Arts & Culture

This American Life Ira Glass Man-Fatuation Post: Continental Breakup

Ira and Planet Money break down a really big financial mess like only they can. Read More

By / January 25, 2012
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TAL this week was one of those episodes that usually either grabs you or it doesn’t, a single solitary story manned by Planet Money.  We’ve seen it before, and usually it means following a number of different strands, and hearing the words, “inflation” and “deficit” repeated multiple times throughout the show.  However, even if this type of episode is not that type that would usually grab one, one might find oneself pleasantly surprised by this week’s euro clash.  “Continental Breakup” tells the tale of the European financial crisis and the origin story of the seemingly nascent euro.  Though a Planet Money story, the episode is chock full of good old fashioned drama, so much so that this week’s episode of This American Life paints a picture of Europe that makes the continent and its struggle to unite seem most like a American network TV family dramedy.

“Whatchu talkin’ about Mr. Drumond?” You might be asking. Well, we threw out a lot of descriptors in the above declarative sentence, but the “network TV family dramedies” to which we refer are a breed of television show made popular in the last decade that revolve a around a family, often a abnormally large family, who after being separated for some period of time are forced to live in close quarters and function as a family unit despite their unique, discordant personalities.  The two leading network TV family dramedies, and the ones upon which to best draw comparison are NBC’s Parenthood and ABC’s Brothers and Sisters.  By using the characters from these two shows collectively, we should be able to successfully draw comparison to every European Nation involved in the current European debt crisis..

Act I began with a shout out to Victor Hugo of Les Miserable fame who was quoted on the show, stating his desire for a solitary United States of Europe a beautiful, strong and powerful nation whose unity to would give way to economic prosperity.  When the first attempt to estate the Euro and bring forth the EU was made, an immediate conflict sprang up between France and Germany.   Germany, having been gutted by past financial mistakes which gave way to the inflation of the 1920’s, wanted to be sure that the other European nations would go all in and become one United States, because if they didn’t more inflation was imminent.  Furthermore, they’d have to play by German rules financially in order to guard from inflation.  France being a prideful, sovereign and lets face it somewhat eccentric nation, did not want to give up their individuality, and essentially get in bed with Germany whose spotted past (cough, WWII, Cough) made them not the most desirable bedfellows. Eventually France to play by Germany’s financial rules, but to not to become a united nation like the US in order keep their individuality.

In this case, Germany and France are most comprisable to two brothers on the show Brothers and Sisters.  On Brothers and Sisters, Justin Walker, upon returning home from Iraq is met with distrust due to his potential instability having just returned from war, and because of his past addiction issues.  His older brother Matthew Walker, is thus afraid to become close with or engage him, thus he might encroach on his successful independent lifestyle as a single lawyer (Matthew being France has nothing to do with his sexual orientation.)  Nonetheless as families do, the two brothers realize they must come together and function as a family for the good of the unit.

Greece has difficulty with thix new deal, financially, and once it’s put into place, Greece starts cooking books in order to make their financial situation look better then it is and thus qualify for the euro. This is very similar to Zeek Braverman’s character on the show Parenthood (played by Craig T. Nelson from Coach.) Zeek allows his daughter Sarah to move into his large East Bay home, even though he’s been shrouding a financial secret for months, namely that he’s deeply in debt.  But Zeek, being the older, prideful patriarch is too ashamed to come clean his family who are in turn to respectful to mention it, even though they know.  The EU, like the Braverman family was strong (they’ve got Brave in their name) and Greece wanted to be a part of it.

In Act II, the Euro is finally instated the narrator and European nations rejoice.  But quickly, due to the sudden influx of currency and ease of attaining loans, people in Greece begin to spend without restraint.  Sub in love and emotional openness for money, and this mimics both family dramedies perfectly.  Greeks bought cars and houses galore, they let the Euro into their hearts.  Some kind of major financial mistake was made regarding Greece’s deficit and everything fell apart.

What was the problem?  No one knew where all this money came from.  Most people don’t.  We certainly don’t, except for the rare occasions on which a Planet Money themed episode of TAL makes us understand, otherwise, it’s much easier to just watch family dramedies, where in the end, everyone always understands why things happen the way they do, and it all works out. Just like how politics is becoming more and more like reality television so that people will pay attention.