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Whilst teaching my Year 13 Media girls yesterday, I realised that they were finding it hard to grasp the importance of the contemporary context of a media product. This understanding is vital when writing a response on the Mest 3 paper on Friday 15th June. We came up with a mnemonic to help the girls remember the contemporary factors to draw out: HESP. This stands for Historical, Economic, Social and Political factors. To demonstrate this point we looked at the two “Wall Street” films.

The 1987 film was directed by Oliver Stone and starred Michael Douglas and Michael Sheen. Gordon Gekko (Douglas) is represented as a wealthy, unscrupulous ‘hero’ who manipulates and persuades Bud Fox (Sheen). The young stockbroker, Fox,  is desperate to succeed and get to the top. He admires the ruthless and legendary Wall Street player, Gekko. The focus of the young man’s corruption within the narrative is on Insider Trading/Information to affect the value of stocks and shares. Ultimately Fox has to make a difficult choice. He has to choose between the future of the company “Bluestar”, a clear conscience and loyalty to his father or admiration and loyalty to the corrupt ‘anti-hero’ Gekko. This binary opposition between the two father figures as choices captures the premise of the plot. Will Fox emulate his father’s honest approach or follow Gekko’s mantra “greed, for lack of a better word, is good”?

The text captures the contemporary context of 1985  and was released in 1987. Therefore the issues and debates prevalent at the time clearly resonate and are reflected throughout this American drama. Similarly with the sequel: again directed by Stone and starring Douglas as Gekko. The plot this time is intertwined with a personal story on Gekko’s side: his estranged relationship with his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). The setting is firmly placed in the 2008 financial crisis and reflects the contemporary financial environment superbly. The text connotes a preoccupation with technological developments right from the opening when Gekko leaves prison and is returned his “brick” mobile phone in 2001 after a seven year sentence for Insider Trading. Winnie is involved with the internet in her career and her fiance proposes financial involvement in solar panels and fusion research.

David Buckingham mentions that “Wall Street” film in his book “The Material Child” on P68: “Don Slater (1997) reminds us, consumer culture has a long history. Slater neatly tracks the idea of consumerism backwards through history, starting from the bullish assertions of the Gordon Gekko character in the 1990s movie Wall Street, whose famous motto “greed is good” appeared to sum up the materialistic yuppie ethos of the time.”

A strong sense of HESP is effectively conveyed through both texts. Lets hope the girls remember HESP in their forthcoming examination….


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