Date

3-2016

Degree Name

BA in Communication Studies

Department

Communication Studies Department

Advisor(s)

Lauren Kolodziejski

Abstract

The Big Short (McKay, 2015), adapted from the non-fiction novel The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (2010), follows three separate but parallel stories leading up to the United States housing crisis of 2008. On a macro-level, the film brilliantly depicted the creation, and the ultimate burst, of the credit and housing market bubble. However, on a micro-level the audience is given an opportunity to realize and empathize with the internal struggle that many of the main characters faced as they grappled with the fact that their financial gain from shorting the market came with the caveat of betting against the United States economy. By selecting the collapse of the housing market as a story line, the film brings to the forefront an important, emotional time period in many Americans’ lives. Consequently as the audience watches the movie and begins to recall the economic hardships that they faced, much of the anger felt during the height of the crisis will likely be aroused. The Big Short capitalizes upon its audiences’ emotional disposition and uses it as an opportunity to reaffirm the negative connotation many Americans already associate with Wall Street by providing movie watchers with an unflattering view of the financial sector as a whole and ultimately heighten the vulnerable viewers’ animosity towards large financial institutions.To understand the influence of this movie on viewers' perception of Wall Street, I will consider the ideological messages embedded within it. To begin this analysis, I will discuss The Big Short’s rhetorical situation, followed by an exploration into the film’s capitalization upon particular situational elements to increase its overall effectiveness. Then I will use the lens of ideological criticism as a way to explore the explicit and implicit messages included in the film and how they are used to promote a negative representation of the financial industry as a whole. Finally, I argue that the film’s success is derived from its effective juxtaposition of the respectable actions of everyday Americans against those of an evil institution, allowing Americans to feel good about themselves while simultaneously absolving them of any responsibility in either constructing or maintaining the structural forces that ultimately led to the financial crisis.