I am not particularly on board with schlock director Uwe Boll’s sensibility or the idea in his forthcoming movie Assault On Wall Street that people who work in finance are worthy targets of vigilante justice:
But I do think there’s something interesting about the way the movie is being marketed, as an “excoriating look at the American financial system that is sure to stir up plenty of Occupy-esque sentiment” (that description comes from Rotten Tomatoes but reads an awful lot like press release copy).
Now, obviously Boll’s main characters’ actions have zip to do with the actual functionality or existence of Occupy Wall Street or any aspect of the 99 Percent movement. Taking up an individual crusade of assassinating bankers is not the same thing as starting up a People’s Library. A gun your main character is buying “for fun” is not the same innovative instrument as the People’s Mic. And perhaps most to the point, an individualistic crusade to recoup your losses on investments is not even close to the same thing as a broad-based movement aimed at exposing society-wide inequality. Tower Heist, Brett Ratner’s surprisingly fun 2011 movie about the employees of a luxury apartment building who rob the Bernie Madoff-like swindler who ripped off their pension fund, at least had the sense to make it the theft an attempt at reasonable and collective redistribution.
But where the aesthetics and tactics of Occupy Wall Street itself were probably never going to be particularly attractive to Hollywood, there’s one way in which the movement is tailor-made for Hollywood. As Kelefah Sannaeh put it in a long review of anthropology professor and anarchist thinker David Graeber’s new book The Democracy Project in this week’s New Yorker: “What’s striking about this formulation, though, is what’s missing: any explicit reference to the one per cent. It was a self-reflexive slogan for a self-reflexive movement, one that came to be known more for its internal politics than for its critique of the outside world.”
A void that needs a face? Hollywood is on it. In Margin Call, we’ve had Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons as sophisticated men made amoral by numbers. Tower Heist gave us Alan Alda as a kindly-visaged, deeply arrogant investor whose kindliness towards his employees curdles into contempt when they dare to question his handling of their money. Assault On Wall Street offers up John Heard as a callous creep who doesn’t care who he rips off. Arbitrage presented Richard Gere as an entitled master of the universe who couldn’t believe the market wouldn’t cooperate to hedge his best, both personal and professional. Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps even offered up a repentant Gordon Gekko. The lords of finance have gotten middle-aged, pasty, and if not outright evil, foolish. Hollywood’s collective portrayal of Wall Street may not have been able to muster a consensus vote from Occupy Wall Street or anywhere else, but in trying to bandwagon on the sentiments of the movement, it’s taken a sledgehammer to the finance industry’s cultural capital—and an image Hollywood helped create in the first place.