Business Villains in Film

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To uncover the one key element that all successful films share would mean unlocking the door to cinematic greatness. There are many theories analyzing what it means to be a successful film, but one of the most common characteristics of any successful story, be it book or film or interpretive dance, is resonance. To achieve resonance, the audience must believe what it experiences and care about what happens, because this creates empathy toward the film. A good film depends on this feeling of connection – people will watch and enjoy the production and allow it to change their lives- and truly timeless films thus resonate through the ages by creating newer fans as the film is exposed to more individuals.  Two films that have resonated powerfully in their respective eras are Wall Street and The Social Network, based on FaceBook.  A close analysis of these films will reveal some key similarities, just as there were key similarities between the ‘80s and the ‘00s when the films were respectively released.  This connection can be interpreted as an expression of frustration against the super-successful, the 1% as they have come to be known, and analysis of the two films will demonstrate how much the two outcries have in common.

One film in particular that drove straight to the heart of culture and resonated with audiences in its day, as well as making a resurgence in modern times is Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. The film’s depiction of a villain who will do anything to fulfill his greed resonates with audiences today as people learn more and more about the ways in which the greed of Wall Street led to the economic collapse and recession we are currently suffering through. Wall Street also resonated with audiences in the 1980s which was a period of time of great economic growth and change. The 1980s was an era of excess. There was big hair, big music, big shoulder pads and big improvements in technology. As many businesses went overseas with their jobs there was also the advent of new and exciting technology which served to generate a new type of technological industry in the United States and in other Western countries such as the United Kingdom. Along with these changes there came a great amount of greed and pursuit of profit or success, unlike anything that has been seen before or since. As individuals in the 1980’s experienced the advent of this greed which caused economic instability and an increasing lack of moral character in businessmen, who like Gecko, pursued profit over values by engaging in illegal and corruptive activity which was allowed by the deregulation practices of the Reagan administration at the time.

In the 1980s, a time of economic and cultural turmoil when the market acted unpredictably and the new generation of the yuppie was created, Wall Street gave voice to the frustrations of what would today be called the 99%, the average American. In the wake of a sudden and surprising recession, on the heels of the yuppie assault on conventional morality which focused on obtaining material wealth in sacrifice of their beliefs and values, this film expressed the frustrations and ill-will held by most of a nation toward the few men and women with both the audacity to become wealthy and shameless pride to flaunt that success. The film was also a response to the exposure of corporate fraud in Wall Street. In the late 1980’s Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, who Gordon Gecko was based upon, were indicted for insider trading. 

While insider trading was against the law for many years and other corporations engaged in the practice Milken and Boesky were the first to face prosecution for the crime. Their actions served in instill distrust in businessmen and also paved the way for other corporations to engage in illegal activity to gain wealth. These indictments coupled with the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s in which several banks were closed due to their fraudulent business practices led to a distrust of Wall Street and the image of the greedy businessman becoming prevalent. And now, in the grip of a new and even more devastating economic recession, those frustrations have returned and are seeking a new, but not unfamiliar voice. The Social Network represents one such outcry of these frustrations because of the film's representation of a young entrepreneur who sacrifices his moral beliefs in pursuit of his own particular kind of success, which ultimately resulted in extreme wealth, as Gecko did in Wall Street. The Social Network also resonates with the younger generation as it is about social media which they are familiar with rather than Wall Street which is a concept they are not as familiar with.

These two films and their key characters, both cutthroat businessmen with the will and ability to achieve success no matter the cost exemplify the bitterness of an entire culture toward what was in the ‘80s and is still now best described as the reign of the yuppies. “Yuppie” as a term first came into use in the early 1980s, defining a young individual of the dominant upper-middle or upper-class sector of society. The survival of this once-hated cultural group and the parallel economic trends of the 1980s and today, present two pieces of evidence that Hollywood and its audience are suspicious about the kinds of people who make enough to have no fear of a debilitating recession. While it might be hypocritical for major movie producers to level a judgmental eye on the types of people who qualify as the 1%, the resonance of films like Wall Street and The Social Network nonetheless prove that during economic struggles, average Americans are all too happy to demonize the financially successful. Although Gecko and Zuckerberg cannot be classified as yuppies, the main protagonist of Wall Street, Bud Fox, is a yuppie.

Wall Street is the story of Bud Fox, an up-and-coming stockbroker who gets sucked into a world of illegal insider trading by his hero and mentor Gordon Gekko. Bud’s father Carl Fox is working-class and strives to instill the values of good hard work in Bud. The dichotomy between the values of Gekko and Bud’s father serve to divide people into greedy successful businessmen who break the law to make their money, or good but poor hard-working citizens who earn their money through fair moral means. In this division, the film serves to spread the filmmakers’ message about greedy, evil businessmen, and the opposition of the good hardworking middle-class who do sacrifice their values for greed.

The Social Network is the story of real-life billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. The film follows Zuckerberg through his creation of Facebook and its evolution from a site used at one college campus to a social phenomenon used by the entire world. The film suggests that Zuckerberg stole the Facebook idea from the Winklevoss twins, with whom he partnered to create a social media site while at Harvard. The film depicts how the Winklevoss twins approached Zuckerberg to assist with their social media site to which Zuckerberg agreed but is then shown evading the twins so he can build his own site. Zuckerberg is portrayed as having a sense of urgency to launch the site which implies that he is trying to release his site before the twins in order to ensure its success. The film also demonstrates how Zuckerberg lost his only close friend, Eduardo Saverin, as a direct result of his desire to see the business grow and expand. The film portrays Zuckerberg’s treatment of Saverin as cold and cruel, as he is cut out of the company despite providing financing for the venture out of the pure goodwill of friendship. Saverin had no idea the venture would be as successful as it was, in fact, the project could have failed however Saverin entrusted Zuckerberg with a large amount of money regardless of these reasons.   Zuckerberg partners up with Sean Parker, another internet entrepreneur who founded Napster, and excludes Saverin from the decision-making process thereby tossing away an understanding of mutual respect between Zuckerberg and Saverin. While in business this may be a common practice in friendship it is cruel.  He then dissolves Saverin’s share of the stock to a minimal amount and gives him the news through a lawyer rather than letting him know directly. Saverin’s emotions regarding the dismissal are displayed in the film as he enrages at Zuckerberg who demonstrates no emotions at all towards his friend. 

Zuckerberg is shown to have very little emotion throughout the film, which since the film is based on fact led many to believe that Zuckerberg may have Asperger's disorder. When he goes through emotional experiences such as breaking up with his girlfriend, attaining success from Facebook or being dealt with lawsuits, he rarely exhibits any form of emotion. His voice tone does not change throughout the film as it remains flat not indicating any kind of feeling or emotion. Many individuals who have Aspergers have difficulty relating to others and forming meaningful relationships which is why Zuckerberg is shown as having little emotion towards others. Therefore Saverin is portrayed in a sympathetic light while Zuckerberg is portrayed as the heartless business executive with no emotions or feelings towards others, further representing Hollywood filmmakers’ agenda against successful businessmen.

Filmmakers of business films do not often create films for the express purpose of this vilification of businessmen. However, in an analysis of films and their attitude toward business, Steve Shugan determined that there was, in fact, an anti-business bias in films. Occupations of characters were portrayed in a more negative light if they were in business rather than any other employment status. Shugan demonstrates how some filmmakers even state that they are biased towards businessmen “cites television director Philip DeGuere, Jr., who proclaims: “When the business community (complained) that they were being constantly treated like villains on television shows, it hit me like a sledgehammer. I said, yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing personally and I’m going to do it even more because it makes sense. It’s probably pretty close to the truth” (2006). The reason for this bias, Shugan states, seems to be that Hollywood executives do not understand what businessmen do. However, ignorance does not appear to be the full reason for this bias as Hollywood executives are in powerful positions in which they make high budget decisions, similar to successful businessmen. Hollywood executives could also be held to the same standards as Wall Street brokers of not engaging in corrupt practices or the need to donate to charities.

Businessmen are frequently vilified in movies for liquidating businesses, such as Gordon Gecko, and putting hundreds of people out of work; however, Hollywood executives are also in charge of careers and job opportunities for the average, workingman. Thus, Hollywood leaders must understand the typical businessman because they embody them. Instead, a real reason for this bias is that the story of the business executive as a villain is one that resonates with the American public. This could be attributed to the fact that Americans view themselves as blue-collar hard-working individuals and businessmen have the image of earning off of someone else’s hard work. These executives exist at odds with the American ideal of corporate culture, ideals filmmakers work to upkeep. This American ideal is one in which businessmen are both successful and philanthropic “…filmmakers want corporations to be creative and socially responsible, with space for the artistic spirit, rather than bean-counting and soul-destroying” (Ribstein, 2009). Given stereotypes of successful businessmen as greedy and selfish, this responsibility seems impossible, but filmmakers do not need to be realistic and thus represent businessmen as villainous in not subscribing to the ideal of being socially responsible or charitable through their business ventures even though many businesses do give back to communities or those in need.

Wall Street and The Social Network both portray successful businessmen in a villainous light. The directors portray Gordon Gekko and Mark Zuckerberg solely focused on personal gain—Gecko sought wealth and Zuckerberg pursued domination in his field—with little to no disregard to how their success affects those around them. Zuckerberg sells out his ideal image of the social media site to the business pursuits of his later partner, Sean Parker. Gordon Gekko is portrayed as a villain to viewers through his consumption by greed. Gekko is shown to have the finest material possessions in the form of his large home, multiple cars, over the top office, millions in his bank accounts all over the world and new technological devices. Despite having all these material possessions Gekko seeks more and more of a fortune at the expense of the hard-working employees at the Bluestar airline. 

The purpose of this representation is to demonstrate to the audience that the values of money and greed are not enviable especially if the success is achieved through illegal means. Gekko appears to be driven by a desire to gain money no matter what the cost.  “Consequently, what makes a villain truly interesting is to glimpse his or her non-alien, distinctly human rationalization of these values, much as Gordon Gekko's terse philosophizing provided in Wall Street” (Fischoff, 50). Due to this presumed dissonance of values, and his defense of them Gecko is seen by critics at the time as they reported that he represented 1980’s excess. However, an emphasis on greed and success is realistically also a value that many Americans have. This is exemplified in the way in which individuals at the time aspired to be stockbrokers, rather than dissuade people, Gekko became an icon for stockbrokers and individuals aspiring to his level of success. The American dream, the basis of many American workers, is to achieve success from nothing. Once a level of success is achieved, Americans need more and more material excess exemplifying the greed of Gekko. Gekko’s means of achieving success are portrayed as not as noble as regular Americans, perhaps because of its excessiveness. Liebovitz states, “… the kind of greed Gekko represents is more complex than the monolithically evil force currently attributed to America’s financial barons. It’s the kind of greed that isn’t afraid to take real risks, the sort that ends in bankruptcy and prison time” (Liebovitz, 2011). Thus, Gekko’s lack of satisfaction with an amount of success that the average American would enjoy represents his deviation from the social norm, and the probable source of his negative portrayal in the film. The illegal means through which he attains his success demonstrates the way in which success can become negative if not attained through moral means.

Zuckerberg’s villainous nature in The Social Network instead stems from his inability to connect with people and maintain relationships. While this alone could not justify his villainous qualities, his quest for success puts him in the same category as Gecko as he forgoes his values and beliefs for success. Rather than continue to pursue the vision of his social media website as a place to connect with others it evolves into a business venture, with a growing workforce. Reviewers of the film have gone so far as to proclaim that “he is a borderline sociopath, never smiling, never raising his voice, never conceding an argument, driven to create his masterpiece through the unforgettable pain of being dumped in the movie's opening scene” (Bradshaw, 2010). These descriptions suggest how someone who is successful must, therefore, be ‘non-human’ or possess selfish values that the audience, as the majority, does not share. As the reviewer suggests the film does suggest that Zuckerberg is sociopathic. As he is single-mindedly fixated on domination. The social media website that he has created no longer hold the value for him of connecting with other individuals that it did when he first created it. Rather the film shows in one scene his quest to expand the website all over the world to prove that he is the best at what he does. This pursuit of success is behind every action of his in the film as he destroys relationships in exchange for materials and fame.

In reality, all Americans strive to be successful in order to obtain the material possessions they want, or increased social status, or whatever they desire. Americans are fascinated with rich and famous individuals hoping to one day become like them. Although those that support this belief may argue that it is possible to achieve success without resorting to cheating or dehumanizing behavior, films such as Wall Street and The Social Network present excessive greed and withdrawal as the only paths to financial greatness rather than just working hard at one pursuit. The films do not show a rags to riches type of story as the protagonists in the film were already more well off compared to regular hard-working Americans.

The taglines of both films alone serve to demonstrate the anti-success message represented. Wall Street’s tagline is “Every dream has a price”. This line indicates that the price of the dream of success is too high, or that success is not worth the price it exacts. The line presents a sense of foreboding on what price the characters in the film will pay for their success. The price could be their values, morals or in Gekko’s case something far more valuable such as his freedom. The Social Network’s tagline, “You don’t make a million friends without making a few enemies,” is not as foreboding as Wall Street’s tagline as the loss is just of friends. However, the line does not portray a positive image of success as it implies that any success will also result in hatred from outside sources. The line also implies that Zuckerberg has many enemies whom he has wronged in the attempt to achieve his success negating the success in itself. Without people, with which to share it, success is made meaningless.

The portrayal of the characters in the films highlights the negative portrayal of successful individuals. In Wall Street, the characters who achieve success: Gordon Gekko, Darien Taylor, and Bud Fox (when he is successful) are portrayed in a negative light as they make bad decisions. They are shown as primarily motivated by greed. Gekko commits insider trading despite it being against the law, Darien has a relationship with Gekko for financial reasons and Bud almost destroys the company that his father has worked diligently in for many years. The ‘villains’ are characters without backstory in that there are little to no scenes, which allows for a sympathetic perspective. We do not learn about Gekko’s background history as to what his childhood was like or what caused him to pursue greed so ruthlessly. A glimpse of Bud’s upbringing is shown through his father. The only piece of history we learn about Darien was that she had a relationship with Gekko while he was married and we have no understanding of her history. Also, successful characters are juxtaposed with characters who work hard, and are honest but are not successful in the material sense. Carl Fox, Marvin, and Bud Fox (when he is in a downfall) are ultimately portrayed positively. Carl is shown as always sticking to his ideals despite being around lucrative individuals such as Bud and Gekko he does not give in to his greed as he continues to work for the airline. Marvin is a character who is only trying to be a friend to Bud despite his indifference to Marvin. When Bud is in downfall you see some emotion emanate from him as he breaks down and cries about his demise which makes him a more sympathetic character by showing his emotion.

Likewise, in The Social Network, the successful characters such as Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg are shown in a negative light as selfish, ambitious, and indifferent to the feelings of others. Zuckerberg is portrayed as being arrogant as he shows his indifference to the lawyers who are representing the individuals who are suing him: “I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.” The film also highlights alleged crimes of Sean Parker such as providing liquor to underage teens and using illegal substances. Parker is also depicted as uncaring towards the feelings of others as he encourages Zuckerberg to push Saverin out of the business.

The characters that do not achieve the level of success Zuckerberg does, Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss twins, were seemingly betrayed by Zuckerberg and overall instill more sympathy from the audience as hard-working characters with bad luck. If the Winklevoss twins had used a more trusting programmer their site could have been the next Facebook. The Winklevoss twins were investors in Zuckerberg’s project and had rights as these investors. They were kicked out of the project not because of their threat to Zuckerberg’s wealth but because of their threat to his domination which was Zuckerberg’s primary motivation and which could be seen as a villainous motivation aspiring to crush all others for his own success. If Saverin had not entrusted Zuckerberg with his money and profit shares he would have been a far more wealthy individual and could still claim to be a founder of Facebook. The one-dimensional portrayal of these characters as just good or evil in both these films serves to present the perception of the evil in business. Both films, rather than create complex characters to create a complex discussion about the nature of business, discredit the nature of business and fail to represent successful businessmen who work hard, and earn their success.

The films, though characterizing businessmen in a similar manner, do take different approaches. Wall Street is a work of fiction, although it is inspired by real events of the indictments of Milken and Boesky, designed to vilify a stereotype of a businessman as greedy and willing to break the law for money held by audiences, while The Social Network is a biopic about a very prominent figure. The Social Network portrays a real person but does not go as far as Wall Street does in making Gecko an outlandish villain. In the film, Zuckerberg’s flaws stem from his betrayal of his friend to achieve his success. On the contrary, Gecko is presumed to have betrayed hundreds and broken the law to garner his success. Presumably, had The Social Network centered on a fictional figure, the portrayal of Zuckerberg may have been far more villainous as the filmmakers might not have had a lawsuit to worry about. The filmmakers may not have held back on making a distinction between Zuckerberg’s success and the limitations of the opportunities of others. Thus, even though the main characters are different, the stereotype that emerges indicates that these films are both commentaries on businessmen, which portray their villains as unethical and scrupulous. While Zuckerberg is a businessman he is of a different nature than Gekko which is demonstrated in something as simple as the way in which he is dressed. Zuckerberg shows up to meetings dressed in a sweater and jeans with disregard for the other businessmen he is surrounded by. Despite having millions Zuckerberg does not show off his success through material excess by buying possessions. This is showing the other businessmen that they need him more than he needs them. Zuckerberg also created something unlike Gekko who just gains from the work of others.

Both films are commentaries of the era in which they were filmed. Gecko as a villain preys on businesses and uses real estate deals to build his fortune, which was indicative of the real estate boom of the 1980s. Moreover, in the film Gordon proclaims himself that he doesn’t build anything; “You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal.” This quote from the film exemplifies the reasons why he is seen as a villain of American film rather than a hero. The principals are opposite traditional American values, which are all about building your success yourself and being independent. The fact that Gecko’s fortune is made from destroying the businesses of others makes him the ultimate villain in the eyes of Americans who love the small business owner and startup investments. As more and more manufacturing jobs move overseas fewer and fewer Americans are actually creating something. Gekko could have been envisioning the future of businesses and the direction that we would all be heading towards. His success provides some hope as it demonstrates that despite America no longer being a manufacturing nation it could still be successful in other ventures.

In his analysis of the yuppie culture of the 1980s, Callahan describes how Gordon Gekko is the iconic cultural yuppie. The term yuppie came into use in the 1980s to describe young urban professionals. The term faded as the success of the 1980s led to the recession of the 1990s. The 1980s created the yuppie with its focus on success, excess and greed. Callahan discusses how the 1980s set the tone for the yuppie as a group of individuals to thrive and succeed. “Government activism was out. Making money was in. And over the next twenty years, the ideas and values associated with the free market would reign in US society with more influence than at any time since the gilded age” (Callahan, 2004). The yuppie was vilified and mocked during this time by jokes and satires for their focus on material and social status, thus the yuppie is both envied and hated by their peers who do not choose to go down the path of material excess and ruthless ambition. The cultural hatred of yuppies is reflected in Gekko as a hatred of business success and the trappings that go along with shameless greed and ambition.

However, hatred of the yuppies cannot be solely accounted for by a disagreement in values or a jealousy of their success. A reason for the disdain of business can be found in Moffit and Gottschalk’s article on the instability of US earnings. This article from the Journal of Economic Perspectives describes an economic phenomenon that was present in the 1980s as well as today: instability of earnings for the general population versus those at the top one percent. The current income inequality has paved the way for the Occupy Wall Street movement: A movement protesting against not just Wall Street, but also the success of businessmen, portrayed in these films, who are in the 1%. The Occupy Wall Street movement opposed any practice, be it business or policy, which leads to the inequality between the rich and poor. They fought against the fact that the 1%, no matter how they made their money, have more power than the 99%. Their wealth and domination are in violation of democratic ideals. Therefore the Occupy Wall Street movement opposed Zuckerburg, not for the money he made through his success but the power he attained as a result of this success and his desire to achieve domination. The gap between rich and poor and the instability of the economy creates a lack of confidence in the market that translates into distrust of those with enough wealth to feel, or at least appear to feel, financially secure in an unstable economic setting.

The reasoning behind discrepancies in earning and economic instability accounts for the current disdain for the Facebook founder and his negative portrayal in The Social Network. To corroborate this further an analysis of Hoynes article regarding the real victims of the recession could be included. Hoynes reports that “broad statistics fail to show that the ill effects of recessions do not fall upon all members of the population equally.  Specifically, classifications of race, gender, age, and educational attainment saw large differentials in how their employment prospects were worsened by the Great Recession” (Hoynes, 2012). This article also describes the similarities of economic trends from the 1980s to today. A correlation of these trends draws on the depressed economy and produces the need to demonize corrupt institutions which were created from the deregulation of the Reagan Era. Wall Street filled the need to demonize a corrupt institution by sending Gekko to jail. The Social Network does not deliver such a comeuppance to Zuckerberg but this could be due to the fact that he did not commit any crimes and his only fault was betraying those who had contributed and led to his immense success. The Social Network is also a less literal outcry than Wall Street was. The film can be applied to the Occupy Wall Street movement because it suggests that members of the 1%, a recently popular term that encompasses the ultra-rich in all industries, not just finance, have certain unfavorable characteristics that allow us to dislike them at a personal level. This is exemplified in Zuckerberg who is depicted in a manner in the film which leads viewers to dislike him although it would be difficult for them to discern why. 

Wall Street is reflective of the 1980’s form of success. The Social Network reflective of the 2000’s form of technological success. Zuckerberg, for example, does not make his fortune on the stock exchange. He profits from a technological revolution that allows millions to connect with each other. Of course, the venture was not initially a moneymaking enterprise; Zuckerberg utilized the success of the site to make a profit. The filmmakers portray his villainy not in what he created but in how he created Facebook. By portraying Zuckerberg as having stolen the idea from his partners and then eventually selling his friend out, he is still portrayed as a villain but vastly different from the illegal villainy of Gordon Gekko. Zuckerberg’s lack of engagement in illegal activity is the main difference between the two businessmen.

Unlike Gekko, it could be argued that Zuckerberg did build something as the creator of Facebook. “People want to go online and check out their friends, so why not build a website that offers that? Friends, pictures, profiles, whatever you can visit, browse around; maybe it's someone you just met at a party. Eduardo, I'm not talking about a dating site, I'm talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online.” The success of Zuckerberg could dispute the idea that Yuppie culture is dead. In his article, Gordinier describes the ways in which the yuppie culture has survived into modern times as a fundamental part of American culture. “The yuppie of 1986 and the yuppie of 2006 are so similar as to be indistinguishable” (Gordinier, 2012). Zuckerberg and technological entrepreneurs such as himself could be seen as the new form of yuppies of the millennial generation. The original definition of yuppie can only be loosely applied to modern times because the lifestyle and values have permeated many different demographics. Sean Parker is a fairly stereotypical yuppie and he is the idol of Zuckerberg, thus the influence of the yuppie is corrupting evil and all-encompassing. In Wall Street, Gecko may not literally be a yuppie, but he is what the yuppies aspire to achieve and become. Zuckerberg is like a Bud Fox that chooses the dark side and Gecko is the embodiment of temptation.

These young professionals use technology to create successful products and pursue material excess, through the purchase of newer and more advanced technological products, through the success of these ideas. While Zuckerberg did not pursue the social status in the ways in which yuppies did, through social climbing, he does pursue his social status by being the most successful young entrepreneur around and spreading his website around the world. The fact that the yuppie culture still exists helps to draw parallels between 1980s disdainful attitude toward successful business people, like that of the film Wall Street, and today’s similar opinions of modern business people, as portrayed in the film The Social Network.

In her analysis of ethics in business, Trevino corroborates this image of the business workplace as unethical and greedy. “Surveys suggest that many business students believe that they’ll be expected to check their ethics at the corporate door or that they’ll be pressured to compromise their own ethical standards to succeed” (Trevino, 4). Trevino suggests that the misrepresentation of businesses in films, television and books are a reason for this belief. Trevino found very few instances of positive views of businessmen. The only images shown in the media regarding successful businessmen are those that have resorted to unscrupulous means to achieve their success. A more realistic and positive vision of corporate America could change the belief that every businessman engages in unethical behavior to succeed.

The negative portrayal of business can be seen as a criticism of success in itself. As Boozer discusses in his analysis of career movies, protagonists in films, which revolve around businesses, are seldom displayed as achieving happiness. The mutually successful characters in the films either achieve success despite hard work or are unhappy with the material possessions or status they have earned with success. Gecko, although is successful in business, does not appear happy in the film. He is portrayed as having an insatiable appetite; no matter his success he never seems satisfied. His personal life is filled with affairs with various women. Zuckerberg is also not considered happy as he lacks meaningful relationships with others. In one scene in the film, Zuckerberg longingly looks up his ex-girlfriends, who had broken up with him at the beginning of the film, facebook profile demonstrating that he has a need for human connection which he is unable to attain despite his attempts. This could be used to dispute his portrayal as a villain as it makes him a sympathetic character who just does not know how to connect, despite the fact that he creates a social media site designed to allow other individuals connect to each other.

According to McNair’s theory, Wall Street could serve to provide a warning to those who may be inclined to use illegal means for money. As a counterargument to these presentations of unhappiness from success McNair argues that the role of films could be to be “regulatory (undertaking critical scrutiny of the scrutineers, acting as watchdogs of the watchdogs)” (McNair, 2010). The Social Network could also presumably serve as a warning to others for the sake of success. However, it is clear that the film is not a warning: these films serve to create villains. These villains are ones that the audience cannot identify with rather they may proclaim that they would never become like that person or that their values differ so strongly with those characters. However, in reality, these business villains’ values mirror those of the American public, who also seek success, whether they would like to admit it or not.

The success of films such as Wall Street and The Social Network and their portrayal of successful businessmen serve to demonstrate the kinds of stories that have resonance with the American public. The downfall of Gordon Gekko despite his lifetime of success is a story that resonates with the American public. Mark Zuckerberg’s dissatisfaction with his success despite the creation of an enterprise which millions use is a story that resonates with the American public. These films are geared towards providing sympathy for characters like Bud Fox who rejects the capitalistic principles of Gordon Gekko to support his workingman father and his colleagues. They also provide sympathy for characters like Eduardo Saverin who through supporting his friend’s enterprise and refusing to go along with the capitalistic venture to pursue advertising and growth suffers an extreme financial loss and recognition.

The portrayal of successful businessmen as villains in the film highlights the direction American culture in the arts is heading towards. As the media and arts continue to portray corporations and CEO’s as villainous in their films and books it is reflective of what the society thinks of these businessmen. As films have a certain resonance with their audiences both Wall Street and The Social Network reflect the views and opinions of a generation. The awards presented to the film also provide an analysis of what the film’s meaning had for the generation of the time. While Wall Street did not win an academy award for best film in 1987, Michael Douglas did win an academy award for his iconic portrayal of Gordon Gekko. This demonstrates that while the movie’s message did not emanate with audiences, the character of Gekko resonated with audiences at the time. The filmmakers also tried to replicate the success of the first film with a sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The sequel was not as successful as the original as it did not do as well in the box office as The Social Network was seen as the new Wall Street. The two films also faced each other during the same box office weekend in which The Social Network came out the clear winner. The Social Network won an academy award for best picture in 2010. This demonstrated that the film resonated with audiences and has been widely hailed as the voice of a generation. The qualities which resonated with audiences can be disputed as some report that is the social media aspect while others claim it is the success story that audiences identify with.

Wall Street and The Social Network both depict prominent businessmen of their eras. The portrayal of these businessmen is unfavorable as they obtain their success through illegal means or through betraying those around them. Despite the unfavorable depiction in the films, the effects on individual Americans has been the opposite. Gekko is exemplified as the quintessential businessman as he becomes an iconic figure for young Wall Street brokers everywhere. Zuckerberg is also someone who new technological entrepreneurs look up to and they all aspire to become especially as newer forms of social media sites are being created every day to mimic the success of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.

Despite the message, a film may try to portray the way in which that message can be perceived by audiences cannot be predicted. A filmmaker's vision can be misconstrued for a viewer’s own personal beliefs or the way in which they interpreted their vision. Although filmmakers may have wanted to perceive the protagonists in the film as bad individuals they ended up creating new icons for younger and younger audiences. In the words of a now-iconic Gordon Gecko, “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind”.

Works Cited

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