Excerpts from “The Work World of Greed: Methods of Achievement in Popular Film”

Just as the American Dream is ingrained in many working-class minds, so are the myths that “Greed is Good” and “There is Room at the Top”…if only one wants it bad enough. Each is a major take-away of studying popular American films centered around the business world. In films like Wall Street (1987), Working Girl (1988) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006), such myths are portrayed as the prerequisites of a serious working man or woman, and they are enforced by an idol or mentor figure who has seen these principles work in their own lives.

Not only is greed thought to be responsible for the three boss’ success, but it is portrayed as the ticket for anyone seriously looking to reach the top.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) dir. David Frankel

Yet, success is not measured by happiness in how a job makes one feel excited or fulfilled. In this type of narrative, success is defined by the achievement of wealth, recognition, or of a certain lifestyle. Thinking that “Greed is Good,” therefore has less to do with the American Dream and is more an aspect of the corporate “rat race” many know too well. Despite the progression from the 1980s to early 2000s work environment, we see such myths held dear to the business world, even if we know them to be untrue.

Charlie Sheen & Michael Douglas as characters Bud Fox & Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987) dir. Oliver Stone

The “rat race” has not yet reached its end. Greed is a trait that impacts the behaviors of businessmen and women with real power in American society. Films with a focus on business should be taken more seriously than ever now as we see the progression of work and the steadfastness of greed through many decades.

Being that success is so idealized within each narrative, the American Dream is mistaken for what the business world often calls the “rat race.”

Working Girl(1988) dir. Mike Nichols

There is a great need for success to be defined by intangible aspects of happiness, love, and fulfillment through work and relationships without being tied to cutthroat or criminal methods. Understanding that greed is not good, but that healthy ambition is can help viewers remain uninfluenced by archaic myths found within popular films. By recognizing that success is not guaranteed, we might return to the original idea of the American Dream of success whereby hard work and honestly is the best we can do in getting film to portray new methods of achievement.