Guest post by Katy Shaw
The financial world has long been a source of fascination for writers, and this intensified in the wake of the credit crunch. In my new monograph Crunch Lit I argue that following the financial crisis, literature was mobilised as an effective means of cultural resistance—a site for the struggle over the legitimacy of reality. Rewriting events, literary representations offer fictionalized micro-histories of a highly contested period that engage in a dialogic interaction with the lived fallout from the crisis. As part of a challenge to define the events of 2007–8, authors interrogate the capacity of contemporary genre writing to represent a new millennial crisis of credit and understand its legacy for contemporary society. Using writings not as a form of imaginative escape from the chaotic and confusing reality facing global economic systems, but as an exercise in critical understanding and reframing, they suggest that contemporary writings can be relevant and revealing in their social and political purpose.
Collectively, the corpus of cultural representations analysed by Crunch Lit – from stage drama and musicals, to stand-up comedy, reality television and movie screenplays – highlights the interconnected state of finance and society during and after the credit crunch. Reframing our relationship with and understanding of contemporary finance, these works transgress the boundaries of established narratives on finance and instead offer critical and alternative standpoints on the financialization of society in the new millennium. In literary examinations of what went wrong, why, and where the finger of blame should be pointed, artists foreground the financial ignorance of the pre-crunch period, the drama of events as credit froze and the benefit of hindsight afforded to cultural interventions created in the post-crunch period.
The credit crunch of 2007–8 made visible the impact of financialization across society, culture politic and the economy in the twenty-first century. More fundamentally, it revealed a new narrative: that savers, spenders and lenders were variously implicated in its international circuits of influence. The recognition that contemporary global capitalism cannot be dismissed or escaped has led to a fresh desire to engage with and understand it. The problem of what happens after the credit crunch, of how to ‘correct’ identified flaws in our financial systems and cultures, to improve public financial literacy and engineer a new relationship between the social and the economic, is a profoundly collective one.
The way forward raises important economic, social, political and moral questions for twenty-first-century societies. The consequences of the credit crunch will affect societies for years to come. In their response to the crunch, the governments of the UK and the United States transferred the debt bubble from a private to a public sector problem. While banks were given huge sums of money to be bailed out, public spending was cut across sectors in a desperate attempt to balance the books.
Admitting that something is not working is a vital step towards recognition and an impetus to change. Encouraging us to stop dreaming, cultural representations of the 2007–8 credit crunch form part of a wider dialogue about the need to move towards a new system, one governed by tighter regulation, intelligent finance and an end to the mystifications that have masked the operation of the financial sector to date. Improving financial literacy, enhancing awareness of the internal mechanisms of contemporary finance and critically reviewing the impact of financialization on twenty-first-century society, Crunch Lit foregrounds the need to think carefully about contemporary uses of capital, and the possibility of making capital our servant, rather than our master.
In 2010, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the UK, Rowan Williams, used an open lecture to tell the public that the credit crunch has taught us that ‘economics is too important to be left to economists’. Offering accessible contexts and intelligible representations of hitherto seemingly unpresentable events, they foster new communities of understanding, reframing the period of economic freedom preceding the crunch. From the rise of finance during the 1980s, to the fast finance of the 1990s, and the emergence of a financialization in the new millennium, new literary representations of the 2007–8 credit crunch remind contemporary audiences that value does not begin, and end, with the economic.
Katy Shaw is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Literature and Director of C21: Centre for Twenty-First Century Writings at the University of Brighton, UK. She is the author of Crunch Lit, part of Bloomsbury's series 21st Century Genre Fiction. Her previous publications include David Peace: Texts and Contexts and Funny Women: Gender and Comedy in the 21st Century.