The movies Wall Street (1985) and Boiler Room (2000) tell similar tales. In each a wet behind the ears stock broker seeks fast money while striving for the approval of his father. Despite these plot similarities, the conflicts between the lead characters of each film and their fathers illustrate the changes in the perception of business and Wall Street from 1985 to 2000.
In the world of 1985 Bud Fox is lured into insider trading deals by the slick haired Gordon Gekko. Despite his shady dealings, Gekko is a well known business man on Wall Street, even appearing on the cover of Fortune magazine. Yet Bud’s father is still not impressed. He does not care about the size or prestige of the firm where his son works, he is more upset by the fact that Bud doesn’t work with his hands for a living. As an airline mechanic he can’t understand how his son is earning a living pushing paper. Though he is disappointed with the insider trading Bud becomes a part of, he is unsupportive of his son’s line of work long before it becomes illegal. For Wall Street the moral isn’t just that there is no any honor in fast money, it’s that there is no any honor in corporate work.
In 2000 Boiler Room has a different world view. Seth’s father is fine with the fact that his son isn’t working in a service job, in fact he likely would have considered that just as disappointing as his time at JT Marlin. For him it isn’t that Seth is working in the corporate world, it’s that he isn’t working for the right kind of firm within that world. The question changes from “Why not labor work?” to “Why not JP Morgan?” So the moral lesson of Boiler Room is there is no honor in fast money that is obtained in the wrong kind of way. Corporate work and corporate greed, within certain parameters, is fine.
We will have to see how the lesson changes again in Oliver Stone’s upcoming sequel Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps which is currently shooting in New York City.