Ronald Reagan’s $8million dollar first inaugural reflected the mentality of the decade. Aesthetics, showmanship and imagery were held in extremely high regard by American society and money was the means by which it was achieved. The eighties gave birth to a new age of narcissism whose consumptive, materialistic and self-absorbed values were best represented by the “Yuppies”. A young urban professional’s primary goal was to achieve the American dream regardless of the cost. The old adage “the end justifies the means” is best illustrated in Oliver Stone’s film “Wall Street”.
If there is one word that could best sum up the thinking of the decade, it would be “greed”. Movie theatres were filled with films like St. Elmo’s Fire, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero which mirrored the materialistic and egotistical attitudes of the thirty something yuppies of the eighties. And for a number of years, the stars of the same blockbuster films like Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, James Spader, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson and Demi Moore made headlines both on and off the screen. True to the characters they portrayed on the big screen, they lived life on the fast lane, wore designer jeans, cool shades, and drove fast sports cars on their way to Rodeo Drive. The Brat Pack as they were called paralleled the dreams and dilemmas of young adults in the eighties – how to acquire one’s fair share of the American Dream during a time when an individual’s social standing was so widely scrutinized and overstated.
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Nonetheless, the cynical and money-possessed idealism that existed during the decade wasn’t exclusive to Hollywood. On May 18, 1986 Ivan Boesky gave the commencement address at Michael Milkin’s alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley’s business school. “I think greed is healthy,” he told his enthusiastic audience. “You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself” Boesky added. Several months later, “Ivan the terrible” was indicted by the Securities and Exchange Commission on charges of illegal stock manipulation based on insider information.
In Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street, during a shareholder’s meeting Gordon Gekko gives a similar speech about greed to group of investors at a company he was about to take over. Gekko concluded in his speech, to a standing ovation, that “Greed in all its forms; greed for money, for life, greed for love have always marked the upward surge of mankind.”
The movie Wall Street begins as a story of a young ambitious stockbroker named Bud Fox played by Charlie Sheen. His highly ambitious upward climb leads him to a predator millionaire Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas. Soon afterwards Bud finds himself seduced into the illegal world of insider trading and compromising his deepest moral values to acquire the instant wealth he desires so much.
The film opens by showing Bud Fox working the phones, soliciting new clients for a second tier wall street firm. “Just once, I’d like to be on that side” he says while fiercely looking at the telephone as a client hangs up on him and sticking him with a $7,000 loss. The office scene where Bud Fox works is shown to be loud, grey and sensibly furnished. Furthermore, he shares a small cubicle with another employee that further illustrates his small time status. A big admirer of Gordon Gekko, his persistence pays off as Bud is granted an appointment to meet his hero. Gordon represents everything that Bud dreams of having: the wife, family, limousine, pool, estate and countless priceless art objects. One scene shows the degree of the seductive grasp that Gordon has on Bud. Gordon, while strolling on the beach during the early hours of dawn wakes up Bud with a phone call to pressure him for additional insider corporate information. As the conversation goes on, Gordon reminds Bud of all the perks such as the girl Bud once met at Gordon’s party. “I’m going to make you rich Bud Fox” Gordon says to an extremely awed Bud Fox as the film pans out to show Gordon Gekko standing in front of crashing waves during sunrise. “Now get to work!” Gordon adds just before he hangs up on his cellular phone.
Bud ultimately moves up in the corporate world as his illegal involvement with Gordon Gekko gets deeper. Eventually however, Bud turns things around when he finds himself betraying not only his inner most principles but his very own father when Bud learns of Gordon’s plan of dismantling the airline company he helped him acquire, and consequently the same company Bud’s father works for.
The movie has a traditional plot: The ambitious kid who is so much impressed by the wealth and success of an older man who at first seemed to take him under his wing only to betray and use him.
Oliver Stone successfully delivers his message of depicting the consequence associated with a value system that places wealth and profit above any other consideration. Wall Street challenges us to examine the shady ethics a few are compelled to observe under a ferocious financial competitive atmosphere.
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