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Repeat After Me: Greed Is Not Good

The co-writer of 'Wall Street' worries that the movie's message is misunderstood. Especially now.

October 05, 2008|Stanley Weiser | Special to The Times

Prior to its release, "Wall Street" was not tracking well due to low interest outside of the big cities. "Too much reality," was another studio worry, as the film was released on the heels of the '87 market crash. The fear was that moviegoers wouldn't want to revisit high-finance skulduggery right after their own portfolios were wiped out. (Oddly enough, Oliver and I now find ourselves in a similar situation with the impending release of "W.," our look at the formative events in the life of President George W. Bush, who is not exactly the most popular man on the planet right now.)

Gekko's character was written to create an engaging, charming, but deceitful and brutal being. I have nevertheless run into quite a number of younger people, who upon discovering that I co-wrote the film, wax rhapsodic about it . . . but often for the wrong reasons.

A typical example would be a business executive or a younger studio development person spouting something that goes like this: "The movie changed my life. Once I saw it I knew that I wanted to get into such and such business. I wanted to be like Gordon Gekko."

The flattery is disarming and ego-stoking, but then neurons fire and alarm bells go off. "You have succeeded with this movie, but you've also failed. You gave these people hope to become greater asses than they may already be."

Now that is certainly not the case with everyone, but if you want to become a master of the universe, bodies and souls must be trampled upon. As rival raider Larry Wildman tells Gekko after he has been duped by him: "Not only would you sell your own mother to make a deal, you'd ship her C.O.D."

After so many encounters with Gekko admirers or wannabes, I wish I could go back and rewrite the greed line to this: "Greed is Good. But I've never seen a Brinks truck pull up to a cemetery."

Today on Wall Street

The economy teeters more every day. Yes, the system is responsible, as are the lack of government regulations. But what about the culprits who devised and sold all the dubious, newfangled collateralized debt to the public? The difficulty in distinguishing the delusional and the venal from the dishonest and fraudulent is why prosecutors would be hard-pressed to indict half the investment bankers on Wall Street.

And what would Gordon Gekko make of all this? He would be shocked. "Utterly shocked." No, of course not. He'd remind everyone how he warned us of this very lack of corporate accountability years ago; how it came home to roost. And if the bailout is pushed through, I can picture him shaking his head in disgust: "We won the Cold War. And now we lost the Cold War. America has become a 'corporate socialist nation.' "

Then Gekko would slither forward, sucking the victuals in his path dry like a raw egg. How exactly would he do this? Well, I am only a screenwriter, I can't tell you the specifics. But under the circumstances, what he'd undoubtedly do would be buying and selling. Selling and buying. Even if he was barred from trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission, he would find a way around it. Even if he fled the country, and the economy was going down the tubes the way it is, he'd find a way around it. Selling and buying. After all -- what else could he do?

Several months ago, I was at Stone's office and I saw him autograph a "Wall Street" poster. Above his name, he wrote, "Greed is a bummer."

Ain't that the truth?

--

Weiser's screenwriting credits include "Wall Street," "Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story," "Freedom Song," "Murder in Mississippi" and "W.," which opens in theaters Oct. 17.

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