15 May The common sense of Carl Fox
Photo by Ahsanization ッ on Unsplash
Continuing my walk through the characters of Wall Street, we have Carl Fox, Bud’s father – played by Charlie Sheen’s real life father, Martin Sheen. Where Bud Fox seems imbued with the spirit of Manhattan in the 1980s – looking to climb the ladder, never satisfied, always wanting more, lusting for money and jockeying for position – Carl is down-to-earth and not interested in chasing money at every turn.
At the beginning of the film, we find Bud asking Carl for money and Carl wondering what’s going on. After all, Bud could have been a doctor or lawyer but instead took a “sales job” and now can’t make ends meet. But for Bud, it’ll all be worth it when he strikes it rich. In fact, after working with Gekko, Bud shows up with $5000 and shoves it in Carl’s pocket. Carl would rather that Bud keep it for himself in case he needs it later, but Bud is ever so confident that his gravy train with Gekko will last forever.
The relationship between Carl and Bud takes a sour turn as Bud becomes tighter with Gekko. In some ways, the viewer can sense that Bud wishes Gordon were his own father and he could have learned at the feet of the master for all these years. Carl is old hat – just a blue collar airline worker who doesn’t see the glory in amassing a fortune. This reaches a boiling point when Carl is invited to Bud’s fancy apartment (which looks hideous, IMO) with the union reps to listen to Gekko’s proposal. Bud has sold Gekko on the idea that they should purchase Bluestar Airlines – the company where Carl has worked for years – and make cuts to the pension. Get the union reps to agree to some changes to avoid the company going bankrupt and voila! A deal is made where Gordon gets richer than he already is and Bud becomes the President of Bluestar. During the pitch, the union reps seem conciliatory and, though they ask to see the fine print of the deal, they are not turned off by Gekko.
Carl, meanwhile, sees through the whole charade. Sitting on a loveseat studying the paperwork, Carl is not impressed by the dog-and-pony show. When asked for his opinion, he offers this:
“There came into Egypt a Pharaoh who did not know…”
Gordon doesn’t get the reference, of course.
It comes from the book of Exodus:
“8 A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Joseph.
9 He said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more numerous and stronger than we are.
10 Get ready, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they increase, and a war befall us, and they join our enemies and wage war against us and depart from the land.'” -Exodus 1:8-10
Carl: There came into Egypt a Pharaoh who did not know…
Gordon: I beg your pardon, is that a proverb?
Carl: No, a prophecy. The rich have been doing it to the poor since the beginning of time. The only difference between the Pyramids and the Empire State Building is the Egyptians didn’t allow unions. I know what this guy is all about: greed. He don’t give a damn about Bluestar or the unions. He’s in and out for the buck and he don’t take prisoners.
Carl leaves the apartment and Bud is distraught, saying all manner of terrible things. Carl is not moved and goes home. Nevertheless, Bud continues with Gekko and the union reps view Gekko’s deal favorably. Bud’s convinced his way represents progress and riches . . . until he finds out that Gekko’s true plan resembles Richard Gere’s corporate raiding strategies in Pretty Woman: buy a distressed company and then sell off the parts in order to make more money than the company is worth as a whole. This will leave Carl and the other employees who’ve worked at Bluestar for years unemployed. Bud feels betrayed not only by Gekko’s true intention with the company but that Gekko hid it from him. He actually only discovers the deceit by accident. In the midst of this, Carl has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital, which only adds to Bud’s guilt.
Bud confronts Gekko about his treachery but Gekko doesn’t care. He feels that Bud will make so much money from the deal that he shouldn’t be upset. He’ll have enough cash that he can simply give his father a nest egg and Carl will never need to work again anyway. So where’s the real harm? Take the money and run. The scene feels rather like Mephistopheles educating Faust on the ways of the world. As long as Bud gets a golden parachute, well, to hell with everyone else at the company.
Carl is older and wiser. He sees through the bunk and BS that Gordon spouts off. It’s impressive to Bud and even to the union reps but it’s not convincing to Carl. In a world of MSM lies and corporate-controlled narratives, we could all stand to be more like Carl.
After Bud is arrested at work and quite literally perp-walked out the door, he sets up Gekko by wearing a wire. On the way to the courthouse, Bud is in the car with his parents. Carl tells him:
“It’s gonna be hard on you, that’s for sure. But maybe in some kind of screwed-up way, it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to you. You stop going for the easy buck and produce something with your life. Create instead of living off the buying and selling of others.”
Now consider that 70% of the US economy is consumption.
“Consumer spending consistently accounts for about 70% of the U.S. economy. What Americans buy with all of that consumption is divided into two major categories: First, there’s non-discretionary spending on necessities such as food, medicine, housing, and clothing. Second, there’s discretionary spending, which includes all non-essential goods and services.” –https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0512/the-spending-habits-of-americans.aspx
Years later in the sequel, a post-prison Gekko would warn an audience of Millennial college kids about the consumer economy:
Someone reminded me the other evening that I once said, greed is good.
Now it seems it’s legal!
But folks, you know it’s greed that makes my bartender buy three houses he cannot afford with no money down. And it is greed that makes your parents refinance their 200,000 dollar house for 250K, and then they take that extra 50K and they go down to the shopping mall and they buy a plasma TV, cell phones, computers and an SUV. And hey, why not a second home while we are at it. Because, gee whiz, I mean we all know the prices of houses in America always go up. Right?
And it’s greed that makes the government of this country cut the interest rates to 1% after 9/11 so we can all go shopping again.
Just when we think perhaps the Pharoah learned his lesson in jail, we discover he’s merely gotten smarter about how to manipulate the markets.
Carl was right all along.