Thursday, 2 August 2012

The financial crisis on stage and screen

I posted a couple of weeks ago about the film Margin Call but that's not the only manifestation of the money madness appearing in the arts world.

The current production of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens at the National Theatre is another, perhaps surprising, example.

Timon of Athens isn't performed very often. It's a 'difficult' play, not solely by Shakespeare's hand, and there are disputes about how much of it is actually his - but it's certainly 'Shakespearian'. It's a play about, among other things, the mutual reinforcement of power and money, and it contrasts the élite with the mob. Well, in these times, that's just crying out for a treatment set in the City of London with the mob as the Occupy movement, which is what this new production is doing.

Interestingly, The Guardian's review of the play was written not by one of its regular theatre critics but by Paul Mason, BBC Newsnight's economics editor. His article is a very interesting read, even if you don't plan to see the play . . . but, having read it, you might decide you do want to!

And if you can't get along to the South Bank, the National Theatre will be broadcasting live from the theatre to cinema screens across the UK and abroad on Thursday 1 November. I'm going to see it at an independent cinema 10 minutes from where I live - a huge saving in time and money compared with getting all the way from the West Midlands to South London. You can search for a screening near you.

Another film made about the crisis, Inside Job (2010), is a documentary rather than a drama. Charles Ferguson is a former academic who made a fortune from computer software. He's funny, witty, tells it like it is, and is just furious that none of the bankers have gone to jail for the frauds that led to the crash. Ferguson interviews a range of the key players in the crisis, the big beasts in the financial world. Some of them seem oblivious, which is extraordinary; some of them squirm; some of them seek to justify themselves; a few refuse to speak on camera. It's truly eye-opening, even this long after the event, to put faces to the scandal.

The film won an Oscar for best documentary and you can listen to his acceptance speech.

Ferguson has now written a book (also called Inside Job) which fills in the background to his film and brings us up to date on what happened next. His argument, that corporate America has bought up politics wholesale, isn't new, of course. But he is particularly scathing about Obama, from whom we expected better. His government's alliance with the banks is particularly appalling, after all the hopes that were invested in the change from the Bush era. Ferguson's account of the hold that big finance has over academia is truly horrifying because it tells us that nothing escapes the clutches of Big Money.

Ferguson's furious energy, his righteous indignation, are delivered with a lightness of touch that keeps the non-specialist reader enagaged and entertained. You can read two extracts from the book:

Heist of the century: Wall Street's role in the financial crisis - Wall Street bankers could have averted the global financial crisis, so why didn't they? In this extract Charles Ferguson argues that they should be prosecuted

Heist of the century: university corruption and the financial crisis - Why was the response from US academic experts to the global financial crisis so muted? In this second extract Charles Ferguson argues that corruption in universities is deeply entrenched

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I've been posting here a lot about money! I think there's one more to come, and then I'll move on to other topics - promise!

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