Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/6/2016 (1912 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the movie Money Monster, George Clooney plays the dazzling host of a television show dispensing financial advice with the seductive charm of a matinee idol and the zeal of an evangelist.
But then a hapless viewer who has followed Clooney’s advice and lost everything in one afternoon breaks into the TV studio. Holding a gun to the guru’s head, he asks: Where did my money go?
More than a few critics have found this violent twist of plot beyond believable.
Some seasoned Winnipeg brokers still recall the day news reached them a ruined Miami investor had stormed his broker’s office and shot him to death.
They remember also an ominous phone call they received at the outset of the financial meltdown of 2008; and that headquarters warned them not to go outside and to avoid publicly wearing the company logo.
Violence related to personal finance is rarely reported, especially in Canada, but business presses such as the Wall Street Journal have noted clients are much angrier and more aggressive about money than they used to be. The Journal reports that in China, for example, "mom-and-pop" investors are demonstrating loudly in the streets as they watch their nest eggs shrink. The demonstrators are considered "a new challenge to corporate security."
The economic collapse of 2008 appears to have changed everything. Cynicism rules. The term "bankster" has crept into popular vocabulary.
And no wonder, given the 2008 meltdown saw a peak in suicide statistics, as well as huge numbers of ordinary people around the world who lost their homes, jobs, health care, pensions and their hopes for a secure future.
The meltdown prompted public scrutiny of the world’s financial industry. As always, where public interest goes, Hollywood follows. Clooney’s Money Monster is the latest of a glut of movies inspired by the financial meltdown. Screenwriters were quick to recognize an abundance of the elements of gripping drama — charismatic personalities, lust for power, ambition, greed, corruption, betrayal.
Like journalism in its heyday, these movies are "afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted."
Hollywood has always excelled at organized crime movies, in which morality was black and white. In such films as The Great Train Robbery (1903), On the Waterfront (1954) The Godfather (1972) Goodfellas (1990) and The Firm (1993), Hollywood producers have made a fortune dissing crime.
"But then comes this new post-2008 genre," says Brenda Austin-Smith, professor of film studies at the University of Manitoba. "It’s very specific. It invites people to think hard about a rigged system we once believed was righteous and permanent. In some of these movies, money is a character which can do good or evil. In others, money plays the role previously played by nature in disaster movies. Money itself has become the force humanity is fighting to survive."
Austin-Smith’s personal favourite is The Big Short, winner of the 2016 Oscar for Best Screenplay, because it dared to be both funny and complex about financial corruption. "In this one, high finance is a sharkfest, everyone’s a bad guy, but the industry’s underdogs try to outsmart the heartless elite. As in real life, the audience can hardly tell the good guys from the bad."
Austin-Smith says moviegoers are eating up these post-meltdown "money movies," but react in a variety of ways. Some are merely depressed. Some are exhilarated at the exposure of corruption. Some are enraged and respond with activism.
"In any case, the new genre is a powerful movement in popular culture, which may be helping to affect a change in the political climate," she says. "It has certainly made it easier for (former Democratic party presidential hopeful) Bernie Sanders to have a new and meaningful conversation with conventional American voters.
"No matter where you look — in the paper, social media, in the movies — a sustained critical attack on corruption in the financial system is there," she says. "Sanders and (presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald) Trump offer radically different solutions, but the one problem they agree on is runaway corruption in our financial system."
Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg writer.