Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Please God, Don't Let There Be a New Generation of Gekkos

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Please God, Don't Let There Be a New Generation of Gekkos

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Blackhurst City Editor

WHEN we look back at where it all went wrong, one of those we have to blame, surely, is Michael Douglas. That's right, Douglas, the actor; not a nerdy banker coming up with some new-fangled financial instrument set to bring down his world. It was Douglas who portrayed Gordon Gekko -- an amalgam of the real-life arbitrageur Ivan Boesky, corporate raider Carl Icahn and junk bond king Michael Milken -- in the 1987 movie Wall Street.

At that time, the financial markets were being stalked by these characters, making millions on daring strategies -- in London, Sir James Goldsmith and Lord Hanson were among those doing the same. But there was also a growing backlash against them. Accusations of immorality, of seeing companies as targets not employers, with assets ripe for stripping not growing, were increasingly being made. In the cases of two of them -- Boesky and Milken -- the accusations went further, that they were cheating the system. Indeed, that proved to be the case, as both men subsequently went to jail: Boesky for insider trading and Milken for securities violations.

It was this rising anger that Oliver Stone, the left-wing polemicist film director, decided to try and tap into for Wall Street. He cast Douglas as Gekko, a money manager without scruples, and Charlie Sheen as the young stockbroker called Bud Fox, who sets out with good intentions but then abandons them as he is seduced by Gekko's belief that "greed is good".

Douglas was so compelling that he won an Oscar for his efforts. But instead of turning people off the idea of heading to the markets by exposing their black heart, Douglas was so utterly charismatic, so tantalisingly powerful, they all wanted to be Gekko. His most famous speech was recited and held up, not as evil, but as a creed to be adhered to. "I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!" he tells the shareholders of Teldar Paper. "The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, [for] knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much."

Douglas tells how, since, he's been approached by drunken bankers thanking him for turning them onto their industry, saying "You're the man." Stanley Weiser, the film's screenwriter, said: "We wanted to capture the hypermaterialism of the culture. Not to make Gordon Gekko a hero." But it did.

For Douglas, the unintended response reached ludicrous heights in September 2008. …

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