The house always wins

Hey man, what it is.

This morning we saw the documentary Amercian Casino, the fifth selection of this round of the Brattle Theatre’s Sunday Eye-Opener. (I’ve really enjoyed heading out each Sunday morning to watch a film I know nothing about. The pastries, often homemade, are also a treat.) It attempts to illustrate the causes and effects of the current subprime mortgage crisis, both from the Wall Street perspective and through the stories of people struggling to keep their homes, mostly in Baltimore. It shed light on just how specifically many subprime lenders targeted African American communities, and it illustrated the ripple effects of foreclosures on neighborhoods in more affluent Stockton, California, where pools left untended swarm with mosquito larvae, debris in yards becomes ideal nesting ground for rodents, and vacant homes are turned into meth labs and grow houses.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help comparing (unfavorably) it to the joint NPR-This American Life episode “The Giant Pool of Money.” That show did an strikingly better job of explaining how and why the financial crisis happened, and it connected the dots between the Wall Street banks and the people who’ve lost their homes — via the chain of mortgage brokers and bankers and the mistaken assumption that real estate value only ever went up. The radio story just held together in a way that the film’s couldn’t, which might have been due to better editing or a stronger point of view — but also because it didn’t (seemingly intentionally) obfuscate the story with a lot of scrolling screens of financial data and disparate talking heads.

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