"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

American Animals, Anthony Bourdain and Late Stage American Empire

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes 59 seconds

THE FOUR HORSEMAN COMETH

A couple weeks ago on a Thursday night, I realized that I was free the following Friday morning, so I decided to schedule a movie. After scanning what was available, I settled on American Animals. I didn't know much about the film but thought I would roll the dice. It ended up being a synchronistically wise choice.  

After a fitful sleep, on Friday morning I awoke to the news that Anthony Bourdain had killed himself. As it is with news of any suicide, I was deeply unsettled upon hearing it. I was not a fan of Bourdain's, I had never seen his show and do not consider myself a "foodie" in the slightest, but still his death by his own hand was jarring. 

What added to my shock at Bourdain's death was that the night before, I had watched a 2012 documentary directed by Ross Ashcroft, titled The Four Horseman. That documentary referenced Sir John Glubb, a British historian who in 1976 wrote an essay titled "The Fate of Empires". In that work, Grubb lists the seven stages of Empire which are...1. Pioneers, 2. Conquest, 3. Commerce, 4. Affluence, 5. Intellect, 6. Decadence and 7. Decline and Collapse. 

The Four Horseman film argued that the U.S. was in stage 6 - Decadence, in 2012, the year of its release. Accoring to Sir Glubb's thesis, signs of an empire In the age of decadence include an undisciplined - overextended military, conspicuous displays of wealth, massive disparity between rich and poor, obsession with sex, exorbitantly wealthy sports stars, and synchronistically enough...celebrity chefs…like Anthony Bourdain. In fact, one of the chefs the film shows to make its point is Bourdain. If Bourdain was a symbol of American Empire's decadence in 2012, in 2018 he is now the canary in the coal mine, and his suicide is a foreboding omen. 

AMERICAN ANIMALS

Which brings us to American Animals. American Animals is a remarkable film, not because it is exquisitely made, it isn't, or masterfully acted, it isn't, but because it so accurately and unflinchingly diagnoses the disease that is killing America. While I watched American Animals I couldn't help but think of Bourdain, and to a lesser extent designer Kate Spade (only because I had never heard of her until her death - to the shock of no one, I am not much of  an accessories aficionado) because what ailed Bourdain and Spade, and what ails all of America, men in particular, is what propels the story of American Animals….namely a total lack of meaning and purpose in our lives and the suffocating depression that accompanies that void.

Of course, most people would look at Bourdain and Spade's glamorous lives and think they lived with tremendous meaning and purpose, they had it all…but something was missing. Their lives were as empty, vacant and devoid of meaning as the rest of ours despite their wealth and fame. Bourdain and Spade are symbols of the recurring theme of a fading empire where "you can never get enough of what you don't need". Their lives were representative of America's (and the West's) decadence, as they became famous for feeding our insatiable appetite for the frivolous, and in death they are symbolic of the existential angst and ennui that grows like a terminal cancer upon our collective soul. 

WARNING SIGNS FROM PROPHETS OF DOOM

According to Sir John Glubb's theory on the stages of empire, America is certainly either in the very tail end of the decadence phase or across the Rubicon into the decline/collapse phase. Glubb's theory coincides with other philosopher/historians view on the subject and they all point towards America being in the late stage of empire.

For instance, Camille Paglia has spoken of the rise of transgender mania as a sign of the decline/collapse of civilizations, citing Greece, Rome, the Mauve decade and Weimar Germany as examples. 

Paglia states that transgenderism has become a fashion used to treat the alienation from which some people suffer. Paglia warns of the two headed beast that is the current attachment to the transgender issue…namely that as the cosmopolitan acceptance of such things grow, its shadow grows as well in the form of a brutal, uber-masculine authoritarianism. Paglia cites ISIS as a current example, but one doesn't have to go far in history to see other horrifying examples, like Hitler's Germany filling the void created by the collapse of Weimar Germany. A quick glance around the world today also shows the shadow of hyper masculine authoritarianism rising from Trump's America to Russia (Putin), the Philippines (Duterte), China Xi) and Turkey (Erdogan) to name but a few.

Glubb and Paglia's theories of America being in a state of decadence or on the cusp of decline/collapse, are reinforced by other historian philosophers. WIlliam Strauss and Neil Howe wrote of their generational theory in their book "The Fourth Turning of America". Howe and Strauss believe that history is cyclical and is defined by generations falling into different 20 year archetypes that repeat over an 80 to 100 year cycle. According to Howe and Strauss in The Fourth Turning, a generational cycle is made up of four "turnings" which they define as 1. High (growth), 2. Awakening (maturation), 3. Unraveling (entropy) and 4. Crisis (destruction). In The Fourth Turning, which was published in 1997, Howe and Strauss predict America would be entering into its next "fourth turning" around the time of 2008 (which oddly enough coincided with the financial collapse of that period) which would last about twenty years. For an indication of what a Fourth Turning holds, the previous Fourth Turnings in American history brought us the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Depression and World War II.

Howe and Strauss's theory of generational cycles is played out on a macro scale by German historian/philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) in his magnum opus "The Decline of the West" where he wrote of the four seasons of civilizations. Spengler wrote of civilizations going through the same cycle as the seasons of a year, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, except over a thousand year period. According to Spengler, Western civilization is on the downside of its run, and is into its extended "winter". 

"NO ONE WANTS TO BE ORDINARY"

As Neizstche tells us, God is dead…and he's right. The God that was the foundation, for good or ill, of 2,000 years of Spengler's western civilization, is no more, and unlike our current stock market, the God bubble is one you cannot re-inflate. No Gods have stepped forward to adequately fill the void left by the Judeo-Christian God, and so we are left in a state of disorientation…as we stumble around seeking something with which to orient ourselves. 

As the tagline of American Animals says, "No one wants to be ordinary", which could be the tagline for the American Church of Self. In trying to replace the God of the last two centuries, Americans have hit the apex of individualism by trying to turn ourselves into gods. 

One form of our Self worship is the Religion of Celebrity. In America in the reality tv age, everyone can be a star, or dream of themselves as a potential star. We have fisherman (Deadliest Catch), truck drivers (Ice Road Truckers), chefs (a whole channel of them!), rednecks (Honey Boo Boo), hoarders (Hoarders), criminals (Lock Up) and even junkies (Intervention) having shows made about them. Anyone doing anything anywhere can have delusions of grandeur about a television show being made about their lives. The mundane is now insane as we try to evolve into gods at the center of our own universe. 

Our culture routinely trivializes the sacred and it has forced us into pernicious indivualism and away from collectivism, in order to look for meaning within ourselves. Our cultural and personal narcissism keeps us glued to the black mirror tabernacle of our various screens in a never-ending search for validation and love. This self absorption leads to a toxic myopia that has spread like a contagion throughout our entire culture, from politics, where no one sees beyond the next election, to finance where no one sees beyond the next earnings period, to our personal lives, where no one sees beyond the next hit of endorphins brought on by consuming something…anything…in order to fill the void in our souls. 

NARCISSUS AND MORPHEUS

The opioid epidemic is another sign of America's decline/collapse. Narcissus was unable to look away from his Self and so he died, just as Americans cannot turn away from their virulent individualism and its accompanying arrogant self-absorption, and so they fall into the arms of Morpheus and into an extended narcosis, which comes from the same root word "Narco"- meaning numbness, as Narcissus, and means a state of stupor or unconsciousness. We are numbed and put into a stupor by our iPhone obsessed self-absorption and opioids are just an extension of that yearning to detach and numb. Notice it is an "I" phone that we are gazing into all day long…mesmerized by our own reflection staring back.

The ritual of buying and fixing with narcotics has replaced the sacred rituals of the Judeo-Christian God. The new God is Self and with opioids, one dissolves into themselves entirely, and the pain of the outer world disappears, at least momentarily, and is replaced with the bliss of Godhood. 

"THE CAPITALIST WILL SELL YOU THE ROPE WITH WHICH YOU INTEND TO HANG YOURSELF" - ME TERRIBLY MISQUOTING VLADIMIR LENNIN

Besides the epidemic of opioid abuse, further proof of America being in decline/collapse is that it is also in the throes of a suicide epidemic, as suicide has increased 30% since 1999. Sadly, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade were caught in this growing wave of suicide, and yet they were rich and famous but money and fame are a poor spiritual salve…as they only lead their adherents to feeling even more empty and despondent. 

American Consumerism/Capitalism is equally vacuous and noxious, as we try to purchase meaning and purpose and only end up with an even greater vacancy within ourselves. As the Adam Curtis documentary Century of the Self so insightfully reveals, Americans have been taught to want, and to instinctively try to satiate that want through consumerism. In a never ending cycle, we are conditioned to feel alienated and then to want to assuage our alienation by buying something that will take our anxiety and alienation away. In many ways, Paglia makes this same argument regarding transgenderism, which is now sold to young people as a way to cure their sense of alienation. 

What is even more remarkable, is that according to Rene Girard's Mimetic theory, it takes little effort to condition people to want something, as Girard explains that one person sees what another person wants and then decides they want the same thing BECAUSE the other wants it. This is a contagion that spreads quickly, and can be another explanation for transgenderisms rise in the West and also America's cascading decline (opioids, suicide, gun violence etc.). It also explains American Capitalisms numerous financial bubbles, where people so easily get seduced into the irrational exuberance accompanying the inflation of a bubble, and are so remarkably blind to the fundamentally unsound economics underlying a bubble, which cause it to inevitably collapse. Look no further than the housing/financial collapse of 2008 for an example of that, or take a gander at our current stock market which is overvalued by at least 50% beyond any reason, to understand how to see what the uncomfortable realities in front of one's nose is a constant struggle. 

"OUR GREAT WAR IS A SPIRITUAL WAROUR GREAT DEPRESSION IS OUR LIVES" - FIGHT CLUB

As I watched the young men of American Animals, victims of their own unconsciously conditioned desires, frantically flail around trying to extinguish the malaise in their souls by attempting to find meaning and purpose in their empty lives through an idiotic heist, I thought of this quote from Fight Club, 

"We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no great war. No Great Depression. Our Great War is a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

Chuck Palahntuk wrote that in 1997 and it is as accurate a diagnosis of a time (then and now) and a place (America) as any document in the history of mankind. The sickness of which Palahntuk wrote, and which American Animals shows, is spreading and gaining in strength. The  opioid crisis, suicide epidemic, pornification of our culture, egregious financial and political  corruption and worship of celebrity and sport are all signs of our decadence morphing into our decline and collapse. 

9-11 was the beginning of the end of America's run atop the world order and the financial crisis of 2008 was the end of the beginning of the end….and Trump is the first snowfall in what will be a long, cold and dark winter. Winter isn't coming. Winter is here. And Puxtapawny Phil won't come out to see his shadow any time soon because he has hanged himself in his den. 

A palpable despair has fallen like a pall over America. The fear of the end of the decadence we have known and its replacement by an ominous unknown is deeply unnerving to many. Foundational collapse shakes things and people to their core and America is quaking with an unconscious consternation of what is around the corner.

What comes next could be as banal as America falling from atop the world order and simply being replaced by a group of super power nations or another hyper-power (China?). Or it could be the U.S. dollar losing its status as the reserve currency of the world…or a Soviet style collapse…or a major and catastrophic war…or a devastating financial meltdown…or American democracy being usurped into a dictatorship or splintered by a civil war…or any other calamity or series of calamities. I do not know exactly what will happen, all I know is that the way things have been for the last 20 years, never mind the last 70 years, won't last much longer and that even more tumult and turmoil is on the way.  

CYCLES OF HISTORY

A big part of the reason why Americans are feeling such despair is that we in the west are conditioned to see history as linear, not cyclical. This linear thinking is detrimental to our mental health because it brings with it a built in myopia that can fan the flames of despair. When people feel that history moves in a straight line, they come to believe that things will always be moving in the direction they are now, forever, which leads to irrational optimism during good times and a devastating feeling of futility and lack of resilience in bad times. 

But a cyclical view of history is an antidote to this unease, as Strauss and Howe write, the crisis brought upon by the apex of individualism in the Fourth Turning does eventually pass…and will always be replaced with something much more upbeat, optimistic and collective. The only question to ponder now is how long will our era of collapse last? Will we live long enough to see the brighter days of the First Turning of the next era? 

As America and the West spiral downward, pain, anguish, angst and despair will steadily rise. We are seeing it already en masse in our culture with opioid addiction, suicides and mass shootings. The perils of living in such a time are numerous. The advice I would give is do not fall prey to the sirens call of the flag-waving optimist who is a dictator in disguise or the fool's gold of an over-inflated stock market. It would also be wise to not fall victim to your emotions, which are constantly being nefariously manipulated and exploited, but instead rely upon your reason. As those around you lose their heads…struggle mightily to keep yours…and above all else…keep breathing.

GOING THROUGH HELL

As I have been tracking my own historical wave theory (Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory®), I have mentioned many times on this website that this year (and in the previous few years) there have been numerous signs in cinema of the impending collapse of American empire, including Deadpool, Infinity War, A Quiet Place, American Animals and Hereditary.

Last year cinema was overflowing with the Churchillian archetype (and its shadow - The Authoritarian) in movies such as Dunkirk and Darkest Hour and the tv show The Crown. I wish I could've relayed a bit of Winston Churchill's advice to Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade as they suffered the torment of their dark night of the soul, from which they would not survive…but since they are not hear to read my words, I will share Churchill's sage advice with you in case in the coming turmoil you find yourself lost in the same Sea of Despair as Bourdain and Spade. 

"If you find yourself going through hell…KEEP GOING!"

In closing, sit back and enjoy some easy listening mid-90's alt-rock/pop that astutely describes the lack of meaning and purpose that is decaying America from the inside out. Mr. Jones and me...we are desperately trying to distract ourselves by any means necessary from the devastation that is hurtling towards us at an ever quickening pace…sha la, la, la yeah.

Mr. Jones

Counting Crows

Sha la, la, la, la, la, la
Oh
Uh, huh

I was down at the New Amsterdam
Starin' at this yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation
With a black-haired flamenco dancer
You know, she dances while his father plays guitar
She's suddenly beautiful, we all want something beautiful
Man, I wish I was beautiful
So come dance this silence down through the mornin'

Sha la, la, la, la, la, la, la
Yeah
Uh, huh
Yeah

Cut up, Maria
Show me some of them Spanish dances
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
Believe in me
Help me believe in anything
'Cause I, I wanna be someone who believes
Yeah

Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales
And we stare at the beautiful women
She's looking at you
Ah, no, no, she is looking at me
Smilin' in the bright lights
Comin' through in stereo
When everybody loves you
You can never be lonely

Well I'm a paint my picture
Paint myself in blue, red, black and gray
All of the beautiful colors are very, very meaningful
Yeah, well you know, gray is my favorite color
I felt so symbolic yesterday
If I knew Picasso
I would buy myself a gray guitar and play

Mr. Jones and me look into the future
Yeah, we stare at the beautiful women
She's looking at you I don't think so, she's looking at me
Standin' in the spotlight
I bought myself a gray guitar
When everybody loves me
I will never be lonely
I will never be lonely
Said I'm never gonna be lonely

I wanna be a lion
Ah, everybody wanna pass as cats
We all wanna be big, big stars
Yeah, but we got different reasons for that
Believe in me 'cause I don't believe in anything
And I, I wanna be someone to believe
To believe, to believe
Yeah

Mr. Jones and me stumbling through the Barrio
Yeah, we stare at the beautiful women
She's perfect for you
Man, there's got to be somebody for me
I wanna be Bob Dylan
Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky
When everybody love you
Ah son, that's just about as funky as you can be

Mr. Jones and me starin' at the video
When I look at the television
I wanna see me starin' right back at me
We all wanna be big stars
But we don't know why and we don't know how
But when everybody loves me
I wanna be just about as happy as I can be
Mr. Jones and me, we're gonna be big stars

 

©2018

 

The Big Short : A Review, a Diagnosis and a Warning

ESTIMATED READING TIME: TEN MINUTES

 

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!!****

 

MY RATING: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE!

 

"IT AIN'T WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW THAT GETS YOU IN TROUBLE, IT'S WHAT YOU KNOW FOR SURE THAT JUST AIN'T SO." - MARK TWAIN

The Big Short, directed by Adam Mckay and written by McKay and Charles Randolph (based on the book The Big Short by Michael Lewis), is the story of a collection of men who foresaw the financial collapse of 2007/2008 and bet big against the housing bubble and Wall Street and won.

The Big Short is a truly remarkable film, without a doubt one of the very best of the year. It takes the difficult and complex subject of finance in general, and the collapse of 2007/2008 in particular, and not only breaks it down into understandable pieces, but does so in an extremely entertaining and insightful way.

When The Big Short ended and the credits rolled, I was curious as to who directed the film. I was stunned when I saw that Adam McKay, of all people, had directed it. Prior to The Big Short,  Adam McKay was better known as Will Ferrell's director, having been at the helm for the Ferrell films Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Stepbrothers, and Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues. In my mind, directing a singular comedic talent like Will Ferrell amounts to turning on the cameras and getting out of the way. It was previously unthinkable that a director with Adam McKay's resume would have the skill to make a film as impeccably crafted as The Big Short. McKay's direction is nothing short of masterful. McKay is able to flawlessly weave together the multiple, complicated narratives of the film, all while never losing the mesmerizing pace of the story. He shows a tremendously deft touch even with the most minor of scenes and lets the visuals tell as much of the story as the dialogue. 

There is a subtlety and specificity to McKay's direction that speaks volumes to his talent and vision. Two sequences stand out in this respect. The first is when we see a brief daytime long shot of Las Vegas with a freeway in the foreground where a homeless man urinates in the shadows of the traffic. The man, with his shopping cart filled with his possessions by his side, is barely visible in the shot, but that is the point, because those obliviously driving by him on the freeway above are blind to his plight and the one that awaits them as well.

The second shot is of a man and his family, who we meet very briefly earlier in the film, evicted from their rental home because of a landlord who gets foreclosed upon. The family now live in their van parked at a convenience store. This scene, which is visuals accompanied by a voice-over not directly connected to the action, shows a little boy running away from the family van. The shot is maybe three seconds long, but it stops your heart it is so well done. This shot cinematically conveys to the viewer absolutely everything they need to know, and all without a word. It shows how vulnerable and dangerous life is for people on the margins in America. My reaction to that brief shot was visceral…how could it not be? The shot is so quick you can only react to it on a gut level, and at that level, you instantly fear that the little boy will run into traffic. That shot connects the bigger story of The Big Short, to the human story of those devastated by the housing collapse. That little boy is in danger and it is because of the shenanigans of the big banks. These two shots/sequences are the type of small details that make all the difference in a film, and they highlight Adam McKay's exquisite direction of The Big Short.

The acting in the film is solid across the board. Ryan Gosling easily does the best work of his career as Jared Vennett, a bond salesman at Deutsche bank. He gives a funny, dynamic and charismatic performance that is the engine driving the film forward. Steve Carrell does exhaustive work playing the unlikable but ultimately compelling Michael Baum, the manager of a hedge fund whom Vennett approaches to invest against the housing market. Christian Bale gives a layered and intricate performance as Dr. Michael Burry, the eccentrically awkward mastermind who uncovers the fraud at the heart of the housing bubble. Brad Pitt brings a surprising gravity and humanity to the film as former JP Morgan trader Ben Rickert, and acts as a counterbalance to Gosling's fast talking and ego-driven Vennet. The rest of the cast is superb as well, with Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen among others who all do standout work.

"TRUTH IS LIKE POETRY, AND MOST PEOPLE HATE POETRY" - OVERHEARD AT A WASHINGTON, D.C. BAR

I saw The Big Short in the theatre on the same day that I saw Spotlight. This was just by coincidence, but in hindsight it is easy to see that the movies are actually companion pieces. They have a lot in common as both The Big Short and Spotlight are flawlessly crafted films. Both pictures are superbly written, acted, directed, shot and edited. In addition both The Big Short and Spotlight explore similar themes, namely institutional blindness, perverted forms of religion, and the moral and ethical rot at the center of American life. 

"TO SEE WHAT IS IN FRONT OF ONE'S NOSE NEEDS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE." - GEORGE ORWELL

The institutional blindness on display in The Big Short runs not only through Wall Street, but also the media and Washington. When you hear talking heads on television say that no one saw the financial collapse of 2007-2008 coming, realize that this is just one more form of that blindness. Hindsight is usually 20/20, but not when you are unable to admit you were catastrophically wrong in the first place. As the great American Prophet (or is it Profit?) Dr. Phil is fond of saying, "you can't change what you don't acknowledge"…you're god-damned right about that, good doctor. Besides the characters at the center of The Big Short, there were other people who saw the collapse coming too, but they were the "wrong" people, so no one listened to them. Hell, even a clueless dope like me saw it coming. Ask my poor clients who had to listen to me ramble on and on about it day after day. Of course, most of those clients, and most of my friends, just nodded politely at my ramblings and ignored them…and lost a ton of money. I, and a very tight circle of friends, ended up being right not because we were geniuses, God and you dear reader know that isn't true, but rather because we weren't infected by the mania brought on by the lure of easy money that had gripped, and still grips, the nation. One of the glaring symptoms of this mania is that it brings with it a greed-induced frenzy that makes it, to paraphrase Orwell, 'hard to see what is right in front of your nose'.

The institutional blindness at the core of American capitalism comes from years of uncritical thinking from the people inside its foundational institutions. No one at any level of the American capitalism food chain, from University economics and finance departments, to the media to government to Wall street, dare question the basic premise of American capitalism because it has become a most-holy, sacred religion. This religion deems insatiable greed not only healthy for the economy, but a "good" and worthy attribute for everyone. This new church of American capitalism found a cinematic saint in Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street, but St. Gordon was just preaching the gospel of the semi-non-fictional Saint Ronald Reagan from the early 1980's. Both St. Gordon and St. Ronnie were followed by free market saint and snake oil salesman extraordinaire, Bill Clinton in the 90's, who cleared the way for "unfettered, free-market capitalism" to take a giant shit on all of us.

"THE CAPITALIST WILL SELL YOU THE ROPE WITH WHICH YOU INTEND TO HANG HIM" - VLADIMIR LENNIN

Ask anyone with an advanced degree in economics or finance if during their long years of schooling they ever had to take a course on an alternative economic system to capitalism. The answer will be a resounding "no". That is not to say that socialism or communism or any other "ism" is better than American capitalism. But it is to say that when people are taught, or more accurately, conditioned, to NOT think critically about their economic system (or anything else for that matter), then that system stops being an economic one and starts being a religious one. Religion is based on faith and to its faithful adherents, is beyond reproach…see Spotlight as evidence of that. When something as profane as American capitalism becomes sanctified, corruption and collapse are sure to follow, just as it did with Soviet "socialism". With religion comes magical thinking, and so it is with American capitalism, which must contort reality in order to reinforce its faith based belief system. So we get deformed and distorted economic information from the powers that be because they must keep the house of cards standing at all cost. The Big Short humorously shows how while the underlying mortgages crumbled, the mortgage backed securities made up of those same bad mortgages actually went up. That is what happens in religion when reality doesn't conform to the sacred belief system, magical thinking kicks in and…MIRACLES OCCUR…up can become down, black can become white, or as those of us living in reality say…FRAUD HAPPENS. This charade of American capitalism can only last so long, as reality has a funny way of cutting through the bullshit of magical thinking and kicking you right in the nuts…just ask Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns.

"TELL ME THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STUPID AND ILLEGAL AND I'LL HAVE MY WIFE'S BROTHER ARRESTED" - JARED VENNET, THE BIG SHORT

See, in American capitalism, fraud is not a bug, but a feature, it is baked into the cake. Fraud and magical thinking are at the very heart of American capitalism. The fraud that runs rampant is easy to see.  We have all of the big banks rigging bids on municipal bonds and bilking every city in the nation for billions of dollars. Then we have Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays, Bank of America, UBS and Citigroup and the LIBOR scandal, where they manipulated the world's interest rates and in so doing a good portion of the world's economy. Then there is the fraud on display in The Big Short where big banks defrauded their customers in order to cover their asses as the mortgage market tumbled. This doesn't even touch upon the criminality of banks laundering money for drug cartels, or rate-rigging the currency rates

In all of these scandals, no one was sent to prison. No one was held criminally liable. The Banks simply paid a fine, sometimes in the billions of dollars, but never had to admit to wrong doing. This is the casino-gulag business model, banks make $10 billion in fraud and only pay $1 billion in fines. That is a pretty good deal if you can get it…and the big banks know how to get it.

I had a conversation recently with an older friend, very conservative, who told me that he was "sick and tired of all the big bank bashing" because Wall Street "creates a lot jobs and a lot of wealth". I nodded politely so as to not offend his religious belief in American capitalism. The reality is that Wall Street, like Las Vegas, "creates" nothing, but they do "engineer" more gambling opportunities where the house always wins, and the concept of "the common good" never has to rear its ugly head.

"THE IGNORANT MIND, WITH ITS INFINITE AFFLICTIONS, PASSIONS AND EVILS, IS ROOTED IN THE THREE POISONS. GREED, ANGER AND DELUSION." - BODHIDHARMA

This taps into the moral and ethical rot at the center of America. Wall Street and Main Street, both infected with an insatiable greed, no longer invest, they speculate. The myopic greed and lure of easy money that has infested America makes corporations and regular people cut off their nose to spite their face, all in the name of higher short-term earnings and to the detriment of the long term, the common good and common sense. This is no way to run a company, or a country…but it's what is happening all around us. We have CEO's who mine their company for short term profits, which often times includes profit through fraud, in order to appease shareholders and get their bonuses before moving on, all the while ignoring the long term health of their business. The same is true of government, where politicians ignore the long term health of the country in favor of the short term health of their political careers and the next election. Regular Jane's and Joe's did the same thing by "flipping" houses and trying to run with the wolves on Wall Street…but found out the hard way that it is a rigged game. Now, they do the same thing in a different way by going into debt just to pay their bills month to month. This myopic approach to finance, politics and life, can only last so long before the bill comes due. Robbing Peter to pay Paul only ends up, at best, with either Peter or Paul breaking your thumbs, or at worst, with the two of them burying you in a shallow grave out in the desert.

The Church of American Capitalism and the moral and ethical rot that comes with it, has also infected American Christianity in the form of the "Prosperity Gospel". This Prosperity Gospel is the perfect symbol for the lascivious and lecherous greed, that like a cancer, has metastasized through all walks of American life and bastardized Christianity into little more than Santa Claus for adults. Turning greed into spirituality and religion is the last straw in the fall of the moral underpinnings of any nation and its people. Gordon Gekko once said, "Greed is good", but the Prosperity Gospel of the Church of American Capitalism teaches , "Greed is God".

"WHENEVER I WATCH TV AND SEE THOSE POOR STARVING KIDS ALL OVER THE WORLD, I CAN'T HELP BUT CRY. I MEAN I'D LOVE TO BE SKINNY LIKE THAT, BUT NOT WITH ALL THOSE FLIES AND DEATH AND STUFF." - MARIAH CAREY

The other religion, besides the church of American capitalism and greed, so masterfully on display in The Big Short, is the uniquely American religion of Celebrity. Director McKay wisely uses famous people to talk directly to the audience and explain complicated financial terms and processes. This has a dual effect, one, it breaks down the complex language of finance which Wall Street uses to make people think only they can do this stuff, terms like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO), Mortgage Backed Security (MBS), and Credit Default Swap (CDS), into language the layman can understand. Two, it surreptitiously tweaks the audience for being so mindless as to only pay attention when a celebrity is talking. The celebrities involved, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and chef Anthony Bourdain, all get the point across both on the surface level of explaining the information, but also on the subversive level of proving the audience as suckers for the famous, a.k.a. high priests and priestesses of the Church of American Celebrity. If Collateralized Debt Obligations, Mortgage Backed Securities and Credit Default Swaps were explained by some dry academic, people would, as they've been trained to do, instantly tune out, but when it is done by Margot Robbie in a bubble bath…attention will most surely be paid. 

"WE FORGET THAT THE WATER CYCLE AND THE LIFE CYCLE ARE ONE." - JACQUE COUSTEAU

Speaking of bubble baths…at the end of the movie, there is an update on what the main characters are up to since their big short paid off. We are informed that Dr. Michael Burry, who closed his hedge fund right after the collapse of 2007/08, now focuses his investments on one commodity…water. This is pretty interesting because running throughout the film there is a very subtle subtext about water. If you watch the film again, pay attention when water is in a shot (like Ms. Robbie's bubble bath cameo), what characters drink it and when they drink it. There is one scene where Dr. Burry, while talking about shorting the housing market, chokes on a swig of water from a bottle, which, knowing the context of his later investing work, is very intriguing. Another scene involves a swimming pool with an unwanted reptilian guest lurking in it behind an abandoned Florida house. The house no doubt abandoned because of the "gully" (definition of a "gully" is "a water worn ravine") in the housing market. That scene is juxtaposed with a scene of a lavish swimming pool at Caesar's Palace, which is populated by investment bankers (from Goldman Sachs!!) and a woman from the SEC. Gators, bankers and feds…oh my!!! Water is the hidden secret within The Big Short, and the secret about water in today's world is that it will soon replace oil as the commodity over which we go to war.

"EVERYONE, DEEP IN THEIR HEARTS, IS WAITING FOR THE END OF THE WORLD TO COME." - HARUKI MURAKAMI

In conclusion, The Big Short is a phenomenal, must-see film, that shows us what went catastrophically wrong back in 2007/2008, and what is still wrong with our system. It is up to us to break free from the magical thinking brought on by the Church of American capitalism, and the distraction from thinking brought on by the Church of American Celebrity, and to see the truth that sits right in front of our nose…the American financial system is not only fundamentally and structurally flawed, it is irreparably broken and untenable. The house of cards is coming down whether we are ready for it or not…it isn't a matter of if…it is a matter of when. You can either prepare for the coming tsunami* or not, that is up to you…but what you cannot do this time around...is say that no one told you it was coming. 

*See what I did there? Tsunami…water? C'mon..pay attention!!!

©2016