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.

Taking A Second Glance: The Flow of Corruption, Fraud, and Character Development in William Shakespeare’s King Lear

Many things in life often require a second, or even third glance. The definitions of terms that seemed fairly economic, and then relating those terms to William Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear, was something that required many second glances on my part. So many of these terms had various definitions and/or uses- corruption, fraud, liquid(ity), and swap(ping)- that they needed to be looked at in a different lighting, at various different angles. How could terms that seem so fiscal and modern have anything to do with a Shakespearean tragedy?

 Investopedia describes liquidity as the degree to which an asset (the most liquid asset being cold, hard cash) can be quickly bought or sold in the market at a price reflecting its intrinsic value.  Swap(ping) is defined by Investopedia as a contract through which two parties exchange liabilities from two different financial instruments. In addition, Investopedia describes fraud as an intentionally deceptive action designed to provide the fraudster with an unlawful gain.  Upon first glance I struggled with seeing these terms in relation to King Lear. Expulsion made sense to me very early on in the play. As did swap(ping) after a little more reading, but where did words like liquid(ity), corruption, or fraud fit in? Merriam-Webster has less financially rooted definitions of these terms. Liquid(ity) is defined as “moving freely like water” or as “easily seen through”. In a simpler sense, something that is liquid could be also described as transparent, and flowing. Merriam-Webster describes fraud as intentional distortion of truth in order to deceive another party. Again, to put into simpler terms, fraud could be withholding the truth (or some pieces of it), giving false information, or for lack of a better expression, a lie, all in trade for some form of personal gain. Corruption goes somewhat hand-in-hand with fraud. The word is described as dishonest behavior by someone (like a boss or a king), or many someones (like a company or government), in a position of power. After taking a deeper look into the definitions of these terms, and looking deeper into King Lear itself, everything started to flow together more sensibly. These terms can actually all be seen very early on in the play. They are carried throughout the entire text through the developments of most of the characters, as well as the interactions and relationships they have with one another. 

In Act 1 Scene 1, King Lear makes the decision to divide the land of his kingdom among his three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Lear decides the value of his land can easily be swapped for declarations of love and loyalty by his daughters. Essentially, he is asking (bribing) his daughters to verbally praise (or practically worship) him publicly, in front of many other nobles, and in trade, he will provide them with a share of his property. King Lear’s behavior can easily be compared to that of a corrupt power figure.

 By giving into their father’s demands for adoration, Goneril and Regan quickly recognize they will benefit from this, even if it means stretching the truth and exaggerating the love they have for their father. When looking at corruption as a verb (to corrupt), Regan and Goneril have been corrupted by their father’s bribery. Lying to gain ownership of a piece of the kingdom, thus increasing not only their financial wealth, but social status as well. Land-owners have been higher on the socioeconomic social hierarchy of our society for a very, very long time, even dating back to periods before Shakespeare. Later in the play, Regan and Goneril further their fraudulent and corrupt behaviors in their disloyalty to their husbands by, both, having an affair with Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester. Admittedly, I don’t know much about this, and this is probably mildly off topic, but I just feel like having 1.) an adulterous affair, with 2.) a bastard is probably not great for your social status. How and/or what they think that they are gaining, or going to gain from that, I am still uncertain no matter how many different ways I try and look at it. 

 Lear’s third daughter, Cordelia, however, is very transparent in her response, “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth: I love your majesty according to my bond; nor more nor less”, telling her father that she does love him, but she is not going to lie to him for her own gain. Unlike her sisters, Goneril and Regan, she is not corrupted by her father’s bribery. Despite her honesty, her share of the kingdom is swapped for nothing (“Nothing will come of nothing.”). Nothing, except expulsion from her family and her kingdom (and later, her death). 

The idea of corruption, and its many definitions and uses, require a second look  when we put it next to Edmund. His character’s actions could easily be described as corrupt. Yet, his actions could be explained by how Edmund feels the society he was born into is the corrupt one in this situation. Being the illegitimate son of Gloucester, Edmund has been forced into the back seat in comparison to his brother, Edgar. Due to his status as a bastard child, he is not the heir to his father’s land, and fortune, and all that jazz, and he feels robbed by these unfair rules that the corrupt society he is living in has basically forced upon him. If nothing else, Edmund can most definitely be described as a fraudster, or a person who commits fraud (aka: a dirty liar). In hopes of swapping places with Edgar on the hierarchy of their (again, possibly corrupt) society, Edmund says “Edmund the base shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper: Now, gods, stand up for bastards!”. He then proceeds to convince their father, through a forged letter (lies on top of lies), that Edgar plans to kill Gloucester and take over the kingdom, when in reality they’re all his plans.  

One of the more famously quoted lines of King Lear is “Nothing will come of nothing”, said by King Lear himself to his daughter, Cordelia, when she tells the truth and refuses to comply with the corruptness of her father and sisters. If we do nothing, we cannot expect something. I do find some irony in this, as most of those who did “something” in this particular play all wound up dead in the end (Granted, these were also the people described as corrupt and/or frauds). All in all, this quote answers a question asked by many, myself included: How can Shakespeare still be relevant to our modern world?  It’s everywhere. If we do nothing, we get nothing. In political circles I have heard it said “if you didn’t vote, you can’t complain”. In laws of science– an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Even in contemporary musical theatre– if you stand for nothing, what will you fall for? My new question is not a how, but a when. As in, when will Shakespeare’s works not be relevant to our modern world and contemporary issues?