Reading Response #2 / Munazza Aijaz

I had never really thought seriously about memes. I’d never looked at them analytically and considered what the internet inside jokes could mean on a larger scale; more than just a quick laugh. After the reading, I’m starting to view memes as true indicators of public sentiment, a weapon that can and has “penetrated the palaces of the rulers.” In the “Jokes” chapter, one of the most memorable parts for me was this: “The joke is the highest form of power. Activists have the action and they live the life. Theorists have the words and they know their stuff. But the joke unites both perspectives. Jokes, when politically effective, perform what everybody knew but couldn’t say.” This was extremely telling to the nature of comedy, the crossroads between theory and action: vocalizing an unsaid sentiment, a ‘symbolic disruption of order.’ I really enjoyed when Glenn Greenwald was referenced—he is one of my all time favorite journalists, and The Intercept is definitely a go-to news source. His take on what the White House Correspondent’s Dinner actually is, “the purest expression of the total blending of political power, media subservience, and vapid celebrity,” was a really fresh perspective on an event that I hadn’t given much thought to. Now I’m asking myself, what could the purpose be of a president roasting himself? And realizing that “The smartest is the king who, indeed, is his own jester.

The “Design” chapter helped to widen my horizons on what socially, politically, or environmentally “responsible” design often entails: explicit hypocrisy in that it can conscript benefiters of an issue to aid relief efforts. As the essay put it, in the context of designer Seymour Chwast and the Occupy Wallstreet movement: “intimately connected to the very roots of the problems he tries to alleviate.” I firmly agree with the statement: “no social movement should let itself be designed by the superstructure it revolts against.” I had always thought that design could really cause social/political change, but I’d never considered the ulterior motives and hypocritical parties involved. It reminds me of the fact that huge tobacco companies pay for anti-smoking commercials, but make sure that specific brands cannot be named or identified.

Using jokes as a political weapon had been a long-standing tradition. They are fast, low-budget, and return at least some power to the hands of the people. It was interesting to read that design paired with jokes travels at a high speed, but it’s true. The meaning of a well-known meme, combined with good design, can work wonders and reach a wide range of audiences. This book also broadened my perceptions as to what a designer actually is, no longer constrained to a person adjusting leading on a flyer.

While reading these chapters, I couldn’t help but think of an NPR segment, “How Does Comedy Influence Politics?” on Talk of the Nation. It asks the question: “Does a drumbeat of dumb jokes about [a subject] create an image, reinforce it, or just reflect what the audience thinks already?” Now, I feel like it does all three.


Secondary Research: Individual / Munazza Aijaz

  1. “What happened to all those foreclosed homes?” by Adriene Hill.
  • The number of foreclosures has fallen since the recession, but the number of homes actually owned by the families that occupy them has not gone up. They’re at some of their lowest rates in 25 years
  • Foreclosed homes were taken up by investors and hedge funds who then rented them out
  • There are 12 million single family homes in the rental stock
  • Housing market has recovered, housing finance hasn’t

Thesis: The article skims over the actual financial crisis, but stresses that previously foreclosed homes have been taken up by investors to be rented out to people.

Hill, Adriene. “What happened to all those foreclosed homes?” Marketplace, Marketplace, 8 Mar. 2016.

2.“How the housing crisis left us more racially segregated” by Emily Badger

  • 10 million families lost their homes to foreclosures
  • The financial crisis also resulted in many migrations because families had to move when their homes were foreclosed
  •  Reversed recent progress that America has made on racial integration
  • Minorities were hit very hard by foreclosures
  • “Minorities who lost their homes moved to more distressed neighborhoods, while white homeowners who could leave appear to have been the first to pull out of places hit by foreclosure.”
  • As time passed, this pattern made neighborhoods more segregated than before the crisis
  • Foreclosure rates during the crisis were highest in the most racially integrated places
  • “The 10 million households that lost their homes dwarf the number that left the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl (that was about 2.5 million people).”

Thesis: The article brings to attention the migrations that occured during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. It argues that the crisis made America more segregated than it had been directly before the housing bubble popped.

Badger, Emily. “How the housing crisis left us more racially segregated.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 May 2015.

3. “Picturing the Crisis” by Paul Reyes.

Thesis: Photographing the crisis was a challenge, but people accomplished it in different ways. The article then goes on to list several photo series and explains each concept.

Reyes, Paul. “Picturing the Crisis.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Oct. 2010.

Synthesis: My secondary research helped to give me a more in depth idea of how foreclosures were a part of the financial collapse, and how they still impact us today. After the crisis, previously foreclosed homes were not purchased at the same rate that homes were before the bust. Instead, most of them became rentals. Families that were forced to leave their homes because of foreclosures did so in certain patterns, creating more racial segregation than what was present directly before the crash. It was interesting to see the eerie photographs of foreclosed homes. I now have a deeper sense of what  role foreclosures played in the crisis. The effects from foreclosures are lasting.

Secondary Research: Team / Disposession of Wealth


Key Points:

  1. Middle-class Americans bore the heaviest weight of the 2008 Financial Crisis.
  2. Wall Street banks faced mostly symbolic consequences and individuals made gains.
  3. Legislation in response to the crisis has failed to equally distribute the consequences of the financial collapse.

Reading Response One / Munazza Aijaz

The Senate Wall Street report separated the cause of the financial crisis of 2007-08 into four interrelated parts: lenders, credit rating agencies, federal regulators, and investment banks. It thoroughly explained the incentives with which each party acted, and what the ramifications were for the entire crisis. The report’s main arguments include the following: 1. Lenders on Wall Street issued credit to people with a history of late loan payments or no payment at all. These specific loans (high-risk) often had inflated interest rates to make up in the case of a late payment. 2. The regulators (the Office of Thrift Supervision) didn’t stop any of this from happening. They identified hundreds of instances of faulty lending but did nothing to stop the banks; in fact, they continued to give them good ratings. When the whole economy finally went into recession in 2008, they took two inconsequential, nonpublic, distinctly informal actions telling the banks to change their ways. Nothing happened. The OTS even resisted efforts from their backup regulator, the FDIC, for stricter penalties. 3. Credit ratings agencies were not doing their job, either. Paid by Wall Street and dependent on the banks’ high opinion of them, agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s issued false and absurdly high ratings. 4. The investment banks (such as Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank) created, sold, and traded high-risk products. One example is a CDO: essentially a combination of high-risk loans wrapped in false, slightly better packaging. Ending this practice would mean less revenue for the banks, and so not in their interest.

The Center for American Progress’ report, aptly named “Don’t Blame Federal Housing Programs for Wall Street’s Recklessness” argued that government programs did not drive the financial crisis of 2007-08. The report’s main arguments are the following: It wasn’t because of government programs that the housing crisis happens, it was actually the lack of government oversight that contributed greatly. Government programs that were created after the Great Depression (such as the FHA, the VA, and Fannie Mae) helped create stability in the housing market by providing government insurance on mortgages and offering mortgages to returning veterans. This increased homeownership in America, specifically for white families. (The FHA and VA enabled practices like redlining and discriminatory lending that increased segregation and stopped people of color from living in better areas.) In the early 2000s, government share of the mortgage market declined as private securitization increased (most of the private securities were involved in high risk, subprime loaning) which in turn was a significant driver for the crisis. The report argues that the two real causes of the crisis were 1. Predatory private mortgage lending and 2. Unregulated markets. The report also touched on how the government programs made mistakes, like buying a small amount of risky securities to keep their shareholders from panicking. But, it stresses, it didn’t actually drive the crisis, Wall Street did.

After reading both, the Senate report took more time in taking apart the cause of the crisis, whereas the CAP report took apart the cause of the crisis as well as defended government programs. In my opinion, the CAP report put more emphasis on the American people and actual families. It didn’t shy away from calling out conservatives or talking about matters of race, because the effects of discriminatory practices can still be seen today. The CAP report is a recent attempt to maintain government programs that help lower-income families and families of color with housing. The senate report is a clinical document of events with recommendations for the future.

For my outside source, I watched a film called “The Big Short.” It did a really excellent job of explaining all the intimidating financial terms, and of putting faces to names and banks. For example, when I read the reports, I already knew what “shorting” and “CDO” meant. I distinctly remember in the film when they said “when you hear ‘subprime,’ think ‘shit,’” and the way they compared CDOs to old fish in a new fish stew at a restaurant. Small explanations like these helped to make this subject less overwhelming and more tangible.