We’ve all had our moments of greed, when we temporarily get lost in the fantasy that happiness is equivalent to a higher paycheck and a lavish lifestyle. Worse still, when driven to financial desperation or deep envy, we’ve all tossed around doing whatever it takes to become better, richer and more powerful than the Joneses.
No better is this illustrated than in Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie Wall Street, that that although sought to prosecute the values underpinning American capitalism, ended up egging on an entire generation of young bankers and investment into believing that financial gain and greed was a virtue.
As a social documentary, an even as art, the original ‘Wall Street’ was a great success. It did well at the box office, won Michael Douglas an Oscar for best actor, and remains one of the very few financial movies ever made in which financiers see anything like a realistic version of themselves.
“As a vehicle for social change, however, the movie was a catastrophe. It did not show Wall Street in its best light, yet Wall Street was, by far, the movie’s most enthusiastic audience. It has endured not because it hit its intended target but because it missed it: people who work on Wall Street still love it. And not just any Wall Street people but precisely those who might have either taken Stone’s morality tale to heart or been offended by it. To wit, not long before hedge-fund manager Seth Tobias was found dead in his Florida swimming pool, with an unlucky mixture of cocaine, Ambien, and alcohol in his bloodstream, he gave an interview for Wall Street’s DVD bonus reel, in which he said, ‘I remember when I saw the movie in 1987. I recall saying, That’s what I want to be. I want to start out as Bud Fox and end up as Gordon Gekko.’
Michael Douglas often expresses his astonishment at the many Wall Street males who have sought him out in public places just to say, “Man, I want to tell you, you are the single biggest reason I got into the business. I watched Wall Street, and I wanted to be Gordon Gekko.” The film’s equally perplexed screenwriter, Stanley Weiser, has made the same point, in a different way. “We wanted to capture the hyper-materialism of the culture,” he said. ‘That was always the intent of the movie. Not to make Gordon Gekko a hero.’” (VANITY FAIR April 2010)
The second instalment of the cultural phenomenon, “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps”, resurrects Michael Douglas’s Oscar®-winning role as Gordon Gekko. It follows him as he emerges from a lengthy prison stint and finds himself on the outside of a world he once dominated. He now has to play catch-up, redefine himself in a different era and become relevant again, and this time his sidekick is a young, idealistic investment banker (Shia LaBeouf) who learns the hard way that Gekko is still a master manipulator.
The new storyline is a follow-up to its predecessor which chronicled the infamous ‘greedy Eighties’ – more than just a dress rehearsal for one of the most spectacular greed surges in history, with jaw-dropping degrees of stockmarket folly, corporate skullduggery, decadence, excess and high-octane narcissism. But, just as with the ‘lessons of the Eighties’, the ‘warnings of the late Nineties’ fell on deaf ears.
The 2009 Global Financial Crisis was a wake up call to many that master manipulators in the world of finance are still very real and alive. The mythic avenue that runs east from Broadway to South Street on the East River, through the historical center of the Financial District was, until 2009, the nirvana for many an investment banker and trader. After the GFC, it became the maligned home of greed and missed opportunity as millions around the world were adversely affected by the greed of a few. The crisis illustrated that more money and more power does not translate to more happiness and peace and that greed is temporarily sweet for the economy but eventually poor for the soul and pocket.
Unchecked greed can also be so harmful to the environment that it comes back to haunt the economy. In fact, the single largest hitch with greed culture and greed economics is the long-term crushing effects these have on the planet. That is a monumental problem that none of today’s greed enthusiasts have been able to solve as sociologists continue to warn that greed could be our ultimate undoing as a species and civilization.
So although the original ‘Wall Street’ succeeded brilliantly in capturing a culture, it failed miserably as a call for change. To the director’s dismay, thousands of financial hotshots dreamed of becoming Gordon Gekko—and the rest is recent history.
MSP Gents beware; ‘Gordon Gekko’ is a false hero in a navel-gazing, self-indulgent world and greed … is NOT good. Instead seek to be a better more peaceful/content man within, remembering that the more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence and his power for good.
“There is no calamity greater than lavish desires, no greater guilt than discontentment and no greater disaster than greed.” Lao Tzu, CHINESE philosopher (500 BC).