In 1987 - when Gordon Gekko told America that "Greed is good" and Patrick Bateman was full of wealthy, murderous ennui - more than half of all Americans had a favorable perception of Wall Street.
These days, wolves of Wall Street are depicted throwing dwarves at velcro walls and sociopath executives are making ice cold margin calls in glass corner offices. As of early June, only 28% of Americans had confidence in banks.
The statistics cited above were compiled and reported by Gallup, which has been polling public sentiment of banks and bankers since 1979. Crises, scandals and sundry other indiscretions have caused the poll numbers to vacillate like crazy over the years, but 2012 was Wall Street's nadir according to Gallup, with only 21% responding that they had confidence in banks.
Only Congress was viewed less favorably.
So what does Gallup think is going on here?
Name that television show where a banker helped a customer get a car loan even though the customer had a bad credit score (through no fault of their own -- another lender had messed up their credit report and it was taking years to fix). Or, how about that movie where the banker got a small-business owning customer into a line of credit with a lower interest rate than their current loan, and in the process told the customer how to better manage their cash flow so now they feel more successful? Maybe it was that touching YouTube video where the banker fixed a direct deposit issue for a military spouse whose husband was deployed overseas and about to run out of needed money thousands of miles away if it didn't clear that day. Remember those? Of course not, because the feel-good stories of local bankers aren't going to make money for any studio executive or attract viral status on the Internet.
Sure, there have been crises, bailouts, attempts to manipulate interest rates after those bailouts, ongoing debate about too big to fail... yadda yadda... But what's really keeping Joe Blow on Main Street from forgiving Joe-doing-Blow on Wall Street?
Don't laugh at Gallup just yet, you logical simp. There is a very good argument to be made that billionaires in LA bungalows are waging a subtle culture war on billionaires in glass NYC office towers.
Let's start with the ultimate Wall Street character, Mr. Gordon Gekko.
1987 Gordon Gekko was a young, virile ass-kicker who just got carried away riding a wave of success that was too powerful for any man to truly understand.
Just look at this beautiful sumbitch:
Then Hollywood turned on its Gekkos.
We had 1990's Bonfire of the Vanities, which was not only about a manslaughtery bond trader, but also seemed purposefully terrible. 1991's Other People's Money had Danny DeVito playing a Icahn-ic financier nicknamed "Larry the Liquidator" who tries to destroy a nice old businessman played by Atticus Finch himself, Gregory Peck. Flash forward to 2000 when we had pump and dump guidos in a Long Island Boiler Room.
But that wasn't enough. In 2004, Gallup had Wall Street polling favorably at 53%.
Then 2008 happened.
The narrative of choice came to be that Wall Street is a den of craven assholes looking to squeeze every penny from every unsuspecting, hardworking midwesterner with 2.5 kids and a sick dog.
Since 2008, we've had the thinly-veiled Lehman thriller Margin Call, Richard Gere's portrayal of a manslaughtery Bernie Madoff in Arbitrage, HBO's Too Big To Fail cruelly allowed John Thain to be played by Matthew Modine, and of course The Wolf of Wall Street. And those are the highlights.
By 2010, Gordon Gekko was a deadbeat dad ex-con who looked like this:
Touche, Hollywood. Touche.
But what can be done? Gallup makes a good point that there is very little dramatic power in a successful mortgage refi or a small business loan transaction. It's much easier to put greedy bankers on screen, rich douchebags who make money hand over fist and don't care about who they hurt.
For instance, Hollywood would love a CEO character that lives an ostentatious lifestyle and makes millions even when his company doesn't perform. What a villain! Luckily for Hollywood, it doesn't have to look far. According to the WSJ, the CEO of CBS Les Moonves made $57.2 million last year even thought CBS's return to shareholders was -12.4%.
How you like them apples, Studio City?
So we are officially challenging Hollywood to be the bigger party here and see what can be done to make the financial sector more appealing.
Or some studio head could just be a hero and finally greenlight my script for Paul Blart: Community Bank CFO.
Until then, we'll just revel in this...
Why It's Still Cool to Hate Banks [Gallup]