the big short

The Big Short & why we can’t have nice things

The Big Short is about the financial crash in 2007/2008 and the men that made tons of cash from the collapse of the economy. Yeah, people actually made money from the economy collapsing. Think about that. Millions of people lost their jobs, homes, and dignity, but some folks lined their pockets and made out like bandits.

Sometimes I watch movies and will talk about how much they suck around diversity, because it’s Hollywood, and let’s face it, Hollywood sucks when it comes to diversity. And while the diversity of the cast of The Big Short leaves much to be desired, it’s a movie about bankers and investing, which is a very white, cisgender, straight, male industry. So this isn’t exactly about all the gendered fuckery that happens in most movies.

This column is about other types of fuckery.

What struck me the most was the fact that while I watched this film, all I could see was the system, and the ways in which this group of white men both rigged and were complicit in a system that took advantage of poor people, ultimately wrecking the economy. The film made it clear that the motivations for the banking industry targeting folks with less than ideal credit scores, packing those loans into mortgage bonds, and securing AAA credit ratings for those bonds, was money.

And that boggles my mind! I get it. We live in a capitalist society – money matters. More so than the money, however, was the inability for each of these men to see themselves as individuals and not always as actors within a larger rigged system. There were a couple of moments in the film that kind of explored the notion that they were all going to get rich off of crashing the economy, but the “bad guys” were always the banks, not the systemic capitalist patriarchy that got us there in the first place.

I’m not even sure that Ryan Gosling and co. would even consider themselves to be part of the problem, rather than some twisted version of investment banking Robin Hood. I’m pretty sure I watched the entire film with my jaw hanging open in disgust.

But then I realized, this is why we can’t have nice things.

In my career as an activist and educator, I have had numerous conversations about privilege and oppression. There have been moments, however, where it has felt like my students and I were having completely different conversations. The acknowledgement that American society is not a perfect meritocracy mirrors being told that Santa Claus does not exist (which was apparently traumatic for many people from my tiny, Midwestern town), and that is destabilizing. The important part of examining privilege, however, rests with our capacity to see beyond our status as individual people, and recognize the ways in which our actions impact larger systems of power.

It’s true that each of us experience difficulty, but difficulty and challenge is not the same as being marginalized. The sheer exercise of power highlighted in The Big Short puts that reality on full display. Even in my everyday life, I am personally challenged to always see my own privilege. Privilege does not mean “the easiness of life;” it’s about access and power, and sometimes that’s complicated.

When I walk into a room as a queer masculine of center woman of color, there is almost always a guarantee that I will be a proverbial unicorn. That does not mean, however, that my privilege is not also represented in that space, especially if I am working with mostly feminine women. In a society that demonizes femininity, identifying with masculinity, even as a woman and queer person, confers a certain amount of privilege in how I show up in a space. I don’t always remember that, and consequently I don’t always recognize my own complicity in systems of power.

When I left the theater, though, I resolved to not be like those men, and that means talking about the difficulty and challenges that come with the territory of examining and recognizing privilege. I want to have nice things, and not be the person who profits wherever there’s a profit just because capitalism. Who wants to be that guy?

Don’t be that guy.

Header Image Credit: YouTube


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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