Can't read my broker face?—Tracing a motif and metaphor of expert knowledge through audiovisual images of the financial crisis


Based on the question of the representability of economy and economics in audiovisual media, developments on the financial markets have often been discussed as a depiction problem. The abstractness and complexity of economic interrelations seem to defy classical modes of storytelling and dramatization. Nevertheless, public opinion about economic changes and dependencies crucially relies on audiovisual media. But how can the public communicate in images, sounds, and words about forces that are out of sight and out of reach, and can supposedly only be adequately grasped by experts? In a case study on audiovisual images of the global financial crisis (2007–), this paper tracks and analyzes a recurring motif: the staging of expert knowledge as close-ups of expressive faces vis-à-vis computer screens in television news, documentaries, as well as feature films. It draws on the use of digital tools for corpus exploration (reverse image search) and the visualization of video annotations. By relating and comparing different staging strategies by which these “broker faces” become embodiments of turbulent market dynamics, the paper proposes to not regard them as repeated instantiations of the same metaphor, but as a developing web of cinematic metaphors. Different perspectives (news of market developments or historical accounts of crisis developments) and affective stances toward the global financial crisis are expressed in these variations of the face-screen constellation. The paper thus presents a selection of different appearances of “broker faces” as a medium for an audiovisual discourse of the global financial crisis. A concluding analysis of a scene from Margin Call focuses on its specific intertwining of expert and screen as an ambivalent movement figuration of staging insight. Between the feeling of discovery (of a potential future threat) and the sense of being haunted (by a menacing force), the film stages the emergence of a “broker face” in an atmospheric tension between suspense and melancholy. We argue that the film thereby reframes the motif and poses questions of agency, temporality, and expert knowledge

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