Greed is Good : Why Gordon Gekko Doesn’t Need My Help

I was in Safeway tonight, and nearly wept with joy at the sight of Gordon Gekko’s smug face staring back at me from the cover of Vanity Fair.

Michael Douglas as Gekko is one of my favorite villains of all time, having delivered one of my favorite speeches of all time. Given that Wall Street 2 is due out this Fall, and the pre-promotion is already well under way, I think it’s high time we spend at least a few minutes giving the Devil his due (love that they chose Sympathy for the Devil as the theme for the trailer… it’s just deliciously wicked).

In the wake of Lehman Bros, Bernie Madoff, and a holy host of other “sure things” that have hit the decks over the past 18 months, the speech is even more satisfying in 2010 than it was in 1987.

(The image below will take you to a 45 second clip, but unfortunately, all traces of the speech in its full glory have been ripped from the bosom of YouTube by Fox).

Here are 4 reasons Gordon Gekko doesn’t need any coaching from me:

  1. Tapping Emotion As I recall, the point of the Greed is Good speech was to stir up the shareholders of Teldar Paper to let Gekko’s company come in and do their thing… which usually entailed dismantling, pillaging and otherwise smacking a company around until every last cent was extracted (as Oliver Stone so unsubtly wanted us to understand).  So rather than approach these shareholder stiffs with facts, figures and hyper logical arguments, Gordon Gekko begins his speech by tapping an emotion we all love to feel : Outrage.  (See link to transcript below)
  2. The Power of the Pause Gordon Gecko is not in the business of filling silences.  He knows the power… of a pregnant… pause.  Thanks to a bombastic, fantastic monologue written for him, he trusts the power of his words, and gives each word the space it needs to sail into the room and land gently onto the hearts and into minds of those in the audience. Not least of whom is the rapt Bud Fox (seems hilarious to think of Charlie Sheen cast as the wide eyed ingénue in retrospect, doesn’t it?).
  3. Eye Contact Notice how he selects a single face for each phrase, each thought to land on.  It’s one of the secrets of great presenters… never make eye contact with “the audience,” make it with individuals. And don’t be in a hurry to switch to someone new.  Land long enough to feel them feelin’ you.
  4. The Strong Finish Nothing wins over an audience like bold statements.  By the time Gekko gets to his infamous line, he’s got these people so deep in his pockets, they’ll follow him right off of the edge of sanity, but he doesn’t end on a whisper. He wraps it up with one of the most outrageous statements of all time – Greed is Good.

I think I love this speech even more since the unraveling of our financial system because it reminds us of the power of a great narrative, of charisma, and of passion.  It reminds us that while we should absolutely appreciate speeches for their art, delivery and the way they make us feel, we must remember to keep our brains turned on.  Lest we end up like Charlie Sheen with a wiretap taped to our hairy backs.

For those craving more, the transcript of the monologue can be found here.