Thursday, December 1, 2011

Margin Call (or Shit Show)

When the stakes are this high tension is to be expected. My heart rate was slightly, just slightly, elevated the entire time I was watching Margin Call. In my opinion it is the suspense thriller for 2011; a true comment on our most recent, some would say current, state of affairs. Some might even call it a horror story.

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I’ve not really given much thought to the financial crisis and how it affects me. I’m working. I continue to make my salary and put money into savings each week. I continue to see people buying tickets to theatre, which supports my salary. I haven’t exactly been oblivious, but it’s not the first, second or sixth thing on my mind. Of course I noticed when the interest rate on my Orange ING Direct savings account dropped. There’s really nothing I can to about that though but wait for it to regain its former high. I just keep putting money into it. After watching Margin Call however, I wonder what happens to that money, my money. It’s not exactly tied up, but it’s also not exactly available. It’s floating out there in the ether. It appears on paper, but that’s about it.

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My annuity investment through my union is handled through Mercer. I don’t really understand any of it. Contributions are made in my name and an account manager at Mercer puts it into funds deemed appropriate, as I have made no suggestions. I recognize gain and loss. In the past 4 years I’ve noticed one loss in the amount. That was in the last quarter. Is the financial crisis finally catching up to me?

I have trust issues as it is. Watching the powers-that-be at MBS – the fictional financial institution in Margin Call, loosely based on Lehman Brothers – come up with the plan to save themselves at the expense of everyone else does not assuage any of those issues. In fact it fortifies them with chains of unease.

It’s cutthroat. Hide your jugular. Everyone is expendable; from the newest employee to the long-time manager to the executive to the person walking on the sidewalk 20 stories below. I’m one of those people walking on the sidewalk and I don’t like being expendable.

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When the ground is shifting under your feet, when you’re standing atop quicksand, what do you do? You unload the dead weight at what ever cost to you or the buyer. You find a scapegoat and pay them a lovely severance and allow them to walk out the door with their head hung in shame taking the blame for something that you chose to ignore. Step right up folks, get your tickets to the shit show. The warnings were there, but the money that was being made blinded you to reality. Money makes the world go ‘round. We can’t help ourselves. Money is seductive, having it intoxicating. If you made millions of dollars a year, would you want to give that up? Would you bury your conscience so deep that you were unaffected by whatever you had to do to keep making the money?

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The world is full of fat cats and starving dogs. The starving dogs are those occupying Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. – so called representatives of the 99%. The fat cats are the 1%. The owner of MBS is definitely one of the fattest of cats. He was a billionaire until the 24-hour period in which the film takes place. Now he’s just a millionaire. Forgive me if I don’t shed a tear. I don’t feel the need to become a protestor in the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’m not even sure like-minded people represent me there. I do think Margin Call will open the viewer’s eyes to what must happen behind the gray, sun-reflecting windows of the 20th floor every day. It’s a glimpse by us, the laypeople, into their world.

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What’s that sound I hear in the darkness? It’s the sound of shovel upturning earth. Is this a dream? Am I digging a hole to bury my money or is the hole being dug to bury me? Silence. The music has stopped, the wheel has stopped turning. There was a moment of complete silence around the boardroom table in the film to drive home with taut effect, “What happens when the music stops?” The music is of course a metaphor for the buying and selling, the trading, the moneymaking. What happens is shock and silence, despair and darkness.

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If the music stops, time has run out. The Merry-Go-Round ceases to make another turn. The ride is over. We’re left to get off the horse with his fake, nightmarish smile and find joy in what was, moving on to what is. Hopefully what is isn’t something that has been taken away from us without our knowledge of its happening.