American Consequences - April 2021


of the GameStop saga at the height of its currency, lighting on the limits of America’s meritocratic promise. On a lighter note, he compares the Redditors’ attitude to the heroes of Caddyshack : “They’re not allowed in the club, but they’re going to make fun of the club – and win.” He has a point... Whereas the archetypal uptight investor, aka the Caddyshack country club member, likes to invoke John Maynard Keynes who famously said, “The market can remain irrational longer than you can stay solvent” – to which the Redditors answer, in the form of an unrepeatably offensive meme which I’m about to repeat: “We can remain retarded longer than you can stay solvent.” Without endorsing their use of the outdated term to refer to people with intellectual disabilities, which is now considered a derogatory slur, it’s typical of such a self- consciously crass online community that takes perverse pride in its unpredictability, perceived nihilism, and supreme feather- ruffling power. As Arnade puts it, “They’re embracing being the bull in the china shop.” That or the gopher on the golf course... A VIRAL GAME It helps that the pandemic has provided perfect fuel for such a playful, pirate-minded community to coalesce online. In what’s perhaps the perfect illustration of this movement’s timeliness, the three stimulus checks sent to all American adults earning less than $75,000 spawned a new meme on WallStreetBets. Posts about how – and how recklessly – traders on Reddit were investing their “stimmy” dominated the page the weeks

But this Robinhood (the app, not the legendary bandit) bitterly betrayed the spirit its branding implies – or made a responsible call, depending whom you ask – and restricted shares of GameStop while its value was still on the rise. A congeries of class action suits and a congressional hearing, in which the Redditor who led the squeeze quoted sarcastic memes to the congressional record, came next with Robinhood’s opponents... alleging its too-cozy alliance with the Chicago-based hedge fund that owns most of its order flow, Citadel Securities. (Whether or not there’s actually anything untoward to that arrangement, Citadel Securities is a great name for a movie villain’s place of business, incidentally.) “People have been treating it like a lie for a long time,” he says of the stock market’s relationship to real values. “The gamers just figured out the lie.” Indeed, the real thrill of the short squeeze, explains writer Chris Arnade, is in the sensibility behind it . “They’re having fun,” he wants me to understand. “They’re mocking Wall Street, and they’re making fun of them while also doing what they do.” And, at least for a couple days in January, doing it better. Arnade is uniquely positioned to characterize the mood of the moment: He has a deep bench of experience in finance, gaming, and authentically documenting otherwise overlooked aspects of the human experience. He wrote a compelling study


April 2021

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