'52 Shades of Greed' Cards Pick and Illustrate Economic Villains

Posted by Dave Burdick

If you watched any C-SPAN right after the economic crash in 2008 and during hearings on the ensuing bailouts—and who could resist C-SPAN then?—you saw a lot of poker faces. So it seems appropriate that 28 artists have come together to create a deck of cards commemorating some of the people who got a lot of facetime back then, as well as other people, companies, and concepts that the artists identified as particularly nasty icons of a culture of greed.

We emailed with one of the "52 Shades of Greed" art directors, Marc Scheff, about the project. 

GOOD: The deck of cards has been used time and again for this kind of project—were there any past decks that you particularly liked?

MARC SCHEFF: The deck of cards idea came from the Alternative Banking team, but [co-art director Daniel Nyari] was inspired by Creative Cards and we thought we could bring a lot more to the project with a similar vision. We loved the idea of creating a cohesive body of work that was bigger than just our two portfolios.

We also really loved the ideas of showing that personal projects can work. This group came together and showed that illustrators can be educators and can be engaged in the world around them. We showed that we can speak with our own voices and not just for other people (while being very grateful to our current clients!). We did it all and offered people a great product and it was a wild success.

GOOD: What were your other influences here?

SCHEFF: The Alternative Banking team modeled the concept after the Iraq War's "Most Wanted" playing card deck, which successfully vilified the targets of the U.S. military. We similarly think of the people and ideas represented on 52 Shades of Greed as our targets coming out of the financial crisis. They are the bad guys according to Alt Banking.

GOOD: I think a lot of people would come up with five, maybe ten of these cards off the top of their head. Did you do a lot of research in making this deck, and if so, what are some things that struck you as particularly interesting as you worked?

 SCHEFF: Yes, a lot of research went in. We have a number of finance people on the Alternative Banking team and they came up with all the card names and descriptions. They are currently getting even more info so if you click on a card title on our site, some cards have more information and links.

The Alternative Banking team also meets every week to talk about systemic problems in the financial system, recent outrages like the "London Whale" or MF Global's explosion, or the latest mortgage settlement as a stealth bail-out to the banks. Of course what we can do to make a difference, either by submitting public comment letters to regulators or educating the public. We actually had some trouble narrowing it down to 52 ideas and people. Thank goodness for jokers!

GOOD: What were your criteria for putting someone or something into the deck?

SCHEFF: Cathy O'Neil from Alt Banking tells me that they wanted them to be the 52 people and ideas we think of as most obviously intrinsically toxic. We could have made it all people, but we didn't want to give the impression that the financial crisis was caused by a "few bad apples"—it is also caused by a heinous culture of conflict of interest and greed. Incidentally, it was actually pretty hard to think of four women to be the queens. But, as it turns out, not impossible.

GOOD: Is there any other method to the deck? Are diamonds one category and spades another?

SCHEFF: No, but now that we have funded the first deck we have a concept for a second deck of constructive ideas around finance. Good people to support, good policies, and resources for people. We've called out the baddies, and we would love the chance to offer people some tools to help, to help everyone or just themselves in the current environment.

Speaking for myself, I loved leading this project, and yet I think a deck of tools and resources would be the real win. I hope when we release the new goal on our fundraiser people come out to support it as much as they did the first deck. I also like the idea of exploiting the exposure of "bad guys" to fund a new deck or resources.

GOOD: Have you—or others of the artists—been involved in the Occupy movements, protests or other protest art we might be familiar with?

SCHEFF: I have done some design and poster art for various groups, but this was really the first time we all came together to contribute and shed some light on a tough topic.

GOOD: Somehow it would seem appropriate if the cards were marked on the back, for easier cheating. Are they?

SCHEFF: Ha, I wish I had thought of that!

You can check out the rest of the cards—or order a deck—at 52shadesofgreed.com.