Fintech Goes Hollywood: Bad Blockbuster Clichés

Dan explains how Hollywood has gotten lazy in its portrayal of the business and technology world.

The past few weeks have been big for the financial technology industry when it comes to Hollywood. “Billions”, Showtime’s fictional series looking at the seedy side of hedge funds and the prosecutors tasked with bringing them to justice, kicked off its second season. The movie trailer for “The Circle”, based on the Dave Eggers’ book about life at a technology firm in Silicon Valley, was also released, featuring A-list movie stars Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.

Hollywood’s coverage of technology and the financial markets isn’t exactly breaking news. In fact, when it comes to television and movies, there have never been more options for people working in technology or financial services. “Mr. Robot”, “Silicon Valley” and “Black Mirror” have all risen to prominence in recent years, in addition to many other series and movies that touch on at least some aspect of the fintech industry.

And while I’ve written about what shows are worth watching in the past, I decided to switch it up this time. Instead, I thought it was time to highlight some of the clichés Hollywood continues to roll out when covering the banking and technology sectors.

So, without further ado, here are a few pet peeves I have when it comes to watching some of my favorite fintech shows/movies.

Dress Code

I swear to god, there has to be one manufacturer of black turtlenecks out in Los Angeles that is making an absolute killing. I understand this is probably a homage to Apple’s Steve Jobs, but we don’t need to have the CEO of every big technology company portrayed wearing dark turtlenecks. I think we can all make the connection that this is someone in the technology space without having to make them a carbon copy of Jobs.

While we’re on the topic of clothing, the same goes for all developers and programmers. Listen, I know a lot of these folks aren’t exactly the most fashion-forward thinking people. However, just because you can code in C++ doesn’t mean you automatically wear sweatpants, a hoody and a vintage t-shirt. These people do own button downs.

Quick Wit

I always get into fights with my boss, Waters US editor Anthony Malakian, about this. Anthony is a HUGE Aaron Sorkin fan. “The West Wing” is one of his all-time favorite shows. And while I enjoy some of Sorkin’s work – “The Social Network” is the first one that comes to mind – I find his writing to be a bit unrealistic.

What bumps me about his dialogue is that no one actually talks like his characters. I don’t care how smart you are. No one has that sharp of a tongue to never pause, say “Um” or slip up and not have exactly the right retort while getting in an argument with someone.

This leads me to my beef with Hollywood’s portrayal of financial folks in the movies. Listen, I know you all are very smart folks that are far more intelligent than me, but the way some of the characters talk in these movies and shows is ridiculous. “Billions” and “The Big Short” are the two biggest proponents of this.

I know Bobby Axelrod is supposed to be a cool, slick hedge fund manager in “Billions”, but the portrayal of his character is laughable at times. You don’t have to make it extremely realistic, but let’s at least keep it in this universe, you guys.

Token Characters

While we’re on the topic of characters, we should talk about the basic ones that are in all of these types of movies/shows. First, it’s standard to have the person that is at a financial/technology firm but sees it for what it really is.

He or she understands that there are actually terrible things going on, and every day he/she has to fight with him/herself to get up to go to work. They are trapped in a moral dilemma, wanting to advance their careers, but not at the expense of working for a terrible organization.

The first cousin of this character is the friend/significant other/family member of the main character that constantly tries to convince the main character to quit his/her job because its killing them inside. While the protagonist is focused on his/her career goals, the friend/significant other/family member continues to point out all that is wrong with where the person works.

Both these characters are cheap ways of advancing the plot. If you don’t have the talent to progress your story naturally as a writer, you shouldn’t rely on these crutches to try and fix your flawed story.

But at the end of the day, what do I really know? I’m just a journalist that uses critiques of Hollywood as an excuse for a weekly column.

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