Wall Street

When the house of cards started to fall in September, I tripled the size of my vegetable patch and ordered the movie “Wall Street” from Netflix. It had made an impression that stayed in my porous memory since I saw it twenty years ago, and I had a hunch it would shed some light on the present from a long perspective. Netflix said it wasnt available–the first time that’s happened–and I couldnt find it in any local video store. Yesterday morning it finally arrived. Jan said she’d mentioned that to the City Manager at the afternoon holiday party, and he told her he’d also been looking for the film and been puzzled by its unavailability. Another sign of the times.

Rather than write holiday cards as planned, we watched it in bed and drank whiskey. I wasnt disappointed. “Greed is good,” proclaims Gordon Gecko, the ruthless stock trader who gets his comeuppance at the end. That growling grasping creed has epitomized the mainstream values of American culture in the era starting with Reagan’s election in 1980, just after we returned from Canada, and now catastrophically concluding. The film’s economic analysis and social criticism are as simplistic as Naomi Klein’s in The Shock Doctrine, but it nevertheless captures the emotions I feel whenever see the ads for golf resorts and fancy hotels in airline magazines, the New York Times “Styles” section, the pounds of throwaway newsprint on my driveway every morning.

Repeatedly we are told that the crisis around us is caused by depressed demand for stuff, that Christmas has been spoiled by not enough buying, and that public wealth has to be funneled into the economy to promote consumption of junk. I think this idea originates in the Gecko view of the world. The film sets it against the position of Carl Fox, the father of “Bud,” the young protagonist who worships Gecko. A capable machinist and union steward, Carl despises the whole culture of Wall Street finance–the “Rulers of the Universe”–who neither produce nor create but use their talent to parasitise those who generate society’s real wealth. When I heard recently that CitiCorps is putting 55,000 people out of work, I experienced compassion for these  folks–most of them I’m sure no more greedy than average–but I also felt that this downsizing will benefit everyone in the long run.

It was startling to discover at the beginning of the film that it was made by Oliver Stone and even more startling to read the dedication at the end to his father, whom he identified as a stockbroker.  That adds to the richness of the parallel father-son relationships in the film–Bud and Carl, Bud and Gordon–reminding me of Shakespeare’s Prince Hal and his two fathers Henry Bolingbroke and Falstaff.  And it motivates me to see Stone’s latest production, W.

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