Can Jokes Bring Down Government poses an important and extremely relevant question: what is the role of humor in today’s political climate, and why/how are jokes able to impact entire cultures? The first point this article makes is that jokes are free and contagious. The joke is the “open source weapon of the public,” and with wide-spread access to the internet, jokes are some of the fastest-spreading forms of communication.
As designers, we can look at and examine the structure of a joke. Beyond just language and timing, the design of a joke is found in what is said and what is not said. Jokes have progressed drastically since the Internet, particularly the popularization of memes. Before, jokes had a defined, opinionated, traceable author. Now, with meme templates and online usernames, jokes are less about a significant author, and more about a common heritage/context. Memes allow people to step outside of normal, argumentative discourse. Online jokes, in particular, “amplify hidden truths” and promote rampant freedom of speech as thousands of people can participate (anonymously) in conversations all at the same time.
Particularly in the last election, memes played a dramatic role in a candidate’s likeability. Jokes like ‘Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer’, the infantilization of Jeb Bush, and the trendy hash tag of ‘Feel the Bern’ all impacted the immediate likeability and respect associated with different candidates. This was prominent even a few years ago, when Romney was chastised for his “binders full of women” and having to fire Big Bird from PBS. Pre-existing memes can even change meaning to fit new political climates, like Pepe the Frog (or the ‘Feels Good Man’ meme) have. Pepe originated as a stoner frog in a comic, became a ‘rare’ meme, and today has become a symbol for the alt-right and neo-Nazis. Trump even tweeted a meme of Pepe, perhaps unaware of its newfound meaning/context.
Although the cheapest and most accessible, memes aren’t the only form of jokes that hold political influence over the public. The Interview was a movie starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that featured two goofy, dimwitted journalists who were tasked with the assassination of Kim Jong Un. In 2014, a few months before the film was set to be released, Sony got hacked by an anonymous group. Prior to this hack, North Korean officials have called the film an “act of war” and promised repercussions if the film was released. That being said, several news organizations have tied the hack directly to the North Korean government. Several theater companies received vague threats of terrorist acts if they were to show the film, and, because of this, The Interview was not shown in theaters. Instead, the movie found an audience online, once again showing the importance of the Internet in today’s social and political climate.
So, why is the The Interview important in examining the role of jokes in politics? The Interview, unlike memes online, was produced by a specific and very visible American/Japanese company (Sony), aimed to make a profit, and spent millions of dollars on advertising. Where is the line between profound, cynical jokes and business-fueled propaganda? Is there a line? Can Jokes Bring Down the Government does a great job of analyzing why anonymous jokes are so popular and important, but what about these huge, choreographed examples of (what I would call border-line at best) satire? One could say that SNL uses jokes to break the “terms of exchange” found in political climates and performs true acts of satire, but what about dumb movies like The Interview? How are jokes, on such a grand scale, responsible for changing an entire country’s view of another nation?
Something I would really like to look into is the role of jokes in America’s relationship with North Korea and Russia. I think a reason the American populace doesn’t see these countries as a serious threat is because of memes and jokes surrounding those countries’ leaders. Knowing the terrible, immoral social/political climates of both of these countries, why do Americans not feel a need to intervene? What would the American view of Hitler have been like in the 1930’s/40’s if there had been the presence of Internet memes? Leaders like Kim Jong Un have been discredited for a number of reasons, but I think the most obvious is his humiliation in American pop culture. So, to an extent, jokes not only have the potential to impact national politics and the opinions of individuals, but also shift international relations.
Overall, we found that the widespread proliferation of subprime and predatory loans, failings of various forms of oversight and transparency, and a lack of individual responsibility all contributed to the creation of the housing bubble and the scale of the market crash.
Katy Koetting, Samantha Wells, Leah Bailey, Katie Morrin, Gaby Vinales
For my primary research, I delved into three sources: Turning a Blind Eye, The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report, and The Giant Pool of Money. I aimed to find non-biased, differing sources that accurately talked about the causes of the 2008 financial crisis— one research paper, one book, and one podcast. All of them came to the same general conclusion: predatory lending and subprime loans were the main cause of the great recession.
Turning a Blind Eye: Wall Street Finance of Predatory Lending is a paper written by two economists, Kathleen Engel and Patricia McCoy, in March 2007. They are in the heart of the financial crisis and had previously written numerous papers regarding the United States economy—I would consider them to be unbiased, credible sources. In this particular essay, they discuss how subprime loans and inaccurate investment rankings created risky and corrupt deals that often favored lenders wanting to make a quick profit. They talk specifically about how states with lax government regulations had minimal or non-existent background screenings and a lack of transparency in deals. Because the government had neither established nor enforced laws regulating the trade of CDO’s, borrower’s couldn’t comparison shop, lenders didn’t perform background checks, and both banks and Wall Street alike were able to transfer high risk deals to investors further down the line.
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report, a book written by The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2011, takes a similar stance to Turning a Blind Eye—they say that “the failures of credit ranking agencies” were a root source of the 2008 crisis. It is interesting to compare these two sources: one written on the very edge of the financial crisis by two economists, and another written three years later by a committee. Throughout the introduction of The Financial Crisis, the committee makes a series of concise statements summarizing their argument; most of their points tie back to a lack of regulation and accurate rankings. However, they also speak to the humanity of the financial crisis, how it was not only a failure of U.S. economics but a failure of morality and ethics. This thinking is what led me to my third source, a podcast by NPR.
The Giant Pool of Money is an episode of This American Life, a podcast hosted by Alex Bloomberg, Adam Davidson, and in this episode, Ira Glass. Part of the series Planet Money, this episode was published in May of 2008 and uses both history and anecdotes to tell the story of the crisis. The hosts discuss statistics about the financial crisis—details about CDO’s, NINA’s, and MBS’s—in the context of the global economy. During the early 2000’s, the world’s savings doubled. Countries all over the globe were looking for places to invest, and with government bonds having such a small interest rate (about %1), they fled to mortgages. This increase in demand led to more CDO’s, which used subprime loans to fill the growing demand. Behind all of this, there’s a deep, human factor. This episode features interviews from both sides of the crisis: Wall Street hot shots who thought of growing risks as “someone else’s problem” as they continued to grow richer, and low-income Americans that took loans because they could and are now paying for it with their livelihood.
These three sources, combined, give an interesting perspective on the financial crisis. There are statistics that point to specific sources of the recession (predatory lending, subprime loans, lack of transparency, inaccurate ratings, and unenforced regulations), but also human factors that give us a look at our society’s morals and ethics. It was the combination of these two sides—human fault and compounding economic/political decisions—that led to the crisis, and subsequently a shift in how the modern American lives.
Engel, Kathleen C. and Patricia A. McCoy. “Turning a Blind Eye: Wall Street Finance of Predatory Lending.” Fordham Law Review, vol. 75, no. 4, Mar. 2007, pp. 2039-2103. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofm&AN=502552468&site=ehost-live.
Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report: Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States. Public Affairs, 2011.
Blumberg, Alex, and Adam Davidson. “355: The Giant Pool of Money.” This American Life, WBEZ, 9 May 2008, www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/355/the-giant-pool-of-money.
The Center for American Progress’s article, The 2008 Housing Crisis by Colin McArthur and Sarah Edelman, counters the argument that government involvement caused the recession of 2008. In fact, they say that “instead of too much government, it was the lack of sufficient government oversight in key areas […] that transformed the housing bubble into a global crisis.” Blaming predatory lending, fraudulent information, and manipulation of the public by a corrupted Wall Street, The Center for American Progress uses statistics focused on FHA vs. PLS market involvement to make its case.
The 2008 Housing Crisis forms its argument through a timeline going back to the 1930’s, “when most Americans could not even dream of owning a home,” to 2017, where-in we are currently recovering from a housing-fueled recession. Authors McArthur and Edelman explain the origins of government housing programs: the establishment of the FHA in the 1930’s, Fannie Mac in 1938, and a variety of programs aimed to decrease wealth gaps (such as the Fair Housing Act and Community Reinvestment Act) in the 1960’s. Walking through this timeline allows McArthur and Edelman to demonstrate how government programs had been successful at helping Americans and banks participate in fair, safe loans for years. Even through 2008, GSEs only had a 6.2% delinquency rate, while non-GSEs had a delinquency rate of 28.3%. The Center for American Progress argues that it was the expansion of the PLS market share (which rose 30% between 1999 and 2006), along with faulty practices like Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs), that led to the decrease of government involvement and ensuing financial crisis.
Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse was an investigation performed by a subcommittee of the United States Senate, and takes a very different approach to analyzing the 2008 financial crisis. Whereas The Center for American Progress chose to form their argument through a timeline, the United States Senate chose four case studies to evaluate the root of the housing bubble. McArthur and Edelman focused on ethics (blaming corporate predators for fraudulent practices), while the U.S. Senate aims to, first and foremost, establish credibility. Wall Street sites specific corporations that made certain malpractices common: Washington Mutual took greater high-risk loans such as ARMs deals (which jumped from 19% of their loans in 2003 to 55% in 2006), the office of Thrift Supervision continued to rank doomed banks as financially sound, and Goldman Sachs (who foresaw the delinquency of most deals) continued to wager on the failure of the American economy. It was not the over-involvement of or lack of supervision from government-run programs that caused the financial crisis, but rather, a series of malicious business practices by multiple, influential groups.
To counter these involved, detailed articles, I found a simple, approachable source: Crash Course Economics. Crash Course is a YouTube series aimed to educate a young audience, ideally middle schoolers and high schoolers, on important topics that may or may not be covered in their general education. In their 11 minute long video, the Crash Course hosts describe the 2008 financial crisis in a neutral tone, simply saying that companies participated in high-risk loans because the housing market was “too big to fail.” During the height of the housing bubble, if loans weren’t met, houses could just be sold at a high value. When riskier loans became commonplace, banks would just quickly pass the risk onto someone else. What this video does touch on that the other sources do not is the after-math of the housing crisis: specifically the Dodd-Frank law that required transparency between all participants within a given trade. This video, aimed at an entirely different audience than the articles created by The Center for American Progress and The U.S. Senate, is an interesting look into how a majority of today’s youth will view the financial crisis: a catastrophe built on malpractice, overconfidence, and lack of corporate transparency.
All of these sources, together, form an interesting argument and raises questions regarding the economic and political structure of the United States. I think both articles showcase how the United States Government should have taken a more upfront role in the buildup to the 2008 crisis—statistics from The 2008 Financial Crisis demonstrate that programs like GSEs and FHAs were less risky and more flexible, while the case study about Standard & Poor’s in Wall Street explain how inaccurate agency rankings led to miscommunication and distrust. In my opinion, both articles make it clear that the fault lies within Wall Street corporations that pushed for riskier loans at the expense of innocent home-owners and ignorant investors—the growth of Adjustable Rate Mortgages and the bets placed on failed investments proves this manipulation of the American public. If the United States Government had given more accurate ratings to banks and investors that were performing fraudulent deals, as well as pushed for transparency in trades, perhaps aspects of the financial crisis could have been avoided.
In addition to all of this, I think the 2008 Financial Crisis allows for an interesting discussion regarding politics and economics. Perhaps it was the combination of the United State’s capitalistic society and current political strife that fed the recession. If there were more political consensus in the United States, perhaps the government would have taken drastically different actions during this time. As someone who has grown up in a time of (relative) political turmoil, I think it is important to consider human motives and interactions as well as facts and statistics; this is something I aim to research further throughout this course.