There’s one very simple reason bankers are proud of The Wolf of Wall Street: greed works.
My boyfriend works in the City. His job is to take large sums of money and turn them into larger sums of money. People don’t like this. Last summer, a group of anti-capitalist protesters booed and hissed at him on his way into a meeting at Citibank. “They called me the devil. It was fucking brilliant!” he enthused over dinner that night. I still can’t tell you what a differential is, or how the stock exchange works, but I do know that tough skin and a moderate god complex are essential pre-requisites of the industry.
Meetings always include at least one quote from Gordon Gekko, whose gems of wisdom include: “Greed is right, greed works”
Although he ordinarily approaches cinema with the blind-sidedness of a Shire horse, there had been a lot of buzz about The Wolf of Wall Street in my boyfriend’s office. Senior colleagues had seen it as soon as it came out, at The Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, presumably reluctant to be seen doing anything by halves or behind-the-curve. It seemed almost mandatory to see this film – in my boyfriend’s office, meetings always include at least one quote from Gordon Gekko, the semi-fictional stockbroker of the 1987 movie Wall Street, whose gems of wisdom include: “Greed is right, greed works”. Jordan Belfort is, apparently, becoming the new Gordon Gekko. And everybody loves him.
Our plan was to get a group of his work friends together (all men, it’s true across the board that the City is a giant boys’ club) and make an evening of it. They all cried off at the last minute, hungover from a night before that had ended in a strip club. The only two tickets remaining were in the very front row, but the promise of a naked Margot Robbie made this, if anything, an additional selling point. I was just happy to be on a trip to the cinema that didn’t centre on Bruce Willis and/or explosions.
There are some notable similarities between the man I was sitting next to and the man on the screen. Neither were born into privileged backgrounds, both are arrogant, and both work on the unshakable belief that persistence will (without exception) lead to success. Both are, certainly, given to excess: During the scene where Belfort drags himself tortuously towards his car, too high to engage his muscles, my boyfriend murmured “We’ve all been there.” He is currently researching motorbikes. He plans to buy a Harley. “That,” I whispered back “is exactly why you can’t have a motorbike.”
Martinis through lunch, coming home already drunk at 7pm, eye-drops in the morning, medicating yourself through long-haul flights – it’s all par for the course. But the industry has certainly cleaned itself up, in practice anyway, since Belfort’s days. I got the feeling my boyfriend’s bosses – many of whom remember Black Monday – were recommending this film to their younger colleagues in a haze of nostalgia.
Real stockbrokers and investment analysts are highly-educated, persuaded away from high-minded ambitions by the stock market glamour of more more more
The few office parties I have attended have been suffused with a constant air of ‘Look what you could have’, set in expensive nightclubs or the bosses’ own Mayfair address, their wives lamenting delayed flights to the Bahamas or showing off designer watches. There’s none of the head-shaving, prositutes and midget-tossing, but maybe wives and girlfriends aren’t invited to those kinds of parties. Jordon Belfort’s belief that “Money makes you a better person,” seems to be the subliminal mantra of the industry. Stockbrokers and investment analysts aren’t a motley rabble of blue-collar salesmen and ex-diner employees like Belfort’s gang. They are highly-educated, overwhelmingly Oxbridge master’s graduates, who have been persuaded away from high-minded ambitions to become professors and doctors and human-rights lawyers by the stock market glamour of more more more.
So, I asked my boyfriend on the walk home, was Belfort’s behaviour inherently wrong? “Well, he’s certainly not Jesus. But I liked him. I think we’d be friends.” The scariest thing is I liked him too. It’s difficult not to like a man who sees the life he wants and grabs it. Getting the life you want is the medal that’s held up to every aspiring young man (and the few women) in the finance industry. The City and Wall Street do nothing to distance themselves from this carrot-and-stick approach because, quite simply, it works. Greed, sadly, really does work.
All images: Universal