America’s “Absurd” Addiction: Camus on Wall Street
Albert Camus coins the term absurd to put a name to the greatest paradox of our life—the fact that we as humans automatically assign meaning to a meaningless world. He advocates for a “revolt” that “gives life its value”. In the film Wall Street, the main characters Bud and Gekko surprisingly understand the absurd and respond to its paradox in different ways—quite unlike what a routine person working on Wall Street would do.
Bud Fox intuitively revolts the absurd by justifying his existence through his goals to break through the barriers of the classic routine worker and become one of those who can change the rules of the game—the investor. He assigns meaning to his actions as he goes under the wing of Gekko in order to progress his life goals. For Bud, money is everything until he steps into the world of the investor. He is willing to do anything—including breaking the law—in order to become rich. However, he realized that money is not worth the meaning he assigns to it when he betrays Gekko for the sake of the workers of Bluestar Airlines. Only after having it all does Bud realize that it all means nothing. And at that point does he truly start living an “authentic existence,” accepting his fate at the end of the film. By realizing the routine in his life, avoiding it, and recognizing the meaningless of the world, Bud enters into revolt and truly lives life.
Gordan Gekko’s response to the absurd is through understanding the contradictions of life and the meaninglessness life holds. Gekko knows that nothing has any meaning and he makes no attempt to assign meaning to anything. He instead gets what he wants through manipulating others. He uses wide-eyed young talent such as Bud in order to gain insider-trading secrets and conduct his corporate raiding schemes. However, what he doesn’t know is that Bud also understands the meaninglessness of life and later uses this knowledge against Gekko. Bud even asks Gekko how much is enough and Gordan Gekko’s response illuminates his understanding of nature. He says, “Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another”, meaning that there is no such thing as rich or poor because no one can make or lose money. Instead, it’s all about the perception of the worth of money in different people’s eyes. Their perception of money assigns meaning to a meaningless world.
Camus would ironically applaud both Fox and even Gekko for their attempt at revolt and an authentic experience. Living in awareness is crucial to living in such a meaningless world. Camus stated in The Myth of Sisyphus that “living is keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it alive is, above all, contemplating it.” Both Gekko and Fox do just that and willingly live in this absurd world of contradictions.