Thursday, October 02, 2008

Rather than Checking the Dow Every 3 Seconds

All of Wall Street, and all of Washington for that matter, should be watching this film.
"The one thing an investor doesn't want to know is how connected everything is."
--Ian, Crisis in the Credit System, Part I
Racing to the finish line in a mad dash to be the art that life imitates rather than the other way around, Crisis in the Credit System is online now. Created by artist Melanie Gilligan, the four-part video mimics the best of TV drama (it's actually inspired somewhat by our latest Netflix obsession, The Wire), but it seems to be one of the most prescient pieces ever created:

[It's a] 40-minute online drama described by its makers as "bizarre scenarios reflecting the strangeness of our situation today: life governed increasingly by abstract exchange and the accumulation of profit". Confused? You will be, almost certainly.

Divided into four short, free, downloadable episodes designed to resemble, at first sight, a television series, Crisis in the Credit System begins in a (relatively) conventional vein, as five employees of a large investment bank gather for a brainstorming retreat at an elegant country mansion. Their assignment: to find new ways of tackling the credit crunch via role-play sessions.[...]

The stories were devised by Melanie Gilligan, a Canadian-born conceptual artist based in London; she had shows at Tate Britain and the Serpentine Gallery last year. Gilligan started work on this latest project seven months ago in collaboration with financial journalists, economists and City insiders. "The possibility of a financial crisis has been an important topic for me for years now," she says. Even so, she was unsettled at the speed at which life recently overtook fiction.

Racing to complete the final edit of her film this week – it incorporates some of the weekend's headlines and news stories – Gilligan, 29, cites her influences. They include the hit television crime series The Wire, the enigmatic, cerebral films of Jean-Luc Godard, Raoul Ruiz and Jacques Rivette – and Karl Marx's Das Kapital.

"A lot of that helps you understand the contemporary situation," the artist says. By the close of their weekend retreat, her masters – and mistresses – of the universe are left bewildered, exhausted, disillusioned. But Gilligan denies that her message is baldly that greed is bad. "What I'm trying to say is much more to do with the way the whole system works. We are too focused on making money and economic expansion; not on society's needs."

Is this just modish radical extremism? Not according to Willem Buiter, who is a consultant for the beleaguered former investment bank Goldman Sachs and a professor at the London School of Economics. "Marx is, of course, one of the primary prophets of the crisis of capitalism," says Professor Buiter, one of the specialist advisers for Gilligan's movie. "So it's hard to make a film about it and not run into him. As long as we don't run into Stalin as well, it's not a major issue."

Parts of it, especially when two characters are brainstorming in rapid fire spurts of abstract ideas, feel just this side of an AbFab skit, but it's chilling to hear some of the scenarios. What's particularly frightening is just how long it takes to get the characters to stop thinking profit, profit, profit. In part I, for example, a character works out an "elegant" way to profit from the anxiety of the credit crisis.

I won't offer any other spoilers, but let me just say Kudos to Gilligan for this remarkable project.

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Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

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10/02/2008 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I know our useless leaders in Washington can find no response to the situation other than telling us to "fear, fear, fear," but honestly, we're much better than that as a nation. Things will probably get worse before they get better...but they will get better.

Sensible people buying guns is not a healthy response to the uncertainty. Looking for ways to both help your neighbors and help yourself is a much better path forward. Check on those around you, let them know that if they're scared, you're there for them. Let them know if things are tough, that you'll get through it together.

We know this. We've been here before and done this before.

Panic is for losers. You don't see Warren Buffet panicking.

Watch where you're stepping, but keep moving forward.

10/02/2008 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

The sky is falling, the sky is falling…

10/02/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

then pick up the pieces, make a new artwork out them, and sell it on eBay

I can't stand's beneath us as a country

10/02/2008 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I'm of a mind that things will sort themselves out in the fullness of time. To put some of it all into perspective, here is a link to a PDF with Time magazine covers in similar situations.

10/02/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

The sky is not falling. Panic is what makes things worse actually. Nobody knows what they are saying, I believe, it's all speculation, so why buy the negative instead of looking for positive solutions?

I like your responses here in the comments, Ed, but after all, you're the one who posted this initially, and it is in line with the fears and panic.

Personally, I admit to understanding very little about finance, many of the terms used in this movie are gibberish to me, but I also didn't understand, a year ago, when housing prices went soaring, why do people keep buying??? it just didn't make sense, it was obvious it will crash, and people kept ignoring the warnings... I understand now that they kept buying because money was cheap, banks were giving it away as credit, and now it turns out all this money was fake because the banks gave money they didn't actually have... am I getting it right? so yeah, money and assets lost their value, and American society has to (alas) buy an economy vehicle instead of an suv, maybe cut even more corners and buy less name brands, more generic products, the horror!! I doubt this country faces starvation, with the huge amount of wasted food and crop. Did you know that 5 percent of American's leftovers could feed 4 million people for 1 day? Did you know that US wastes approximately 27% of food available for consumption? So, while there was talk about economic crisis already in effect in Europe for decades, this country is just now waking up to the reality that there needs to be more balance, and greed cannot be the moving force of civilization forever.... Welcome to the world, America, the world welcomes and embraces you with open arms, now step up to the plate, and stop acting like a crying, spoiled baby...

10/02/2008 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cycles. They go up, they go down.

Global warming may be the end of the world, but not this financial melt down.

10/02/2008 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I like your responses here in the comments, Ed, but after all, you're the one who posted this initially, and it is in line with the fears and panic.

Sorry if that's how it reads. I think the movie discussed is pushing beyond the immediate reaction or fear or panic, though, and getting to the underlying source of the situation, which is an emphasis on profit over what people need.

I find the fact that there is something fundamental we can do, a message if you will that can be spread, rather reassuring.

10/02/2008 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

then pick up the pieces, make a new artwork out them, and sell it on eBay

That's my plan! For once, Ed and I are in complete concurrence on the best way to interact with the art market.

I'm looking forward to watching the movie when I have 40 minutes to spare. 'This American Life' also did an excellent piece on the roots of the crisis.

10/02/2008 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

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10/02/2008 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

Buying a gun as things get scary never crossed my mind. I wonder if it's got something to do with upbringing, (after Fascism, Italy was quite pro-peace in the sixties and seventies, at least in the educational system) or if it's the media that is making you panicking completely. Judging by the number of e-mails I get from Michael Moore these days, it may be the US media. From afar, things don't seem that bad. And c'mon, cheer up, you are the Land of Opportunities! If you start being negative what is Europe going to do? Mass suicide? And Japan?

10/02/2008 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/02/2008 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/02/2008 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/02/2008 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

This article in the NY Times As Credit Crisis Spiraled, Alarm Led to Action is a very good explanation of the financial crisis we are going through. At the extremes of the psychological bell curve, moments of extreme fear and greed, no economic system survives unscathed.

10/03/2008 10:10:00 AM  

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