Social commentary

Hustle’s bubble: The Myth of Redemptive Finance

The final ever series of Hustle starring Adrian Lester airs tonight and after discovering it just over a year ago I’ll be tuning in.
Hustle is a BBC drama in which a gang of successful, high living and smart mainly twenty somethings use their considerable skills to con successful, high living and fairly stupid people out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. It’s all OK though, because our metropolitan heroes only target people who really deserve it. Oh and everyone would do the same as them if only they were clever and brave enough.

The show is funny, enjoyable, interesting and well done, but the fact that it occupies prime time viewing on the BBC is culturally revealing.

The Hollywood Myth 

In the mid 1980s author Walter Wink argued that ‘the Myth of Redemptive Violence’ is deeply rooted in our society and thinking. The distinctive feature of the Myth, he said was ‘the victory of order over chaos by means of violence’. P14 (Engaging the Powers)

Think of virtually any Hollywood action movie and this makes sense:

“An indestructible good guy is unalterably opposed to an irreformable and equally indestructible bad guy. Nothing can kill the good guy, though for the first three-quarters of the show he (rarely she) suffers greviously, until somehow the hero breaks free, and [violently] vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next instalment.” (p17, ibid.)

The implication is that the violence is somehow cleansing and final. Our heroes are not morally compromised in employing violence. It’s like the satisfying feeling of a swinging right hook without the implications and regret after. Such black and white stories subtely give the green light to our desire for retribution whether we feel powerless (lash out in frustration) or powerful (eliminate enemies).

Violence to Finance 

Away from action movies, compared to most societies we are relatively sensitive to ‘real world’ violence. However, in our money obsessed society it isn’t a surprise to see that we’ve transplanted the story to create a myth of redemptive finance.

Our hustling heroes take on the obnoxious, corrupt and exploiting, fleecing them for all they’ve got, leaving their bank accounts and their reputation in ruins. As the audience we get have our Satisfaction. We see the moment their ego filled bubble is burst – when they realise it was a wonderfully elaborate scam. Staring into their eyes the leader of our gang says “you’ll get everything you deserve”, before the team walks off, successful sheriff style confidently into the distance. Another case solved.

The Lie 

Except of course, it’s a lie. In real life we’ve only seen the beginning. We don’t see the bad guys who don’t ‘learn their lesson’ who become more bitter and twisted and wreak further financial or emotional havoc. We don’t see the escalating cycles of claim and counter claim that brings the fear and the violence even to the most chic of 21st century suits. We don’t see the way that innocent families and friends get pulled into a mesh of lies and ruined lives.

The myth of redemptive finance is so simple, so alluring, so beguiling ‘moral’. Yet however you dress it up it’s still as futile as its violent cousin. I like the show, but want to make sure I burst my own Hustle bubble.

This post was first published on my previous blog .

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