Wolves of Wall Street: Representations of Wall Street in the American Cultural Imagination
In this course, we will examine Wall Street historically and as a construction of the American cultural imagination tied to the American Dream and American class identity. Our exploration will include several historical and fictional “wolf” figures that have represented, influenced, and continued to haunt our understanding of Wall Street not only as a place but also as an institution of capitalism: fictional wolves like The Great Gatsby’s Meyer Wolfsheim and Jay Gatsby, Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko and historical wolves like Charles Ponzi, Bernie Madoff, and the self-named “wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort.
Historically seismic financial events, like the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the 1921 burning of Black Wall Street will be stopping points on our historical timeline. Of course, Wall Street has inspired social and economic progress that contributes to the American Dream narrative and been the subject of economic critiques of the ethics of free-market capitalism. Along this path of inquiry, we will research, analyze, and write about Wall Street as a symbol we can trace back to the “founding” American banking most recently represented in the musical, Hamilton, and a trigger for social and economic protest movements found in fictional stories like “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street “—arguably the first occupation of Wall Street in 1853—and in the founding, purpose, and philosophy of the Occupy Movement following the Stock Market Crash of 2008 and the subsequent bursting of the housing bubble and government bailout of Wall Street banks + GM, Chrysler, and Ford.