The afterlife of Gordon Gekko

We can never really predict what the effects, and interpretations, of our cultural offerings will be in the long run, as the man who cowrote (with Oliver Stone) the iconic 1980s film Wall Street has had ample occasion to discover. Sometimes we’re even remembered for the opposite of the point we were trying to convey. Every time I see the phrase “Orwellian” used, I feel a similar sort of empathetic pang for old anti-totalitarian George Orwell.

Gekko’s character was written to create an engaging, charming, but deceitful and brutal being. I have nevertheless run into quite a number of younger people, who upon discovering that I co-wrote the film, wax rhapsodic about it . . . but often for the wrong reasons.

A typical example would be a business executive or a younger studio development person spouting something that goes like this: “The movie changed my life. Once I saw it I knew that I wanted to get into such and such business. I wanted to be like Gordon Gekko.”

The flattery is disarming and ego-stoking, but then neurons fire and alarm bells go off. “You have succeeded with this movie, but you’ve also failed. You gave these people hope to become greater asses than they may already be.”

Originally published at

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