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In Praise of the GameStop Boys

David Samuels can’t say enough good things about them

Good morning. In a fun essay at Tablet, David Samuels argues he hasn’t seen collective action in a long time like he has in the last week by the WallStreetBets boys:

Them GameStop and AMC boys. Te salutant! By now, every sentient American, meaning everyone not completely narcoticized by political propaganda and fear or by prescription drugs, is familiar with the basics of the story: A bunch of small investors, day trader types, banded together on a Reddit thread called WallStreetBets to drive up the prices of two stocks, GameStop and AMC, with the goal of profiting by bankrupting hedge funds that had taken massive short positions in those stocks. As the prices of both stocks increased, the hedge funds were forced to cover their bets, vomiting up billions of dollars to the kids who had banded together to play the markets just like the big boys do, the difference being that they had placed their bets in public, with full transparency, proclaiming the goal of sending AMC and GameStop stock, as they put it, to the moon.

That’s how the game of markets is played, and there is nothing wrong with it, in theory, unless of course you happen to work at AMC or GameStop, which are the companies that some of the big boys were trying to destroy through gamified short-selling. They also happen to be the kinds of companies that day traders on Reddit threads have fond feelings about, whether as consumers of video games and movies or as former or current employees. The particular target of the short-squeeze was a fund called Melvin Capital, and as the short bets went south, Melvin had to explain to the people whose money it was investing—who included Mets owner Steve Cohen and the Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin—why billions of their dollars were now running into the sewers, a prospect that Cohen, Griffin, and their peers no doubt found alarming and no doubt also a bit humiliating. The math was so simple that any child, or unemployed day trader playing the market with the proceeds of their $600 government stimulus check, could understand it. As one tweeter named TSLA1Trillion who boasts the grand total of 83 Twitter followers put it: ‘Every 12 dollars up. Melvin loses 1 Billion! Game over at 175. $GME.’

Here, in other words, was Occupy Wall Street in action, but maybe a hundred times more effective: ordinary people protesting against the financialization of the U.S. economy by taking collective action to squeeze the short-sellers, saving companies they cared about and saving thousands of jobs belonging to the people who work at those companies, while forcing the suits to disgorge some part of the money they were making by treating the market like a giant video game and squeezing the life out of companies for profit. Give the money back to the people! And hats off to them boyz and girlz willing to show their faith in collective action by putting their measly day-trading accounts on the line. What a perfectly American act. What a demonstration of collective solidarity in action at a time of increasing social atomization and economic suffering, in the dead of winter, in the middle of a pandemic—why, I could just go on and on and on….

Not everyone saw it this way of course. There were the terrified hedge funders, including the rare few who actually despise the pump-and-dump approach to markets, and the government, which could imagine itself appeasing the mob by tossing the hedge funders to the sharks—not that old-fashioned hedging has been all that lucrative lately, with markets that are increasingly run by AI. Then there were the old-fashioned Upper West Side and Lower East Side lefties, who don’t know what to make of the internet exactly—except for the fact that Donald Trump lives there, and memes are racist. So if a bunch of day-trading weirdoes on a Reddit thread doesn’t sound enough like ‘collective action’ for your tastes, let me try and break it down for you, Susan. I too have noticed the absence of appropriate placards depicting Native Peoples and Chicano pride, the red banners with Karl Marx’s face printed on them or slogans in Spanish that recall the ancient glories of the fight against Franco during the Spanish Civil War, though being proudly ‘of the left,’ I would also note the absence of other left things like putting working Americans first and freedom from state censorship and surveillance from what passes now for leftist discourse. So maybe we should agree that it’s confusing times all around, and leave the whole troubled and, let’s face it, at this point in history hopelessly debased and idiotic question of ‘the left’ aside for now, and focus again on the main point.

In other news: A new biography claims that E. E. Cummings was profoundly influenced by a 38-day relationship with a prostitute and a brief stint in a WWI detention center. I take stock here.

Brooke Allen on Patricia Highsmith: “It’s a well-known principle that if you admire certain writers’ work, maybe you’d be better off not meeting them in the flesh. Good writers are often surprisingly unpleasant people—no one can quite figure out why, but it’s true. And never has there been a writer I’m so glad not to have known (though I very much enjoy her fiction) as Patricia Highsmith (1921–95). To use a non-PC term—I think I can get away with it in these pages—she was a predatory lesbian, in addition to being a professional homebreaker; a nasty drunk; an emotional sadist; and an equal-opportunity bigot who seems to have detested every group except the American and European gratin. Arabs, Jews, the French, Catholics, evangelicals, Latinos, blacks, Koreans, Indians both dot and feather . . . the list goes on and on.”

The permanence of heroes: “The distinguished French historian Patrice Gueniffey has written a profoundly countercultural book on the place of heroism in the human drama. Rejecting the reigning democratic dogma, he insists that great men, ‘whether they are really great or really mediocre, beneficial or malevolent, saints or monsters, front and center, or hidden behind the curtain . . . still dominate the stage of modern political theater.’ As this passage exemplifies, Gueniffey writes with an élan worthy of the subject. He recognizes that we live in ‘flattened-out societies,’ where the very idea of human greatness threatens ‘the levelling mentality’ that ‘has spread to all democratic societies.’ Democratic man, he shows, no longer knows how to distinguish authentic heroes from the glittering superficiality and spiritual emptiness of celebrity . . . And yet heroes remain, however despised by cutting-edge intellectuals and ideologues, and however much the target of angry mobs who see them as residues of an unjust past to be repudiated once and for all.”

Mary-Kay Wilmers, longtime editor of the London Review of Books, retires: “Wilmers was one of the founders of the literary magazine in 1979, along with Karl Miller and Susannah Clapp, became co-editor in 1988, and has been its sole editor since 1992. In 2019, when the LRB celebrated its 40th anniversary, she was dubbed ‘Britain’s most influential editor’ by the New York Times. Wilmers will continue at the paper as consulting editor, with the LRB’s deputy editor Jean McNicol and senior editor Alice Spawls succeeding her.”

Dante’s descendant attempt to have the poet’s 1302 conviction for corruption overturned: “Seven centuries after the poet was found guilty in Florence, Sperello di Serego Alighieri has begun a campaign to clear his ancestor’s name.”

Ijeoma Oluo reviews a new memoir by Louis Chude-Sokei: “I was about 10 when I found out that my whole life I’d been saying my name wrong. A friend of my father’s — an “uncle” — had come to town, and my white mom had dressed us up for the occasion in traditional Nigerian dress. My top and wrap skirt were of a gorgeous orange- and red-printed fabric, hand-sewn by a woman from my father’s village in Rivers State. But when this uncle asked me my name, I embarrassed myself and my family by mispronouncing it ‘Joma.’ ‘That is not your name,’ he replied. ‘Your name is Ijeoma. You have to know how to say your name. It is a very good Nigerian name.’ Suddenly my clothing felt tight and uncomfortable, as if my uncle could see that none of this — the clothing or the name — fit me. To this day, when people ask me how to pronounce my name, part of me knows that no matter how much I’ve practiced, I still don’t say it right. It is a good Nigerian name, and my father was a good Nigerian, while I am floating in this space just outside. In his debut memoir, Floating in a Most Peculiar Way, Louis Chude-Sokei writes from that space outside, detailing with unflinching directness the confusion, isolation, horror and bizarre humor of his life as a child born to a high-ranking Biafran major father and a Jamaican mother in the midst of civil war in Nigeria.”

The Capote Tapes, reviewed: “There’s always that insatiable tendency to want more from artists. If only Kubrick had done that Holocaust film he’d been talking about; Orson Welles owed us at least five more films! But be careful what you wish for.”

Is Van Gogh depicted in this Toulouse-Lautrec drawing? “The little-known discovery that the figure in this cabaret scene is ‘likely’ to be Vincent was made by the Van Gogh Museum’s senior researcher, Louis van Tilborgh. It was recently published in the museum’s catalogue of Japanese prints.”

Image: An 1856 chromolithograph of the waterfall Harsprånget 

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