The dirty old granddaddy of humor mags is planning a movie poster parody with the characteristically unsubtle title, “Scumbag Billionaire” (walletpop.com has a preview). That’s also the title of a movie trailer spoof video featured on parodyfilms.tv, alongside a Madoff-inspired takeoff on “The International” that bills Dustin Hoffman as the accused Ponzi schemer.
Meanwhile, the “Smash-Me-Bernie” doll – complete with a golden hammer – debuted this week at the New York Toy Fair, though its $99.95 price tag might be too dear for the suddenly tight budgets of many Madoff victims. Those looking for a free laugh should check out the Borowitz Report, where humorist Andy Borowitz skewered Madoff in a fake news story Tuesday.
The spate of parodies is a natural, even healthy response to a $50 billion ripoff that’s more infuriating than funny.
But with President Obama signing the $787 billion stimulus package amid stories of Wall Street bonuses run amok and shoddy oversight, maybe it's time to start turning a satirical eye to some of the other folks who helped get us in this mess -- whether they kept to the letter of the law or otherwise.
The last major boom-and-bust era – the 1980s – gave us multiple symbols of a financial establishment gone horribly awry, including Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. Oliver Stone, meanwhile, offered a fictional cultural touchstone in the slimy Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko of “Wall Street.”
Madoff, who sits in his penthouse as stories of ruined lives continue to roll out, is undoubtedly the No. 1 symbol of greed for our sorry times – at least so far.
But he’s not the only sign of what’s wrong in a system where some struggling Wall Street firms are paying out big bonuses and splurging on perks. The $3.6 billion in bonuses reportedly doled out by Merrill Lynch days before Bank of America bought the firm with the aid of $45 billion in taxpayer money is enough to make anyone take a golden hammer to a bull doll.
On Tuesday, the SEC – which has been blamed by some for missing early signs of the Madoff madness – accused Robert Allen Stanford, chief of the Houston-based Stanford Financial Group, in an alleged $8 billion investment fraud scheme.
It’s a stunning figure, but sadly, peanuts compared to Madoff’s alleged tally. Maybe Stanford, depending on how the case unfolds, will join Madoff as a public face of greed run wild.
In the meantime, laughter – and the occasional doll smashing – may be the only things to keep us from crying.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.