Global Finance and the Moving Image

Pamplona, Spain | October 20-22, 2016

This workshop, organized by the 'Emotional Culture and Identity' project at the University of Navarra, is co-sponsored by STI and the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS).

Financial firms are pillars of North Atlantic capitalism. They are its elite sector, headed by powerful and charismatic people, whose brainpower, competitive spirit, and fortunes have triggered the awe and envy of the public. The 2007-2008 economic crisis, however, and the revelations about the financial industry’s shadow banking, conflicts of interest, risk-taking, and violation of fiduciary ethics have also triggered strong resentment and a wave of questioning of the industry’s modus operandi and its protagonists’ mindsets.

The popular audiovisual media has contributed to and capitalized on this change in perception and has produced a variety of investigative and narrative materials that explore the operations of the industry and their social and political impact. It has created a rich archive of feature and documentary films, television investigative journalism, and innovative digital material addressing the industry’s business practices, corporate ethos, organizational structures, political influence, professional glam, individual attitudes, and strategies of fraud.

This workshop aims to be an interdisciplinary collective reflection on the value, the relevance and the social impact of this audiovisual archive. It brings together scholars from the fields of cultural and audiovisual studies, economic history, financial studies, business ethics, and political economy to discuss the representation of financial services and finance capitalism in popular narrative and documentary audiovisual culture.

Principal Inquiries

The purpose of this dialogue is to reflect on topics such as:

  • The historical and anthropological value of this archive
  • Its critical potential and impact on the financial industry and policy makers
  • Drama, populism, and the ethics of representing the financial sector
  • Audiovisual stereotyping and mythologizing of the financial industry
  • The narrative and spectacular aspects of financial transactions
  • The tension between the archive and promotional audiovisual representations of the financial industry
  • The role played by emotions, affect and their management in the operations of the financial sector and film and television materials
  • Abstraction and the financialization of audiovisual culture
  • Lobbying, sponsorship, and the interest of financial firms in film and television production
  • National and regional diversity of the archive

Academic Leader

Constantin Parvulescu - University of Navarra


Ignacio Ferrero - University of Navarra

Alejo José G. Sison - University of Navarra.

Graham Murdock - Loughborough University

Jörg Metelmann - University of St.Gallen.

Scott Loren - University of St.Gallen

Karen Ho - University of Minnesota

Antonio Sánchez-Escalonilla - University Rey Juan Carlos

Pablo Echart - University of Navarra 

Pablo Castrillo - University of Navarra

Robert Burgoyne - University of St Andrews

Araceli Rodríguez Mateos - University Rey Juan Carlos

Jens Maesse - University of Giessen

Joris Luyendijk - The Guardian

Paper Abstracts

Ignacio Ferrero and Alejo Sison - University of Navarra [and Marta Rocchi - University of Santa Croce]
Characterizing Virtues in Finance: John Tuld (Margin Call), Jared Vennett (The Big Short) and the Habits of Moral Characters

Amongst the virtues, prudence can be seen as the guide in the decision-making process, and courage as the constant force that pushes one in the search for the good. This paper aims to analyze and compare the decision-making processes undertaken by John Tuld (CEO of the investment bank in “Margin Call”) and Michael Burry (manager of the hedge fund Scion Capital in “The Big Short”) in the light of prudence and courage: Tuld, cowardly and self-interested, leads his bank to collapse; while Burry, self-confident and less attached to immediate results, makes his investors earn thousands of dollars. The use of dramatic narrative results becomes an indispensable teaching tool in teaching ethics.

Graham Murdock - Loughborough University
Screening Finance Capital: Explorations in Speculation, Crisis and Austerity

In 1910 in Finance Capital, Rudolf Hilferding pulled together a number of strands in contemporary commentary detailing the growing centrality of banks, credit, stock market speculation and commodity trading, to the organization of the new capitalism. The  new landscape of power, corruption and crisis he  mapped was reflected on film from an early point in the medium’s development with the ruthless self-centeredness of ‘fictitious’ capital often contrasted unfavorably with the solidity and social embeddedness of the ‘real’ economy. These motifs have proved remarkably durable and have figured prominently in the fictional and documentary explorations of the ‘Casino Capitalism’ created by the neo-liberal deregulation of the financial industries and the resulting financial crisis of 2007-8 and its aftermath.

Almost a decade on, the FIRE economy, based around finance, insurance and real estate, remains entrenched at the center of advanced capitalist economies with almost all the costs of the crisis having been transferred to the public through the implementation of austerity policies.

After an initial section recovering the history of representations of financial capitalism on film, the paper explores recent audio-visual explorations of the 2008 crisis, the contemporary FIRE economy and its social consequences, contrasting fictional and documentary representations, asking how adequately they explain its underlying dynamics and its social consequences.

Jörg Metelmann and Scott Loren – University of St. Gallen
Projecting Wall Street: A Cultural Studies perspective

In Cultural Studies in the Future Tense, Lawrence Grossberg distinguishes three courses of action for “rescuing economies from economists”:

  1. Stop thinking of the economy in monolithically singular terms and become sensitized to the complexity and multiplicity of economies.
  2. Recognize the economic and economies as a combination of discursive and material practices.
  3. Identify the cultural and social contexts that the economic and economies are bound up in.

Combining Grossberg’s tactical model of rescue with Cultural Circuit theory, our talk provides a survey of economic multiplicity, discursive/material practices, and socio-cultural contexts represented over three decades of Hollywood cinema from divergent historical perspectives.  

Karen Ho - University of Minnesota
The Ethos of the Wall Street 1%, from Wall Street To The Big Short

While social critics often skewer Wall Street for its apparent lack of morals, in this presentation, I make the contrary argument that major Wall Street financial institutions and investment funds actually have a highly distilled sense of moral order framed as social purpose. Using the visual archive of dominant and influential Hollywood movies about Wall Street, I unpack the moral cosmology of financial capitalists. The larger intellectual and social project is to not only go beyond the usual critiques of greed and profiteering, but also to recognize that the more we can culturally delineate the worldviews, ethics, and motivations of the Wall Street 1%, the better we can understand how to re-shape finance, as well as how, after such a massive challenge to their place in the world, Wall Street has reclaimed, in some measure, business-as-usual. 

Joris Luyendijk - The Guardian
Greed is Good: How Bankers Imitate Hollywood’s Bad Guys 

Between July 2011 and September 2013 the London-based writer and journalist Joris Luyendijk interviewed over 200 bankers, banking staff and financial professionals who work and until recently worked in the City of London. A religious anthropologist by training, Luyendijk will focus in this talk on his unusual methodology, the main findings as well as on the often surprising responses to the book that grew out of this research project

Robert Burgoyne – University of St. Andrews
Silver Screen / Silver Certificate: Wall Street in Film and Art

Capital and commodity markets have provided a ready subject for filmmakers since the early years of the medium, beginning with DW Griffith's A Corner in Wheat (1909), and running through films such as Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987), Margin Call (J.C. Chandor, 2011), and the Academy Award-winning The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013).   At a superficial level, these films adhere to the forms of the 15th and 16th century morality play, in which allegories of good and evil are couched in secular, rather than religious terms, moving away from the Medieval Mystery play.   At a deeper level, what I will call the "Wall Street film" conveys a complex mix of ideas, interests, and themes, comparable to the paradoxes suggested by Andy Warhol's painting, "One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate)" (1962) -- which recently sold for $32.8 million dollars at Sotheby's.  In this presentation, I explore the Wall Street film from an optic derived from the concept of "complicitous critique" developed by Linda Hutcheon.

Antonio Sánchez-Escalonilla - University Rey Juan Carlos
Financial Disaster, Domestic Rebirth. The 'Indiewood' Generation and the New American Dream

According to Selcer (1990), home is a fundamental cornerstone of the national collective memory: “During good times in our history, it has been a symbol of everything good in American life. During the bad times, its status has been used as a yardstick for the decline of America”. Therefore, social cinema wrought in the New Deal used to project national crises onto local heroes facing familiar collapses. In the wake of 2007 meltdown, 'Indiewood' filmmakers such as Payne, Reitman or McCarthy have conceived as well small stories about ordinary people in order to offer insightful visions about home —national or familiar— and the new American Dream.

Pablo Echart and Pablo Castrillo - University of Navarra
Economic Darwinism in Recent American Feature Films

As happened with the great economic crisis of the last century, those of the 30s and 70s, American cinema has been sensitive to the social and economic crisis unleashed in 2008 after the bursting of the housing bubble and subprime mortgages. Although these financial issues had found a strong development in documentary film, it has also been the raw material for features films like Margin Call (2011) and The Big Short (2015), both located in the preambles of the crisis. These fiction films, like The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), have helped to consolidate the figure of financial trader as a dramatic archetype, already foreshadowed in previous films crisis as Wall Street (1987), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) or American Psycho (2000).
Financial traders, as well as CEOs of big corporations (The Company Men, 2010) and "exterminating angels" in charge of carrying out the layoffs (Up in the Air, 2009), are presented in these films as members of a privileged social elite that bases personal success in the exercise of their profession from the perspective of a strict "economic Darwinism". Presented as antithetical forces, they will always privilege their own interests against the urgent needs of others, the idea of a common good or any ethical approach. No wonder that their lack of professional scruples find reflection in multiple private vices. This research will analyze the dramatic construction of these "excessive masculinities" (Brassett and Rethel, 2014): in a different way from allegorical film approaches, these characters serve to American cinema to look directly to the excesses of financial capitalism which, to some extent, is responsible of the sunset of the American Dream.

Araceli Rodríguez Mateos - Universidad Rey Juan Carlos
Precariousness and vulnerability: documentary discourse on the crisis in Spain

Over the past decade, the American documentary film has intervened in the turbulent context of the financial crisis that triggered a global economic crisis. This kind of cinema has revitalized its political and ideological activism, an important dimension developed in the seventies. In fact, it has been the reference for the criticism of abuses by corporations of the capitalist system. Filmmakers specialized on documentary and activists have fuelled an interesting production. Actually, the purposes of these critical discourses have been favoured by their distribution on Internet.

Spain has made a particular contribution to this framework for the creation and circulation of documentaries, insofar it is a country specially beating by the economic crisis. This paper explores the documentary productions that have addressed this question, revising its ideological, thematic and formal approaches. One of the fundamental perspectives tries to understand the situation of the citizen in the crisis developed: his responsibility, by one hand, and the individual effects of excesses committed by the financial sector, by other hand. Regarding this topic, the documentary explores the collective consciousness of vulnerability and insecurity; as well as the attempts to fight the economic and political system. 

Jens Maesse - University of Giessen
A “Self-Confessed Eurosceptic”: The Multiple Voices of Economic Expert Discourses in Documentary Films

The medium of film offers a variety of opportunities for economic experts to perform “economics” as a particular form of expertise on and about financial markets. Starting from a discourse analytical understanding of the performance of economic expertise, my contribution will work out different logics of economic expert’s performance in films. The analysis will show how a particular kind of economic expert knowledge is presented in films such as Michael Moore's “Capitalism. A Love Story” and “Inside Job” by Charles H. Ferguson.   

Constantin Parvulescu - University of Navarra
The New Bohemians: Broker Lifestyles in Finance Films

Like Gordon Gekko in Wall Street II (2010), Michael J. Sandel's What Money Can't Buy argues that the most relevant change that took place in the American capitalist mindset since the deregulation era is not an increase of greed, but its naturalization. This talk analyzes how this naturalization engendered what Max Haiven calls “ a crisis of imagination.” It surmises that one of the symptoms of this crisis is the media presentation of Wall Street bankers as bohemians. I analyze two recent American financial feature films Limitless (2011) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). I aim to trace how the social function of Greenwich Village has been appropriated by Wall Street, and how the latter has taken over the function of “the most significant square mile in American cultural history” and has become, as David Harvey shows, the face of “delirious new York [...,] the epicenter of postmodern cultural and intellectual experimentation” of the 1990s, and the place where the new cultural revolution was under preparation.