How Comedians Re-Use Government Data to Inform and Teach About White Collar Crime Using Movie End Credits

What does a Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg comedy have to do with the financial shenanigans of the past few years? White collar crime. I went to go see “The Other Guys” over Labor Day weekend, expecting some light entertainment. That, it certainly was. I had a good laugh.

What surprised me were the ending credits — an absolutely fabulous animated infographic that distills the past few decades of financial entitlement that exploded c.2008 into a few minutes of data turned into information that still manages to shock me. The bonuses. The salaries. The CEO to employee salary ratio as of 2009. The post-bailout corporate tax rate of Goldman Sachs. It all still makes me sick.

As the staff at the Wall Street Journal write in the blog, Speakeasy:

Think Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s comedy “The Other Guys” is nothing but buddy comedy antics and jokes? Think again. Because Wahlberg’s character spends the entire film being confused about the financial details of the white collar crime the duo is investigating — and who (or what) the Federal Reserve is — director Adam McKay saw fit to end his film with an educational tutorial about Ponzi schemes and a series of statistics about the amount of bonuses paid to AIG executives and more. As McKay said in one interview, “All those old cop buddy movies are about drug smugglers, and after a while it gets kind of quaint… And you laugh at (white collar crime) in the movie, but at the end of the day you say, ‘Whoa this is some serious stuff.’”

You can watch the entire end credits sequence below. A larger version that will enable you to read the text on the infographic a little easier is available on movie web.

The movie itself doesn’t have a heavy moralistic tone to it. The end credits, though — what a great way to take a complicated situation and simplify the data in a way that is meaningful to a layperson like me. The soundtracks that accompany the animation — Rage Against the Machine covering Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm“, and Cee Lo Green with Eva Mendes singing Will Ferrell’s “Pimps Don’t Cry” are just straight on appropriate for the content.

As I watched the credits, I did wonder where the data came from and how accurate the figures are. I read up on the end credits, and learned that the film director, the creators of the infographic and Sony Pictures wanted the data cited to be precise and error-free. The creators of the end credit sequence discussed their sources in an interview with Gary Susman:

The figures cited in the sequence, for example, note the following:

– that the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) bailout cost every person in America enough to take a trip around the world
– that after the bailout, some $1.2 billion in taxpayer money went to pay the bonuses of just 73 AIG execs, while Goldman Sachs got a huge tax break that saw its tax rate drop from 34 percent to 1 percent
– that the average CEO earned about eight times the salary of his average employee a century ago, but earns more than 300 times his average employee’s wages now
– that the typical American 401(k) retirement account has lost nearly half its value over the last five years
– that New York cops may earn a maximum pension of about $48,000, while the average retiring CEO reaps benefits of about $83.6 million.

“We knew the issues we wanted to talk about,” Lebeda says. “We did a little bit of research. To get specific numbers, we hired a copywriter, Mark Tapio Kines. He found all the numbers through different online sources.” The sources were official government documents, adds art director Grant Nellessen. “Sony had to vet everything to confirm we weren’t making up facts,” he says. “It wasn’t just our opinion.”

As for the presentation of those dry numbers, Lebeda says, “We wanted to do it in as colorful, fun way as possible, with cool transitions in between.” Which was tricky, says Nellessen, because “we had to hope the names [of all the people who worked on the movie] would fit in with all the animation we had put together.”

What is your reaction to the end credits?

Please let me know what you think....