Level 16 - Colossus
The 1980’s has been called the “me” generation, the decade of materialism, and was responsible for the greatest number of mergers and takeovers in the history of the US market. People were transformed by the power of money, and tried to take advantage of the opportunities in the stock market. The stock market has never guaranteed a profit, but there were those willing to take the risk. People have lost millions from speculating on what was supposed to be a “sure thing” in the stock market. People would bet their children’s college fund, and their retirement money on a stock tip, only to find bankruptcy the next day. But the growing desire for power and money caused people to achieve success by any means necessary, regardless of the legality. Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken bet their money, but they always seemed to win, even when others would lose. It turns out that they had many “sure things,” only with one problem: they were all illegal. Boesky and Milken characterize the rest of the financial world at the time, and Wall Street is the movie that exemplifies the such attitudes of the 1980’s from Oliver Stones accurate point of view.
Boesky and Milken had a great system. They would befriend executives in “blue chip” companies or merger and acquisition lawyers , hoping they would be given information regarding takeovers and mergers of companies before the common public. When Boesky and Milken received such information, they would strategically buy a massive amount shares in a particular company, and simply wait for the corporate announcement to drive the price of their stock up. In an effort to alleviate the Securities and Exchange Commission, Boesky and Milken spread their purchases over a period of time, and each was funded by different offshore and domestic banks to misrepresent the number of buyers. When a company would makes its corporate announcement about the merger, the public would then begin buying the shares, causing the price to skyrocket. Boesky and Milken had purchased the stock so long ago and at such a low price that their profit expectations were quickly met, so they wanted to sell everything they had at the same time everyone wanted to buy. Because they owned such a massive amount of stock, there was no liquidity in the market in the market as Boesky and Milken were willing to sell for much less than the market value, and their profits soon became the loss of the public. It is part of human nature to follow the trend of the hour, but these two knew the trend before it occurred and were able to profit, at least in the short term. Following the trend creates a chaotic cycle of winners and losers, where everyone gets a taste of both worlds sooner or later. In the case of the 1980’s this cycle was shown when the stock market took a huge fall, the fourth largest in history, when everyone thought that equities were unsafe because of the corruption
Ivan Boesky started as an honest man with a reputable position in the market, but the process of building himself up one of the richest men Wall Street caused an inverse relationship between his bank account and the quality of his character. His earnings alone totaled 100 million dollars in 1986, and his net worth was more than double that. Such a sudden rise in wealth started to make many wonder how he did it.
Michael Milken was in charge of all junk bonds trading at the well known investment firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert, Inc. The junk bonds market(high risk, high yield bond) could have made any man rich if they played it perfectly, but such a feat is impossible because of the limitations of chaos in nature. Like Boesky, people started to wonder where his significant gains were coming from. Unfortunately, the Securities and Exchange Commission was among those questioning the sudden riches, and eventually they found the answer, charging Milken for, “fraudulent conduct involving insider trading, stock manipulation, failure to disclose beneficial ownership of securities and numerous other violations.” Milken believed there was not sufficient evidence to convict him, but was proved wrong, and granted a dramatic sentence of long jail time and fines totaling 11 billion dollars. Had Boesky gotten off free?
Then came along Denise Levine, who also was accused of insider trading, but he gave in and plead guilty, cooperated with the SEC, and agreed to rat out the rest of the rats in the market. The SEC finally was able to catch Boesky because his brilliantly illegal executions had not been discovered by their “market watchers”(idiots that look at computers all day for irregular trading volume), but by someone out to save himself by destroying another.
The scandal of Boesky and Milken was all driven by their greed and desire for money, which was characteristic of the genaration. In Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, he parallels real life events with the plot, characters, and technique, to show his interpretation of the 1980’s, and how Boesky and Milken were almost role models of the decade. The movie takes Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, a Wall Street player who powers his way through the world with millions, often at the expense of others. Charlie Sheen plays Bud Fox, who is stuck in a directionless brokerage job with dreams of being like Gekko. Fox eventually works his way into Gekko’s office, where he gets swept into a different world of greed and money. Greed overcame him. Finally there is Bud’s father, played by Martin Sheen, who represents the good in this movie as a hardworking, middle class worker for Blue Star Airlines, who sees the wrong in what Gekko is doing in the financial world. He tries to explain this to his son, but Bud is so wrapped up in the money that is coming in, that he disregards the advice to get of the business. The basic plot is the interaction of these three characters, and how greed that is already present in Gekko overcomes Bud, only to leave the good of Bud’s father disregarded.
Stone used Bud Fox to not only show the general attitude those caught up in the 1980’s financial world, but Fox also represents something that is better defined: the corporations in the 1980’s. Fox starts out as an honest man, working hard to achieve the goals that he has set for himself, but his dreams lead him to a dramatic change, a change similar to that of Boesky. He became so enthralled by what Gordan Gekko had to offer, that he left behind the importance of his family and the person they had raised him to be. During a scene in the hanger at Blue Star Airlines, Bud goes to visit his father a short time after his employment with Gekko. The normal camaraderie is present, but the quick and choppy camera shots of conversation stray from what the normal visit would be. After Fox finds his dad and hurries the conversation between the two, they decide to have lunch one afternoon, which had been customary over the years. However, instead of Bud making time for his father, which had never been a problem before, he struggles to find a timer that is available and tells his dad to schedule an appointment. Bud’s dad just shrugged off the inconsideration, but was really hurt by his son’s attitude. In the 1980’s, large corporations changed the same way that Bud did. They used to be honest, and they had good relationships with competitors, for the most part. However, CEO’s had visions of green, and started to follow the trend that sucked in so many. Companies who feared the quality in other competitors would simply resolve their problem with a buyout or a merger. But as one company would profit from this, others would lose. People would lose their jobs, companies would those their appeal and market share, yet this activity continued. Oliver Stone used Bud Fox to show the role of the corporation in the scandalous 1980’s and how their was a new standard for excellence in the world that was defined by money.
To take this further, Bud Fox and the corporations underwent a transition from spiritualism to materialism. When individuals and companies started to follow the trend of others, the goal became money, power, and material things; the things that had come to define excellence. As Murray Chap said in his critique of the film, “Materialism drivers the main characters to destroy anything and everything in the way of their pursuit of excellence, power and money.” This sounds redundant, but materialism had become the driving force in everyone, and it is evident through out the film that as materialism grows and grows, honesty minimalizes, which caused the new definition of success.
Gordon Gekko and Bud’s dad are the antithesis of each other; one representing evil, and the other good. “Lunch is for wimps,” is Gekko’s line that describes his religion of greed. Gekko can be looked at as materialism in itself by his role in the movie. To understand this, you need to look at what happened to Bud Fox again. Bud was honest, but when he met Gekko, he entered into a new world driven by manipulation for money. Remembering the words of Chapman, you see that Gekko actually is materialism because he is the force that is driving Bud, and he is reason that Bud went through such a dramatic change. Trying to prevent this change is Bud’s father. Played by Martin Sheen, he warns Bud of the dangers involved with the business, and the deception and corruption that can result. Making money had become the religion on Wall Street, and it was making Bud Fox blind to his faults the same way Milken was confident there was no evidence to convict him. Bud’s dad was able to understand this, because he was the representative for good, and could look at the world around him without falling into its grasp. Why didn’t Bud listen to his father? Because money was god in the 1980’s, and for Bud to change as a result of his fathers advice would have been like the Pope deciding not be catholic anymore because an atheist in a mental ward told him it was the wrong thing to be. To clarify, the reason Bud is not listen to his father was because his father was the odd man out. Greed and power and manipulation had become so common that they defined normality, and when the good, but seemingly unusual, advice of Bud’s dad was presented, it was disregarded as almost insane. I think Bud was saying to himself, “He can’t be right, I am making millions, and he is a blue collar worker.” Boesky could have lived off the million or two he was making from his normal job, but he wanted more. He wanted to be more than a “blue collar” worker in the financial world.
I have followed the stock market for a few months, and was scared to realize just how much this movie characterized my attitudes and goals toward money. I would watch CNBC everyday and just dream of being one of those billion dollar hedge fund managers, or think about how much profit I could have made from some internet stock. I became so wrapped up in anything that had to do with the market that I devoted substantially less time to school work. People would complement me on some of the things I had taught myself, but when I was studying for my Bible exam, I realized something. I was in it for the wrong reason. I realized that there was nothing wrong with me spending so much time trying to learn one thing, but I was driven by money. First of all, I am only eighteen years old and I have plenty of time to worry about my future. Second of all, money is something you can’t let take control of your life because it will soon consume any good quality that exist, as the movie has portrayed. Money is only something that we have been given and are allowed to use, and it is not for us to take advantage of. My biggest misconception was that making millions would be easy if you put a justifiable amount of work into it. However, the only way to make it easily is by hurting others, forgetting who you are, and by putting your character at risk. In Do the Right Thing, there was a descending spiral that only resulted in destruction of all. Well, I see the same thing in Wall Street. Boesky lost, Milken lost, Gekko lost, Bud Fox lost, Bud’s dad lost, and worst of all, humanity lost in the 1980’s.