Short misses in humanizing the crisis, The Turner House accounts for, while also educating in a entirely different way sans a lot of financial jargon. It also shows the disparities caused by race, seeing as the Turner family is black and they live in the South where racial tensions often run higher. I thought the novels discussion of pride, particularly the pride of black people to show that. They are as equal and capable as their white counterparts was particularly interesting, especially in regard to the housing crisis. Francis, for example, was too proud to accept Reverend Tufts letter of recommendation to help him find work and decided to find work on his own, which lead him to a job that did not pay well and caused Viola to work more on her father’s sharecropping land. Another example that I found compelling was when the siblings had their first meeting about what to do with the house and Troy said, “But let some millionaire buy a whole bunch of lots at once…and all of a sudden the city will start cutting deals for them. Pennies on the dollar, I’ll bet you anything.” (pg. 37).  This quote shows a stubbornness to not just keep the house because of sentimental value but to keep it from the corruption of wealthy people buying land for cheap and turning. It for profit, consequently running people from their homes and making it more difficult to get by in a neighborhood that once welcomed them. There’s a degree of racial pride in this too, I believe, because these “millionaires” Troy is referring to are seldom people of color, and they are seldom looking out for the interest of people of color- which proves true in The Big Short. Also, their house on Yarrow Street which is described as being on the East side of town, known for being run down and impoverished, makes their plight to figure out what to do with the house even more difficult.

               While neither The Turner House or The Big Short provide the full picture of the effects and Causes of the 2008 housing crisis, their differing views and perspectives have allowed me to get a better understanding of the situation as a whole. The Big Short also made me question my immediate desire to demonize government and corporations completely and to try to understand some of the decisions a little better before jumping to conclusions.

Power Struggles in King Lear

This semester we’ve emphasized the multi-faceted function of words, how different definitions may subvert expectations and even how two seemingly different definitions for the same words can connect. Two words we’ve been focusing on are “liquid” and “swap”, and while both have common, everyday definitions, they also have very specific financial definitions. Liquid is both defined as, “flowing freely like water” and, “consisting of or capable of ready conversion into cash.” Both definitions emphasize a sort of ease of motion or transference which can be applied to many of the relationships in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Swap is both defined as, “to make an exchange” and, “a derivative contract through which two parties exchange the cash flows or liabilities from two different financial instruments.” The transactional nature evident in both definitions becomes very relevant in the ever-changing power dynamics present in King Lear. This play displays a classic power struggle that winds up with everyone dead, similar to Game of Thrones (sorry if you haven’t watched it yet but everyone dies in an insanely dramatic power struggle). So, while there is this liquidity and constant swapping of power, the ending begs the question of, was it worth it?

            Act 1 Scene 1 depicts Lear and his three daughters deciding the future divisions of the kingdom. In order to divvy up the land, Lear asks his daughters to express how much they love him, and then based off their answers, gives them their allotted land. This tactic is purely transactional and is a form of Lear liquifying his assets for perceived love. Goneril and Regan’s lengthy responses filled with niceties and frivolous language, are indicative of just how transactional this interaction is. In knowing that their land is at stake, Goneril and Regan are able to put any earnest emotions aside and swap them for pretty words that are sure to secure them wealth. Cordelia, decidedly refuses to partake in this extravagant talking up of Lear and in return for choosing honesty is disowned by her father, giving us one of our first examples of expulsion in the play. Because she doesn’t engage in her father’s transactional requests for verbal reassurance, she loses any chance of inheriting any of his liquid assets. This initial scene sets a precedent for the rest of the play that emphasizes money and wealth over honesty which is mirrored in so much of Game of Thrones where land and wealth is often acquired by shear force and brutality and people’s personal interests are often their driving force.

            Another early example of expulsion that we see is with Edmund and his father, Gloucester. Because Edmund is not Gloucester’s legitimate son like Edgar is, he’s not included in hiss will and consequently will get no land or power once Gloucester dies. Feeling wronged and kept out or expelled, Edmund plots to gain his father’s wealth by turning him against his brother. When his plot proves successful, you see a power swap between Edmund and Edgar, from illegitimate to legitimate and vice versa for Edgar. The ease of this swap also made me wonder at how close Gloucester and Edgar’s familial tires were in the first place and just how much monetary anxiety lead Gloucester’s decisions. Never did Gloucester question Edmund’s actions or motivations which somewhat speaks to the blinding power of money and wealth and how it can skew people’s faith when they feel that their wealth is threatened. I liken this power and money over family to one of the early introductions to Daenerys’ character. In order to regain power, her brother sells her to Khal Drogo as a wife, where she is taken away from the only home she’s known and faces many traumatic events, all for her brother to gain the upper hand which he (thankfully does not get) and is later killed by Daenerys’ orders, which serves as some great poetic justice. That kind of poetic justice is also mirrored in the ending of Edmund, Edgar and Gloucester’s story when Edgar (the Daenerys of this story) kills Edmund (Daeynery’ brother figure) after confronting him about his wrongdoings.

            Just as the acquisition of power shapes the characters in this play, the loss of power is just as transformative. We see this with King Lear’s expulsion from both Goneril and Regan’s castles, when he is left to fend for himself out in the thick of a horrible storm. I found this part to be particularly interesting because of the significance of the literal liquid in this scene. Water is often symbolic of rebirth and in this scene King Lear’s revelation of his shortcomings as a leader and father can be seen as a rebirth due to his new loss of power. In Act 3, Scene 4 Lear says, “How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, your looped and windowed raggedness defend you from seasons such as these? O I have ta’en too little care of this.” This line indicates that now not blinded by power, he’s able to see his inadvertent cruelty towards his people which is very ironic partially because Lear does not really possess a liquidity of the mind in the sense that he is very rigid in his beliefs throughout the play, but this change in his position is able to change his mind in this case.

            At the end of Game of Thrones, Daeneyrs loses her mind and sets the capital alight with her dragons. Many who were fighting for power die and I was left feeling confused at angry about this ending which I believed to be hasty and callous- which is similar to how I felt about the ending of King Lear. Why have this grand build up only for everyone to die? However, after revisiting it and comparing the two stories, perhaps they’re both arguments about how power and wealth can corrupt people with even the firmest of values, and with this in mind these endings have started to grow on me just a bit.