Elevate Difference


What do you get when you cross a documentary film about the supply and demand frenzy of the Chicago Stock Exchange with a borderline Marxist, feminist film critic? A whole lot of screaming. But that’s really just happening on screen during Floored, the new movie from director James Allen Smith (My Name is Smith), which presents Chicago traders and their associates telling stories of how it felt to be in “the pits” during the “glory days” before the boom of Internet trading and the recession of late, risking their clients’ (and often their own) money. As for the room where I was sitting, there was silence and a yawn. This liberal wasn’t shocked or amused by a showcase of the distinctly capitalist obsession with money.

Smith does everything by the book: he knows who to interview, and where, and how. It’s not enough that the men who used to trade tell us about how much they love money (one couldn’t be away from the floor on vacation with his wife and children because he missed the possibility of acquiring greater wealth too much); we must see their other obsessions: cigarettes, booze, status symbols (Rolex watches, fast cars, large homes, decorative companions such as models and porn stars, etc.) and phallic symbols (guns, golf clubs, cigars, etc.). We must visualize their aggression to understand how their circumstances were; and only then can we understand how even the most successful traders turned out looking and sounding as foul as Mickey Rourke—on his worst day.

“It’s just not any fun… unless you can die,” one former trader says of hunting. But is he really just talking about hunting? He could as easily have said, “It’s just not any fun… unless you can go broke.” These men–and an estimated four women–of the trade are gamblers. They get a high from risking big and winning big. They get off on fear and anticipation. And when they think about winning and losing $100,000, they’re not thinking the things your average 9-to-5er is when he or she goes off to work: how will I pay my utility expenses, my taxes, my mortgage bill; will my health insurance cover my doctors visit/prescription drugs/surgery, etc.? There’s too much loud, naked—and yes, male—aggression in the air to be concerned with anything other than shouting, pushing, waving and clawing one’s way to fortune. The emphasis in stock trading wealth acquisition is less about how much you can spend at the end of the day, and more about how big a pile of cash you’ve managed to hoard.

Of course, there’s a token female trader, who has (fittingly) made a graceful transition to electronic trading. She poetically mentions Darwinism when she talks about the shift. (You’re forced to picture apes foraging for food, grunting and beating their chests before the glow of computer monitors.) And it is, of course, a female psychotherapist who helps the “guys” evolve into electronic traders, even after they feel like they’ve lost their mojo. The Internet has robbed them of the game, many feel. It’s “the most vile invention in the world” that allows “evil” people to cheat at trading. As the film depicts, computer trading is certainly more sedate than open outcry on the floor.

Could the juxtaposition of self-contained, successful women against a pile of sweaty, angry and ultimately unhappy male former stock traders be a little too conveniently giving viewers the sense that men are predisposed to aggressive behavior and ruin in its wake? Yes. But as anyone who’s ever walked by the boys’ locker room after a crushing defeat on the football field knows: boys will be boys. (That is to say: masculine boys will be masculine.)

Floored doesn’t really offer up anything new or exciting, but it does confirm the essentialism we collectively already subscribe to. A better movie, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, confirms the same information, condemns the ethics of unscrupulous capitalists, and keeps you glued to the screen.

Written by: Rachel Moehl, April 13th 2011