“Inside Job” is a film that is so utterly horrifying, so enraging, so depressing that you can’t leave the theater unmoved.
Nor can you shrug it off as “just a movie.”
This amazing documentary, all two hours of talking heads and graphs, is a totally compelling explanation of how the recession came to be, and the men who so skilfully engineered it, raking in billions as they did.
No financial journalist could have made this film: we were all far too close to the people and events depicted in it, which turn out to have really needed an outsider’s perspective. This is surely the first and last piece of financial journalism that Ferguson will ever make and it’s much more effective for it.
Here’s a phrase new to me — although certainly not the behavior it describes — male answer syndrome. This weekend, the NPR show On The Media will examine this habit of answering a question with great certainty even when you have no idea what you’re talking about.
Girls and women generally don’t do this. Most of us loathe looking stupid. We also learn the odds are good that when a woman speaks out loud and clear she’s going to be ignored, shouted down or challenged — depending how testosterone-soaked the atmosphere. So before you open your mouth, you want to be fairly sure you know what the hell you are talking about. Fact-checking on your Blackberry mid-sentence, in my view, is lame.
The point of confidence is putting it out there and seeing what happens. The underlying assumption — am I right? (she asked in a female sort of way) — is that no one will challenge you if you bluster hard and loudly enough. An air of utter confidence can tend to intimidate many people.
I’ve seen it in its most toxic form, thanks to a con man (ex-felon) I dated a decade ago; “con” is short for “confidence”, both that which they so successfully radiate and cultivating their victims’ crucial confidence in them and their usurious schemes. You don’t reap the harvest without a healthy supply of seeds.
He started out in Chicago, handing out business cards covered in fancy acronyms, pretending to be a doctor. Anyone who actually knew medicine — and he chose his victims carefully — would know in a heartbeat the guy was a total liar. But so persuasive was his act that he got a local sports car dealership to send over (!) a vehicle on approval, got a bunch of women to agree to marriage thanks to the glittering CZ he slapped on their gullible fingers, then moved to New York and started all over again, this time pretending to be a lawyer.
From its first iteration, a piece by Jane Campbell in Details, 1991:
ut Male Answer Syndrome (MAS) is by no means harmless, as my friend Pauline discovered at the age of 8. She had found that eating icecream made her teeth hurt and asked her father if Eskimos had the same problem. “No”, he said. “They have rubber teeth”. Pauline repeated this information in a geography lesson and found herself the laughing stock of the class. That was how she learned that a man, even if he is your own father, would rather make up an answer than admit to his own ignorance.
Later in life women run into the same problem: Men can speak with such conviction that women may be fooled into thinking that they actually know what they are talking about.
A woman who finds herself in the midst of an impassioned argument about glasnost may suffer from an eerie sense of displacement. Has a weird time-space warp landed her in the Kremlin? No, she’s in the mailroom with Dave and Bob, who she knows for a fact read only the sports pages.
My friend Jeff (he of the Harley) is full of expertise on subjects as diverse as global warming and Elvis’ current whereabouts. In reality however, he is an expert at only one thing: making a little knowledge go a very long way. For him answering is a game, and not knowing what he is talking about just adds to the thrill.
Expressing skepticism can be highly inflammatory. Even mild-mannered Abe Lincoln types may react to “Are you sure about that?” as a vicious slur on their manhood and find themselves backing up a ludicrous assertion with spurious facts.
It took me a while to notice a variation of this pattern, most evident in my ex-husband, a medical student when we met and who became a psychiatrist. When he didn’t know the answer to something, he’d say, “I’m not sure.” He was sure, all right. He didn’t want to admit ignorance, so the dreaded words “I don’t know” never passed his lips, at least in his private life. While few patients want their doctor to say “I don’t know”, it’s a useful phrase when it’s actually true.
“Are we out of milk?” is a fairly safe question, for example. A simple yes or no would suffice.
Gentlemen, is this part of your verbal repertoire?
Ladies, what do you do, if anything, in the face of it?
How cool and refreshing to hear a Jamaican lilt on stodgy old NPR, and the story is wild — women who take pills used to fatten poultry in the hopes their own butts will get curvy and alluring to Jamaican men. Women in Jamaica, we’re told, are prized for having a shape like a Coca-Cola bottle.
Hate women taking pills to get sexy. Love hearing a story I’ve never heard before from a nation we almost never hear anything about.
The irony is that girls, and women — rant alert — are, in many cultures, not terribly hidden, unless in purdah or full chadors. We live in plain sight of journalists and writers and bloggers, but it takes a keen eye, a persuasive resume and skills, and some serious street cred to get important, quirky, offbeat and important stories told.
Women are fed a steady diet by most mainstream media (whose advertisers insist on jamming us into a tight, narrow bandwidth of what defines female interest[s] and value[s]) — much like factory farmed chickens, come to think of it — of diet/exercise/cooking/looking pretty/buying the right clothes, shoes, make-up/sex tips/parenting.
I am excited to hear the rest of this series — and they’re looking for more stories.
The scene I always find fascinating in the 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada” is when Miranda Priestley drawlingly reminds her assistant Andrea, as she prepares to step into a crowd of Paris paparazzi, that “everyone wants to be us.” Only three years later, it feels like a century ago.
I just heard Ruth Reichl on Terri Gross’ NPR show “Fresh Air” mourning the sudden demise of Gourmet, one of the most glossy of all glossies, of which she was editor in chief, a place she described as the best job she ever had — 10 years of big budgets, free rein and a wildly creative team. Gone. And gone for good with no warning. I also heard today from the partner of a long-time Gourmet staffer, agreeing they had no clue the axe was about to fall. For journos with a deep and abiding taste for covering, if not living, the best of things, what’s next?
True Slant harbors a few ex-glossy mag staffers, so they know what’s been lost.
Given the Conde Nast bloodbath, the widespread Titanic-ness of the magazine industry these days and the paucity of jobs available at any level, does anyone even want those jobs anymore? Will they even exist in a few years?
What is the staff media job everyone wants — that actually pays?