What can we learn from “Money Monster” or “Billions”

by Jul 27, 2016

In the aftermath of the Vietnam war a rash of films, including such classics as “Apocalypse Now”, “The Deerhunter” and “Good Morning Vietnam”, were produced by the Hollywood studios. It’s defeat in Vietnam shattered the myth of American military invincibility. These films also brought home to us the horror, the tragi-comedy and futility of a conflict that we were glad only to experience remotely in the comfort of a cinema or of our own homes. Just as war is itself a great leveler, the power of film and TV is their ability to cut across economic and demographic lines to reach mass audiences, allowing us all to experience roles, emotions and insights that are at once so close and yet so distant.

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 left a different kind of scar on society. It shattered the myth of the invincibility of the capitalist system. It too is now attracting the attention of Hollywood. “The Big Short”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Billions” and others have all sought to exploit or explain the newfound notoriety of the finance industry. The latest offering released a few weeks ago was the “Money Monster”. The film centers around Wall Street whizz and Finance TV show host, Lee Gates, who is taken hostage live on air by Jack, an investor. Jack has lost a huge amount of savings on one of Gates’ stock market tips and is seeking retribution. Viewers don’t need to understand Jack’s investments to relate emotionally to the devastation that he experiences through his loss, and his resulting desire for revenge.

These films and TV series are designed primarily to entertain. The Big Short even sets out to educate, using engaging techniques to shed light on complex concepts. At face value they succeed. At another level they all fail. Following the retreat from Vietnam the US hesitated for many years to get drawn into unnecessary conflicts abroad. Military adventurism was a luxury that society could afford to live without. But money and our reliance on efficient capital markets are not a luxury. We all need money. Society needs investment. The history of our progress as a civilization has been closely linked to the efficient management of economic resources.   

So, how can we move beyond entertainment to a better society? How do we embed the lessons of the financial crisis in our collective emotional psyche? How does Jack get his real revenge on Lee Gates?

The answer is individual empowerment.

Technology has empowered us in every other part of our lives. The moral of the financial crisis is that we all need to take charge of our financial future. We can’t rely on governments. We can’t rely on central banks that are desperately handing out cheap monetary drugs to a financial system long past its sell by date. We certainly can’t rely on the banking system itself. We need to find the hero inside ourselves. And when we do, that is when we will all find true financial emancipation. Now that would be a story worth telling, and watching.   

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