Forsyth, Scott, Canadian Dimension
What does capitalism look like? Marxists produce volumes of analysis attacking the immense complexity and constant changes in the dominant social order. But bourgeois culture needs to reproduce that order constantly, and capitalism can be condensed and aestheticized into pictures and stories.
Hollywood, recently, has gone to the 'heart' of capitalism--the stock market, insider trading, Wall Street -- and revealed a world erotic and decadent, fantastic and accessible, apocalyptic but fun. Wall Street, Working Girl, Pretty Woman all hits of the 80s, and less successfully Trading Places, Brewster's Millions, Dealers, Bonfire of the Vanities, picture this pulsating, deal-making, whirling business culture. So 'picturable' because it is also capitalism at its most imaginary and abstract, far from the real locus of production and exploitation. The films present the 'popular capitalism' that Thatcherites, business mags and MBA schools have gantasized -- we'll all be entrepreneurs, we'll all imagine ourselves the ruling class. Though these films represent bourgeois milieux, the narrative anxiety is essentially that of aspiring yuppies -- class in every film is scarily or wondrously reversible in an accelerating dichotomy of rich and poor. Class privilege, eminently desirable, is also fragile, easily revoked. But this class consciousness rarely points beyond individuals to any collective action.
Several films explicitly show that these capitalists and brokers don't do anything! It's all smoke and mirrors, though easily recuperable by a few good 'productive' capitalists of the old school, liberal ameliorations for token blacks or women or, in Pretty Woman, shopping and a good fuck (though the shopping, where image, music and commodity fetishism mesh, is much more erotic than the sex). Characteristically, sexual politics offers a way out of class contradictions and malaise. The reactionary feminist Working Girl has it all ways; the heroine reaches her utopian goal with explicit Reaganite, anti-union politics and flees slovenly working class masculinity for sexual bliss with a deal maker.
It's easy to see this materially grounded in the 'restructuring' capitalism of the 80s: the house-of-cards dominance of finance capital, the takeover games and hollowing out of the industrial economy, the sudden parasitical affluence and gluttony of new pretty-bourgeois strata, and their inclusion of the right sort of women or minorities, the engineered extremes of wealth and impoverishment. But it's also ideologically grounded in the agressive proclamation of the 'magic of the market' and the virtues of wealth which ruling class parties make increasingly explicit.
In fact, the tensions and contradictions are great, that all these stories are fables and fairy tales. …