Friday, May 07, 2010

Dow dip proves point of Mike Daisey’s The Last Cargo Cult | The TOC Blog | Time Out Chicago:

Watching this afternoon’s “flash crash”—an astonishing, gut-wrenching stock market free fall, followed by an equally rapid rise—I kept thinking back to one of the major points of Mike Daisey’s rousing, hilarious monologue The Last Cargo Cult, which opened last night at Victory Gardens: Money, markets, our entire financial system, is all a construct, a fiction we all buy into. Daisey’s not the first to acknowledge this, of course, but the power of Daisey’s monologues isn’t in his points but in the way he makes them. In Cargo Cult, he uses the story of his visit to the tiny South Pacific island of Tanna, where islanders who don’t use money nonetheless worship America and our material wealth. He interweaves this tale with anecdotes about his own financial situation and about the economic meltdown of 2008; these narratives come together to become an invigorating and infuriating examination of our relationship with money.

In one of the piece’s most effective passages, Daisey recites a timeline of the creation of finance, from the invention of currency to the advent of banks to stocks and all the way through to the derivatives market and the infamous credit default swap. With each of these new layers of financial “products,” he notes, the market gets bigger but also more abstract and irrational. I’m no economic expert—like Daisey says of himself in the show, my financial portfolio consists largely of a bank account and a mattress—but seeing the Dow Jones do a nine-percent yo-yo that may have been predicated by a single errant keystroke, I couldn’t help but think “irrational” is exactly right.