Portmanteau Commentary: Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada is the new Gordon Gekko from Wall Street



When it comes to culturally iconic sharp tongued business characetrs, Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil wears Prada is the equivalent of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.

Gordon Gekkos celebration of Wall Street toughness and exuberant, get-rich-quick, non-apologetic, immoral broker mentality shaped a whole generation of brokers and investment bankers. Based on an number of real and existing characters, the film and iconic character acted as a manifestation of an exaggerated portrayal of a created character, which consequentially became a concrete cultural reference point and kickstarted the justification of a whole generation of Gordon Gekko wannabes.

The innate immorality, unlikeability and bad boy characteristics only enhanced the immense appeal and elevation to iconic status through several layers of simulacra.

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly plays a very similar role in culture. Envied by her peers she holds a position of power and she plays rough and foul to get it, stay in it and ahead of everyone else, and most of all - she is utterly unapologetic about it.

What exactly is it about those two business characters that appeals to our generation?

First of all, materialistically, they have it all. They have power, money, the respect of their peers, a luxurious lifestyle and amazing clothes and toys (cars, designers at their fingertips etc etc). The immorality, cruelness, coldness and calculating, almost inhumane disposition seems to not only a small inconvenience but actually a means to be able to get to their position.

The second characteristic that is appealing is the clear display of intelligence, wit, hard work, all consuming dedication to their craft and a resulting sense that in fact, not only do they deserve their success but are excused to do as they please to keep it. Although a classic cinematic trick of unrealistic exaggeration, the ooze of coolness, wit and sharp tongues resulting in iconic quotes and characteristics make it hard to not succumb to incorporation of such industry characterisation into our culture and way of thinking as well as the way in which we view ourselves within that industry.

Iconic quotes, which succinctly express opinions and emotions many of us are to decent to express but are, when taking a few layers of sugarcoating off, exactly what driven, ambitious, intelligent, hard working people in both the fashion and stock exchange industry really do think. Here are some jewels coming from the gifted fingers and minds that are the writers Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone: "Greed is good", "Lunch is for wimps", "What's worth doing is worth doing for money", "If you need a friend, get a dog", "It's not always the most popular person who gets the job done". Similarly, Aline Brosh McKenna and Lauren Weisberger came up with "The details of your incompetence do not interest me", "By all means move at a glacial pace", "Hire the smart, fat girl", "Is there some reason that my coffee isn't here? Has she died or something?", "Bore someone else with your questions" and most poignantly "Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us." While Gekkos quotes are more memorable as actual statements, Priestly is memorable as a character and in the sharpness, tone and context of delivery of the lines.

Further films that openly admit to reflecting reality have underlined and pointed out the real source and inspiration of these two characters as well as the perception of them and re-enactment of their characteristics within their industry. For instance, the documentary The September Issue, which was a behind the scenes view on the preparation and decision making process of putting together the most important yearly edition of vogue (I love Grace by the way - on all levels), shows Anna Wintour as a decisive, has-it-all pope of fashion, revered feared and adored (as the trailer says). The devil wears prada, as we know, was mean to be based on Anna Wintour, and watching the documentary doesn't do much to make us not believe that. Director Ben Younger has often discussed as having been taken out dialogues in the script of The Boiler Room almost word for word from real conversations between young brokers he researched. For instance, there is a scene in which they watch Wall Street together and not only know it word by word but discuss it afterwards. During the introduction of new recruiters Ben Affleck's speech is filled with references to Wall Street and Glengarry Glenn Ross, another deeply established, constantly referenced business film in business and banking circles.

The layers of simulacra become very blurred, but it is clear that despite the obsession with celebrity that fill many tabloids and minds, those people who matter find their icons in tough business characters, reinterpret them, and internalise their characteristics as part of a learning and growing up process until their business characteristics become as sharply tailored to ourselves as a custom made Vera Wang gown. The fact of the argument is that those drawn to these characters already hold their truths within them and simply look to them as an affirmative cultural reference.

There's nothing wrong with being good at what you do and wanting what you get when you are, is there?