The Real Hero of Wall Street

I loved Oliver Stone’s first Wall Street.

Bud Fox, the young, ambitious stockbroker is taken under the wing of corporate raider, Gordon Gekko. Gekko, the self-proclaimed prophet of greed, favors custom-made light blue shirts and suspenders. His office features many Rothko-esque paintings. He has a cell phone.

Gekko takes a liking to Bud. Teaches him the ropes and the finer things in life. Houses in the Hamptons, modern art, drinking at lunch. Bud goes from a nobody, to a somebody.

I was in middle school when I saw Wall Street, but it became an aspirational lifestyle (long before I knew what one was). Raised on Disney movies, Wall Street was my first experience with an anti-hero, abstract art, and the complexity of “success.” It was all so glamorous and grown-up. Mentorship gone horribly wrong somehow seemed appealing. Apparently I was not alone. There are countless articles about how Gordon Gekko became a hero.

Twenty some odd years later, I have no use for Gekko and my youthful aspirations have shifted. But I still watch Wall Street from time to time for the lessons it teaches.

Much of the movie centers on Bud’s upward path furnished by Gekko. Insider trading comes naturally to Bud. So do clever attempts at evading SEC scrutiny. Remember, “Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel?”

Bud climbs high, fast. If I had known the myth of Icarus (who flew too close to the sun on wings of feathers and wax), I would have known where the story was headed. But that is the fun of being a kid. You get to be surprised by life.

Bud’s Dad, Carl Fox, union rep at Bluestar Airlines, arrives on the scene later in the movie. “Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life. Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others,” he tells Bud.

But Bud is up to his eyeballs in criminal activity that is making him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Cue Tribeca loft, pasta maker, and Daryl Hannah. Bud finds it hard to walk away.

Weakness is what Bud sees when he looks at his father. But he will learn the hard way that his father is the only trustworthy person in his life. Gekko’s plan all along has been to use Carl’s influence at Bluestar to take over the company, dismantle the workers’ retirement plan, and then sell it off piece by piece.

Battling Gekko for his son’s soul and Bluestar employees, Bud’s Dad calls Gekko out:

Carl Fox: “There came into Egypt a Pharaoh who did not know.”

Gordon Gekko: I beg your pardon, is that a proverb?

Carl Fox: No, a prophecy. The rich have been doing it to the poor since the beginning of time. The only difference between the Pyramids and the Empire State Building is the Egyptians didn’t allow unions. I know what this guy is all about, greed. He don’t give a damn about Bluestar or the unions. He’s in and out for the buck and he don’t take prisoners.

Indeed that is exactly what Gekko is in it for. Bud, utterly disillusioned, asks why?

Bud Fox: Why do you need to wreck this company?

Gordon Gekko: Because it’s WRECKABLE, all right? I took another look at it and I changed my mind!

In that moment, Bud realizes his folly. He is left with the hollow feeling that comes when you sell out good people. In a last ditch effort to redeem his sense of integrity, he prevents the takeover and saves the company. But he will go to jail. He loses everything, only to gain back his soul. His Dad tells him he is proud of him. Now we see who the real hero of this movie is. It has been Carl Fox all along.

Repeat viewings of Wall Street are a healthy antidote to the times we live in. It does seem as if the Gordon Gekkos of the world are winning. But there are many Carl Foxes out there. They don’t get wage increases, their retirement savings have been decimated, and they struggle to support their families. But offer them $1,000,000 to sell out their friends or colleagues, odds are, they would stay loyal. Real heroes always do.