Over the past few months, the financial news has often read like an episode of Dallas, with a huge cast of characters fighting for the role of J.R. Engraged by stories about the Fulds and Thains, Mozilos and Corbets, the general public has struck back against the super-rich with rage and invective. Reading the comments section of any financial blog has become a lesson in revolutionary anger, with seemingly ordinary folks calling for mass jailings, firing squads, and the kind of enhanced interrogation techniques that would give Quentin Tarentino the heebie-jeebies.
The general perception that Wall Street money men aren't quite human is far from new. For the public, the image of Gordon Gekko-style sleazeballs has long colored popular perception; for the financial community, the ideal has often been the type-A, work-hard/play-hard superhuman popularized by magazines like Trader Monthly, Dealmaker, or pretty much any other title published by Doubledown Media. In either case, financial professionals aren't quite normal average humans.
Now that Doubledown has gone belly up, however, it seems that financial services employees have started searching for a fresh identity. For many, the role of victim certainly seems to have a lot of potential; as the stimulus gains steam and sanctions against companies go into effect, a sort of "Shylock Syndrome" has crept in. Taking their cue from the tragic villain of The Merchant of Venice, some financial guys seem poised to declaim, "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"
For example, as Lita Epstein recently noted, CNBC's Rick Santelli came close to inciting a riot on the floor of the Chicago trading floor when he called for a "Chicago Tea Party" to dump derivative securities, and ranted about the government's plan to "subsidize losers." Santelli, however, only represents the most vocal segment of a backlash to the backlash. Many financial professionals have started using the internet to present their case to the public. Some sites, like The All Nighter, seem to share the public's anger: in "The Poetry of Investment Banking," a character based on Dick Fuld ends by saying "Farewell my underling, farewell! For I will certainly do! I'm off to retire with my $160 mil, And I wish the best of luck to you."
Some sites, like Wall Street Folly and Dealbreaker, revel in the sleazier, more lurid activities of the financial community, pasting up tales of financial malfeasance with a prurient delight that is reminiscent of the National Enquirer. On the opposite end of the spectrum, sites like A Player or Nothing present a parody of the Wall Street wheel, the kind of sociopath made popular by American Psycho's Patrick Bateman.
Perhaps the most interesting perspective is offered by Dating a Banker Anonymous, an online support group for women who have spent dozens of years and thousands of dollars grooming themselves to become the wives and mistresses of bankers. With the economy going south, these women have found that they, too, are often expendable luxuries. Tragic, funny, and occasionally nauseating, the site puts a somewhat human face on the well-worn gold digger stereotype.
While these sites probably won't halt the tide of rage that is washing over Wall Street, they offer an interesting perspective and a handy lesson for financial observers. As much as it may be fun to demonize the market's most repulsive abusers, any long-term changes to the system will require that regulators work with the very people that are currently being burned in effigy.
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