The GameStop fiasco reflects the complexities of modern lifePIXABAY

Last week, the world was engulfed by GameStop. The declining retail franchise has been catapulted to the global stage in a strange sequence of events involving shorts, squeezes and, most bizarrely, a subreddit called wallstreetbets.

The GameStop situation is oddly captivating, deeply confusing and, above all, exhilarating. As someone who has never even got their head around long division, the mere mention of the stock market deterred me from reading about the story at first. But it is a story worth reading. Within the contours of the GameStop fiasco, the complexities of our modern world – from crushing inequality to the moral angst of online communities – are replicated in perfect detail.

Although the last few days have seen the GameStop saga become a more mainstream affair, with high-level investors and everyday ‘normies’ joining in on the fun, its origin lies in wallstreetbets. A subreddit dedicated to financial trading, wallstreetbets is crass, fast-paced, and, according to what little information is available, up to 90% male.

An extremely simplified explanation of the fiasco is that wallstreetbets users noticed that hedge funds such as Melvin Capital had taken out shorts against GameStop. Individuals on wallstreetbets rallied together and bought large amounts of GameStop stock, causing stock prices to surge and hedge funds to lose out. In a cruel twist, Robinhood, an ironically-named trading platform that supposedly stood for the little guy, halted all buying of GameStop shares. This only fuelled the fire, cementing wallstreetbets’ ideological role as rogue bandits uniting against a 21st century Goliath.

“The GameStop saga is a strange revenge fantasy come to life ... those trampled by the financial system have finally risen up.”

Images of underdogs and Sherwood Forest lie at the heart of wallstreetbets. The GameStop saga is a strange revenge fantasy come to life, in which those trampled by the financial system finally rise up. For many, this is a war. Posters speak with a jarring mix of military vocabulary and meme references. The language is that of revolution and solidarity, at once profoundly inspiring and inherently cringey. Redditors call each other ‘brother’ and ‘lieutenant,’ and implore each other, most importantly, to ‘hold the fucking line’.

The GameStop story speaks to a lost generation, one deeply scarred by the financial crash and thirsting for revenge. A top post on the subreddit declares that ”this is personal for me”, promising to enact punishment on Wall Street for 2008. The chosen stock is nostalgic: GameStop, Nokia, BlackBerry, each evoking millennial memories.

In many ways, the impetus of wallstreetbets arises from the swamp of modern living. The resentment so many feel towards the relentless cruelty of our capitalist system is stoked by the comradeship of the online community and the supercharged emotion of win/loss porn.

“Beyond the nerdy pop culture references and ubiquitous memes, this is revolutionary.”

Perhaps this is the overspill of a generation that has endured global crisis after global crisis, yet has never gone to war. They are angry, and this is their reckoning. The subreddit radiates a rage that rises above the apathy of the online age. Is this not a good thing? People should be angry. Beyond the nerdy pop culture references and ubiquitous memes, this is revolutionary. Millions of lives were ruined by the financial crash and few were held accountable. Now, over a decade later, people are uniting to take a stand. Investors include students and everyday workers. Is this what we have wanted for so long: to see normal people finally winning?

But in a time of Capitol insurrections and violent Proud Boy protests, it is difficult to trust a mob of (mostly) angry young men. Although I am in no way equating far-right movements with a Wall Street takedown, it is difficult not to draw at least some parallels. The 4chan anarchy that has spurred on incel movements, QAnon conspiracies and Trump forums is deeply embraced by wallstreetbets. They self-brand as “like 4chan found a Bloomberg terminal“. Their posts are littered with ableist slurs and cuckold allusions. Wallstreetbets users supposedly span the political spectrum, or rather, shun it altogether. A popular post claims that ”it’s all bullshit“; political discussion is banned. Here, they simp for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elon Musk in equal measure.

This commitment to political neutrality is less a source of comfort and more one of unease. By forcing politics into the shadows, wallstreetbets essentially enforces a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. With an outlaw attitude, pervasive slurs and 4chan dog-whistles, it is not difficult to guess who, among its masses, the subreddit is attracting.

As much as I would love to indulge in the stick-it-to-the-man exuberance of wallstreetbets, the talk of revolution and vindication are reminiscent of the darker fringes of modern politics. Of course, the overwhelming majority of GameStop investors are probably perfectly ordinary people, jumping at the chance to send a message to Wall Street in a way that Occupy never quite could. And yet, I cannot help but balk at anything that arises from the same juvenile, self-aggrandising anarchy that left five dead at the Capitol, no matter how righteous its aims, or how mainstream its audience.


Mountain View

Political violence is not a 'both sides' issue

As the GameStop saga continues to unfold, its future seems unclear. Maybe, victim to the ever-shortening lifespan of internet trends, it will die out quickly, and Wall Street will continue to reign supreme. But who knows? Melvin Capital has closed its GameStop position. A class action lawsuit has been filed against Robinhood. Maybe this will result in real, lasting change. If it does, it has been a long time coming for Wall Street.

Many people have been awaiting a revolution. I’m just not sure we wanted it to look like this.