Robinhood, r/WallStreetBets, Who’s Yellen Now, & The GameStop-ification of Finance

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During his tenure at editor of the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Mark Twain profited by promoting the stock offerings of mining operations that advertised with the paper, and which often gave him shares so that he was incentivized to drive demand for their securities. Twain soon recognized that this formula, the touting of specious enterprises with the cooperation of a mass media platform, was being recycled on a much grander scale on Wall Street, as it has continued to be ever since, whether by Wall Street Journal columnists pumping RCA during the first retail trading boom of the 1920s, CNBC’s talking heads helping to inflate the dot-com bubble, or r/WallStreetBets posters using their forum and a new retail trading application, Robinhood, to drive up the price of GameStop.

This most recent iteration of speculative euphoria enabled by mass media is one of the first unexpected challenges to face the freshly inaugurated Biden administration. New Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, subject of Dessa’s viral rap, “Who’s Yellen Now?,” must now play a prominent role in the federal response to the potentially destabilizing volatility created by r/WallStreetBets, even though she has received millions of dollars in speaking fees from hedge funds, including some of those with considerable exposure from shorting “stonks” like GameStop. 

On the most recent episode of The American Vandal Podcast, Matt Seybold is joined by three scholars of Critical Finance Studies and Economic Criticism to talk about the current speculative episodes, as well as what preceded it: 

Michelle Chihara is Associate Professor of English at Whittier College. She is co-editor, with Matt Seybold, of the Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018). She is also Section Editor of the Economics & Finance desk of the Los Angeles Review of Books

Anna Kornbluh is Professor of English at University of Illinois Chicago. She is author of Realizing Capital: Financial & Psychic Economies in Victorian Form (Fordham UP, 2014), Marxist Film Theory & Fight Club (Bloomsbury, 2019), and, most recently, The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, & Social Space (U Chicago P, 2020). She is also the founding facilitator of the V21 Collective.

Leigh Claire La Berge is Associate Professor of English at CUNY, Borough of Manhattan Community College. She is the author of Scandals & Abstraction: Financial Fiction of the Long 1980s (Oxford UP, 2014) and, most recently, Wages Against Artwork: Decommodified Labor & the Claims of Socially Engaged Art (Duke UP, 2019), as well as co-editor, with Alison Shonkwiler, of Reading Capitalism Realism (U Iowa P, 2014).

As usual, you can subscribe, download, rate, and review from your preferred podcast platform, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), SpotifyGoogle PodcastsStitcherTuneIn, & ListenNotes.

Episode Bibliography:

Katie Baker, “The GameStop Stock Market Explainer Dictionary” (The Ringer, January 28, 2021)

Michelle Chihara, “The Rise of Behavioral Economic Masculinity” (American Literary History, Spring 2020)

Michelle Chihara, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Finance” (Los Angeles Review of Books, September 18, 2015)

Michel Feher, Rated Agency: Investee Politics in A Speculative Age (Zone Books, 2018)

[Scott Galloway], “Men Staring At Bitcoin, GME Prices Aren’t Having Enough Sex, Says NYU Prof” (Decrypt, February 1, 2021)

Doug Henwood, “The GameStop Bubble Is A Lesson In The Absurdity & Uselessness of the Stock Market” (Jacobin, January 27, 2021)

Matt Phillips et al., “The Hopes That Rose & Fell With GameStop” (New York Times, February 7, 2021)

Matt Seybold, “Eat The Shorts: A Billions FanFic Review of The China Hustle (BLARB, June 23, 2018)