‘City, London, 2008’
“……we live in a society that demands risky choices, it is one in which the powerful do the choosing, while others do the risking.” Slavoj Zizek
Shot in the heart of the financial city and using actual bankers, the work alludes to the current economic crisis.
A group of men are waiting. The grand classical architecture with high solid pillars and marble surroundings suggests stability, wealth and harmony. And yet there seems to be a sense of unrest and uncertainty, no one is communicating with one another signifying the break down of ‘the system’ in this mise en scène of power and certainty. Disconnected, disorientated and reminiscent of tragic figures in History painting, each is contemplating his own situation as if standing alone in the crowd!
Are they are victim or victimizer? Or the key question lies elsewhere as Zizek acutely observes, “What if [what economists call] ‘moral hazard’ is inscribed in the fundamental structure of capitalism?” This is the risk that someone will behave immorally because the law somehow protects them against any loss that his/her behavior might cause.
Or the criticism of the bail-out plan for instance, which points out a clear case of ‘moral hazard’: why should the government support those responsible (Wall street) and let ordinary borrowers (on Main street) pay the price? The real problem Zizek argues is that there is no way to separate the welfare of Main street from Wall street. Although what is good for Wall street is not necessarily good for Main street, paradoxically the Main street cannot thrive if Wall street is not doing well - and this asymmetry gives the ultimate advantage and priority to Wall street.
“No one really knows what to do”, but for Zizek the first significant step is to ask the right questions rather than seeking the wrong answers; to think “which ‘flaw’ of the system as such opens up the possibility for such crises…?”. This is to focus on and examine the system itself, rather than a simplistic ‘solution’ of putting the blame on its deviations – lax regulation, the corruption of big financial institutions or of particular individuals etc.
Faced with a disaster over which we have no real power or influence, to follow Zizek’s thoughts, people often say ‘don’t just talk, do something’, and its true we often talk instead of acting – but sometimes we do things in order to avoid thinking; “…perhaps lately we have been doing too much. May be it is time to step back and think….”