Is it too soon to find humour in the housing crisis?
Nearly a decade on from the 2007-8 financial crash, the housing crisis still casts a shadow over our daily lives. Damning evidence from the Office of National Statistics paints the picture: proportionally there are fewer young home buyers than ever before. House deposits are higher than ever before, and around 250,000 people are thought to be homeless in the UK.
Peaking through the cracks of this dark state of affairs, some storytellers are finding the lighter side. But with the housing crisis continuing to impact the world, is it too soon to mine it for comedy gold?
Housing crisis comedy goes to the Oscars
Big stars, big laughs, big list of awards nominations. We’re talking about 2015’s The Big Short. The Oscar-winning film was directed by Adam McKay, the man behind irreverent comedy classics Anchorman, Step Brothers and Anchorman 2. For those who lost their homes, and those still struggling to make ends meet around the world, an Anchorman-style verbal slapstick approach to the housing crisis is hardly appetising.
The Big Short is no Anchorman, however – despite sharing a cast member in Steve Carell. Instead, it is a comprehensive retelling of the backroom deals that led to the collapse of the US subprime mortgage system in 2008, spurring the worldwide financial and housing crisis.
Yes, it has laughs, but it treats the crisis with appropriate seriousness, and even does a better job of explaining the complex causes of the global financial crash to the general public than politicians and the media ever did at the time. Many Hollywood stars make cameo appearances describing everything from “synthetic CDOs” to “subprime loans” and “shorting”.
Brad Pitt, who produced the film, told Variety about his strong conviction that Wall Street needs to be regulated, and that economics needs to be demystified so people can figure out what’s going on: “I just want people to understand. The language of the stock market and banks are set up to obscure and to confuse, and applicants don’t know what they’re getting into. This drives me crazy.”
The film successfully brought the 2007-8 housing market crash to the top of the agenda once again, but it didn’t immediately inspire any political change. The public didn’t flock to support Bernie Sanders, whose political worldview aligns most closely with the film. Rather, the “leader” of the free world is Donald Trump – a billionaire who has appointed several Goldman Sachs executives who were directly involved in causing the crash to his cabinet.
The Big Short may not have sparked immediate change, but at least it proved that a subject like this can be effectively dealt with through comedy.
From Big Short to small screen
It’s not just the big screen, and The Big Short, that are finding ways to laugh about our current situation. Back in the UK, Channel 4 television series Crashing explores one specific consequence of the housing crisis.
Since rent is soaring in the UK, some people have taken to new and unorthodox ways of living. One of these methods involves people becoming property guardians. Under this arrangement, residents are tasked with guarding a property in order to live there, not paying rent but a “license”, which is usually far more affordable than rent in the same area. Most commonly, landlords of large vacant properties turn to property guardians to protect them until they are reopened.
Crashing takes a group of property guardians as its central cast of characters. The Guardian described them as “a generation-rent Friends for austerity Britain.” Written by and starring Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the show takes place in an abandoned hospital with the characters living in large empty rooms and adhering to a strict property guardian code of conduct.
The sheer novelty of this living situation is rife for comedic exploitation. Those who live or who have lived like this will recognise the absurdity of the situation, and those who were unfamiliar with the concept of property guardianship will be introduced to a small but illuminating consequence of our current national housing situation.
The housing crisis takes centre stage
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the centre of the global comedy universe. With writers and performers from all walks of life bringing their shows to the Fringe stage for a shot at comedy stardom, it’s no wonder a show based around the housing crisis would appear there eventually.
Diane Spencer’s hit Edinburgh show Power Tool was inspired by her experience making another, non-hit show with celebrity Nancy Dell’Olio. Before Dell’Olio entered her life, Spencer was living in the only London house her and her partner could afford, which was stained from the previous owners’ deceased remains. Dell’Olio introduced Spencer to the London high life, and Power Tool highlights the contrast between the London of the elite and the London of a struggling artist to great comic effect.
Like Crashing, Power Tool is not a comedy about the housing crisis – it simply uses the housing crisis as inspiration. Though the housing crisis stains our society like that former homeowners’ remains on Diane Spencer’s carpet, these projects prove that finding humour in the housing crisis, whether tackling its causes or consequences, can actually be thoughtful, helpful and cathartic for those suffering through it.
The editorial unit