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"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." This is only one line from a film that was to epitomize a certain group of people in the 1980s. It was uttered by the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 Oliver Stone film Wall Street. It became the motto for many people in the late 1980s it became their credo along with lines such as, "Lunch is for wimps," and "Money never sleeps."
Michael Douglas, in his first major heavyweight role, played the villain in designer suits, Gordon Gekko. His portrayal of Gordon Gekko, the shady corporate raider, netted him an Oscar for best actor. Charlie Sheen played Gekko's naive young protégé, Bud Fox, a man who gets everything he wants but finds out there is eventually a heavy price to pay. But it was villainous Gordon Gekko who was an inpiration to young stockbrokers and traders, not Bud Fox.
Director Oliver Stone intended for the film to be a morality piece. He wanted audiences to question how much they were willing to pay for their dreams. But the message got skewed along the way and many people found Gordon Gekko to be an inspiration. He was someone who went after and obtained everything he wanted, no matter how many lives were wrecked in the process.
The character of Gordon Gekko was based on on corporate raider Ivan Boesky. Boesky gave a similar speech on the "Greed is good" theme in 1986 at the business school on the Berkeley campus of the University of California. The film was seen as an excellent representation of the way business was conducted in financial establishments at the time. Insider trading and dodgy dealings were making young people very rich, very quickly. When the stock market crashed in 1987, Stone's film was seen as prophetic.
The character of Gordon Gekko was not only seductive on film, but he soon became a role model for every get-rich-quick merchant, or the ultimate alpha male who had everything he wanted, flew in private jets and making money by creating nothing. Although designed as a morality story, at the end of the film it is Bud Fox who ends up going to jail, not Gordon Gekko. Gekko has seemingly outwitted everyone and lost only a few million dollars.
Michael Douglas and Oliver Stone were both surprised at people's reaction to Gordon Gekko. Douglas claims that many stockbrokers still approach him saying that his portrayal of Gekko is the reason they became brokers. With scandals such as Enron and illegal dealings still in the news, it seems that very little has changed since the 1980s.