BRUNA GOMES | FEATURES
“The economy” is a mechanism that eludes me. Stocks? Investments? I’ve always been comfortable with feeling excluded from the world of finance, partly because I simply don’t understand enough of it, and partly because I have an aversion to capitalism.
When my friend started investing her money into shares a while ago, I was simultaneously impressed by and opposed to it. The former because she understood “the economy” enough to participate in it, and the latter because I saw no reason to collaborate with the large stakeholders and ugly corporate giants.
In my head, “the economy” is a tall building filled with suited, white men, all of them corrupt, all of them greedy. I think of it as a place that prohibits equality, climate justice, democracy, and diversity. I blame capitalism for a lot of our problems while still actively participating in capitalism as a consumer and an employee with no alternative lifestyle at the ready for immediate use. In this sense, I suppose I feel let down by “the economy.”
Until! About a month ago, I was watching T.V. and during a commercial break, an advertisement for an online brokerage platform, Stake, showed. I usually hate commercials, but this ad? I could not get enough of it. Every time it popped up, I gave it all of my attention; I would go as far as to say I love this ad. I would go even further to say that I regard this ad as a piece of literature.
The campaign, called The Takeover, shows a cartoon character presenting a monologue as he breaks through the impenetrable financial landscape of New York. The black and white cartoon stylistically calls back to Fleischer animation (you know, like Popeye and stuff?) from the 1930s, alluding to the inaccessibility of the Wall Street world. The character’s poetic monologue is performed by Black Chakra, a prolific and powerful slam poet from Baltimore, and is dripping with witty, fierce lines. He describes the “makeover” of traditional finance as a place “where old things, wrinkly things, like president conventions and velvet ropes don’t matter anymore.” It is a makeover “without the suits…long overdue.”
As a campaign that is trying to broaden its customer base, The Takeover suavely speaks to young people like me who have no interest in “the economy.” It combines art with commerce (since when was that possible?) to advocate for accessibility and opportunity for anyone who isn’t a wealthy, white man. Suddenly, after feeling excluded from the financial world for so long, “Wall Street and the ASX [are] now at our fingertips.”
I think what struck me the most upon seeing this ad for the first time was its manifesto to transition “the economy” out of the filthy pockets of colonialism and patriarchy into a more contemporary and diverse demographic. Stake is claiming to be a “back door” to Wall Street, inviting those of us in who have been locked out for so long. We who feel alert to society’s injustices are finally being directly addressed by “the economy,” encouraging us to interrogate their outdated systems. This interrogation of accessibility is facilitated by art and poetry. I feel seen, so to speak. The big bad machine called Capitalism finally sees me, not as a capitalist but as an advocate for change, an artist.
So if I love the ad so much, did I start using Stake? No. Do I want to transition into the mechanism of the economy if it is transitioning into a welcoming place for me? Theoretically, yes. The conviction of Black Chakra’s spoken word poem truly connected with me; I could chant lines like “This is a takeover, mobile, not hostile,” for weeks. But I would chant them simply because, as a writer, poetry is one of my first access points to politics. I don’t think I want to chant them because I want to literally invest my money in Wall Street.
Similarly, I feel empowered by the final words, “now we’re jumping the fences and walled gardens, ready to take our seat at the table,” and the visuals of the character walking down a long boardroom table in a colonnaded room, pissing off and scaring the ugly, greedy billionaires seated around him. This final scene activates a sense of pride and fight within me – us poets are barging through! But do I actually want to sit at the billionaires' table? Do I truly want to rub shoulders with the suited men there? Even if I’m allowed into the colonnaded room wearing a crop-top and flip-flops, I don’t want to enter it just to sit with the men in suits. As we are hauntingly told by Elizabeth Warren, a U.S. senator, “If you don't have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” I guess I don’t really want access to the “back door” of Wall Street; I don't want to bring my folding chair there. Instead, I would prefer if “the economy” just relocated to a nice park, where I can build my own table.
So if I don't want to actually transition into the world of finance and investment but I still feel prompted by the literature of Stake’s campaign to participate in the decolonisation of “the economy,” what should I do? Seeing my friend invest in shares certainly inspires a real-life example of the deconstruction of traditional financial conventions (she’s a nineteen-year-old nursing student) and I value that she is contributing fantastically to the “makeover” of commerce. But as I am still uncomfortable with participating in shareholding etc. for the pure sake of gaining profit, I think I have to refocus my financial action so that it benefits the things I value. Money is power, this I am sure of. Poetry is power, this I believe in.
In all honesty, I don’t know enough about the economic climate or bureaucracy to come to any certain conclusion or offer myself any concrete advice. But that, I think, is what makes The Takeover so impactful: despite my financial inexperience and ignorance, the ad challenged me to deeply consider “the economy” as an institution. The Takeover, like any successful piece of art, prompted me to ask questions about our society. The campaign confirms that art and literature truly have a large role in politics and economics, not just culture and philosophy.
If we want to transition to the table in “the economy,” or even takeover it, then I leave us with this question, posed by Black Canadian writer Robyn Maynard: “It’s really important that we ask, ‘what is that table oriented toward?’”