The other day, Wall Street was captivated by talking bears.
There were two of them, blue and tan, ripping into the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy. “Printing money is the last refuge of failed economic empires and banana republics,” declared the tan bear, who accused Fed officials of using jargon like “quantitative easing” to hide their true plans from the public. In computerized voices, the bears held forth in an ironic, rapid-fire Socratic dialogue, taking the Fed to task for everything from deflation strategy to its close relationships with investment banks. The odd six-minute cartoon was an instant hit on YouTube, racking up over two million views in its first week, and now topping 3.5 million overall. (By comparison, CNBC, the leader in televised financial news, draws under half a million viewers a day.) CNBC also broadcast the homemade video, cementing its legitimacy in financial circles. Soon, the bears’ audience included corporate elites like the CEO of one of the “biggest financial firms in the world,” according to business reporter Charlie Gasparino, and Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s senior staff.
The cartoon, drolly titled “Quantitative Easing Explained,” was created in three hours by Omid Malekan, a former futures trader who now works in real estate. Cartoon policy videos have not yet supplanted op-eds, of course, but Malekan’s breakout hit is the kind of political content that could be very influential in a mediascape increasingly driven by video and social sharing.
“This is the wave of the future,” Malekan says, heralding the Internet’s power to share “democratized media-making.” He used Xtranormal, a free, simple website that enables users to turn text into videos. The site’s creators predict that movie-making “will be the most important communications process of the 21st century.”
“Monetary policy is dry and boring,” Malekan told me when I asked what inspired him to take an animated approach to financial commentary. “I wouldn’t expect someone to go home and read up for an hour on what Ben Bernanke said. An entertaining video makes it easier for them to tune in and keep up,” he explained.