For months, network news outfits have doggedly tried to follow the financial crisis and cover it as best they can within their limits of length and depth. But lately the crisis has seeped into features and comedy shows; this past weekend was particularly rich. CBS, Fox and NBC each took the pulse of a different angle of the meltdown.
Last night, CBS´ 60 Minutes took viewers inside a bank seizure carried out by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. With 17 bank failures this year so far, the agency´s Friday night operations are becoming routine, but the show cast them with an air of somber intrigue.
FDIC officials checked into a hotel in suburban Illinois under a false company name and dubbed their mission "Operation HAPPY." They waited in the shadows of a parking lot outside the bank until the last customer left, then wheeled in heavy cases of equipment and went to work inventorying the bank´s assets and liabilities through the night like elves.
Scenes from the takeover were interspersed with clips from an interview with FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair. The effect was meant to be comforting: Bair, who "has written children´s books on the importance of saving," ("Maybe the CEOs on Wall Street should have read the children's books," suggested the 60 Minutes correspondent) repeated several times that insured depositors wouldn´t lose a penny in a failure. "We´re the government," she said.
Bair also said the FDIC expected to lose $65 billion over five years on bank closings. While 60 Minutes worked hard to highlight the seamlessness with which a bank seized by the FDIC can transition a new existence as part of another functioning institution, the overall effect of the segment suggested that there was a long wait before the tumult in the banking system would end and in the meantime there would be many more seizures to come.
Meanwhile, the foreclosure crisis hit Springfield-home of Fox´ The Simpsons. The family members lost their home after Homer spent recklessly using a home equity line of credit.
Both shows shed light on subjects most viewers would normally find opaque and uninteresting. It seems that, along with a reassessment of the structure of its capitalism and regulatory system, America is being reeducated. TV producers are tapping the hidden drama and humor in bank failures and borrowers´ woes.
NBC´s Saturday Night Live joined the fray, with an "announcement" from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that a new $420 billion bailout fund was being established and that the money would go to the person who could come up with a solution to the financial crisis. Callers from small towns proceeded to offer their suggestions while Geithner demonstrated how the money could be split between different "winners."
The financial crisis is becoming normalized in pop culture. Overall, it seems as though producers and consumers are both settling in to make the most out of a long, tumultuous time ahead.