Branding the Crisis: Financial Crisis Tour
In the wake of the financial crash of 2008/2009, sets of different measures have emerged in response to the crisis. As the world lost billions of dollars in the stock exchange and banks such as the US giant Lehman Brothers experienced a dramatic collapse, people were urged to react and overcome the hard times by inventing new modes to cope and survive. Amidst the so-called “alternatives” lies the exploitation of new enterprises animated by the sense of political uncertainty and economic scarcity itself. For that, we mean all sorts of emerging opportunities that take the notion of crisis, deficit or struggle as the main source of value and re-insert it within the logic of the market, aiming to capitalize on that.
In many cases, however, what is actually seen is that critical discussions are being replaced by the urgent necessity to get capitalism back on track again. Some of these initiatives can be found in changes taking place in the urban landscape. The way cities are experienced in contemporary times are often a hot topic in urban studies, and more so if we consider the role played by the tourism and cultural sector in the economic recovery of the post-bubble world. (Countries like Greece, for instance, whose debt crisis affected the whole European zone, have heavily relied on foreign visitors to re-establish its economy in times of austerity).
In this context, the United States, the main protagonist of the 2008 crisis, is also deliberately targeting the crisis for commercial purposes. In the city of New York, tours offered by The Wall Street Experience company unconventionally draw on the economic collapse as a theme for one of their deals. By promising to unveil the “mysteries” behind the “crisis’ stories” and providing information directly from people (guides) “who lived them”, the participant is invited to discover the backstage of the market. For $50, the visitor has a 2-hour experience throughout the Lower Manhattan, highlights being the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall and the House of Morgan. The guides are identified as former traders and bankers, and one of the reviews refers to one of them as “so knowledgeable he brought the whole ‘crash’ to life for us”.
One only wonders, though, whether the very idea of capitalism as a sustainable economic system is questioned over the tour or if its contradictions are ever exposed. While it might be considered legitimate for individuals to pursue their own professional choices, it is worth enquiring whether this could be seen as normalisation and capitalisation of the financial crash or an effort to restore banking’s damaged image. At the end of the day, can crises really “produce real change” or are we, by engaging in these activities, just bound to ride the capitalist roller-coaster over and over again?