Too Big To Fail is Too Hard To Resist
HBO has just released a preview for Too Big To Fail, a film based on the Andrew Ross Sorkin book of (of course) the same name.
Quick editing, wide-angle shots of the New York Stock Exchange, zingy and dramatic music, then: Too Big To Fail (in a sans serif font; there’s no messing around Wall Street with anything frilly). Why haven’t we tired of that phrase? Why is everything still either Too Big To Fail or some variation on that theme?
Too Big To Save? The U.S. Financial System.
Too Big to Sue? WalMart (or not too big to sue, depending on who you ask.
And what about Too Big To Sail? Why, super-yachts, of course.
So what is about Too Big To Fail that makes it so irresistible?
“I think that when people are using it they’re almost using it in a prayerful way,” says lexicographer and former editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary, Erin McKean. “If they say ‘too big to fail’ often enough it might become true. It’s almost an incantation.”
McKean thinks that part of the charm of Too Big To Fail is that it’s counter intuitive; we don’t necessary consider big things to be all that stable.
“We’re holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously in a marvelous feat of cognitive dissonance,” she explains. “We think that ‘Oh, well, size conveys an advantage,’ supposedly. But then also we have lots of examples of things where being too big is a disadvantage.”
Take David and Goliath, she offers, or the idiom “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” — we love seeing the big guy fall, or fail. Too Big To Fail is inherently wobbly.
“When somebody says, ‘Oh well, it’s too big to fail,” she continues, “then it’s kind of a nod and wink meaning they’re going to come crashing down soon.”
Marketplace is on a mission.
We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.
Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?