September 28, 2010

Wall Street: People Never Change

Hair color may change, but an obsession with a certain shade of green never does...

If Oliver Stone is disappointed that his inconsequential Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps isn't nudging its way into the Best Picture race, he might consider sneaking it into the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Fact is, for American viewers the characters may as well be speaking a rural Turkish dialect as they argue and fret about the recent financial crisis. It's yet another aimless Recession Movie that ultimately serves no purpose other than to remind us that we still have no idea what a credit default swap is. We don't understand Wall Street, and thus we can't understand Wall Street.

But then, that's assuming Stone set out to explain this disaster in the first place, which we can rule out based simply on the fact that he doesn't actually portray even one financial shenanigan (leaving Charles Ferguson's upcoming Inside Job as the all-important final chance to explain the recession in Main Street terms). Instead, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a timeless examination of greed, similar to its prequel in an attempt to personify evil as a white guy in a dark suit.

To the extent that Stone successfully portrays bankers and brokers as scheming swindlers, we should be thankful. It puts us at much greater ease when we can pin the blame on them, the lenders, and not us, the borrowers, and Stone's stylish flair throughout the film, as unnecessary as it is to the story, still achieves an essential purpose in distracting us from the film's bleak central theme: people never change.

Although advertising firms and media headlines and magazine columnists naïvely and hopelessly attempt to convince us that we've entered a "new normal" in which people will spend sparingly and save wisely, the inconvenient truth is that 90% of Americans are earning and spending as much as they ever have (and in the case of the top earners, earning more than they ever have). Interest rates remain at historic lows and credit is still freely available to nearly anyone who desires it. As the recession begins to fade on a wider scale and the opportunities for easy money begin to emerge, we will be resurrected like millions of Gordon Gekkos, anxious to reclaim our financial kingdoms, no matter the literal or figurative cost. Isn't that human nature, or, at the very least, the American way?

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