The Four Possible Meanings of "Dumb" in "Dumb Money"


"Dumb Money" is a comedy based on the true story of individual investors on the WallStreetBets subreddit on Reddit in 2021. The movie depicts their collective efforts to challenge Wall Street giants and drive up the stock price of GameStop, a company on the verge of bankruptcy.

In my opinion, the word "dumb" in the movie title can have four different meanings. Literally, it refers to individual investors who are called "Dumb Money" by Wall Street. However, the story actually revolves around these individual investors joining forces to squeeze financial titans out of Wall Street. From this perspective, "Dumb Money" refers to those self-proclaimed smart money who are ultimately defeated. The third "dumb" refers to the absurd society formed by both "foolish individual investors" and "foolish Wall Street giants". As for the final "Dumb", forgive me for my malicious speculation, it may refer to us - the audience.

1. The Dumb Individual Investors

The "dumbness" of individual investors is portrayed directly in the movie.

They make decisions without careful consideration during buy-ins. They are either driven by their emotions or easily influenced by what others say. Regardless, such irrational buying behavior often results in financial losses. However,it is not the case this time.

One notable example is Keith Gill, also known as Roaring Kitty, a key opinion leader (KOL) with 60,000 fans on "Studio." Despite the risks, he invests all his assets in the stocks of GameStop, a poorly managed company that has consistently been losing money for years and has undergone six management changes within two years. He makes this investment solely because he is passionate about gaming.

Dumb Money

These "dumb money" investors are the main characters of the movie. They are all young, poor, and lack knowledge about stocks. In response to this, its director Craig Gillespie chose a narrative style that differs greatly from another similar film, "The Big Short." Throughout the movie, instead of delving into financial terminologies and knowledge, it portrays the stock market as an intense and unpredictable game. Stock prices change like the numbers on a scoreboard. When stock prices rise, individual investors gain an advantage, while a decline means their opponents have the upper hand.

2. The Dumb Wall Street Giants

Next, let's analyze the opponents of these individual investors - the Wall Street giants.

Their "dumbness" primarily stems from their self-proclaimed "smartness." One representative example is Gabe Plotkin, a billionaire who accurately identifies the financial issues of GameStop but underestimates the power of market forces. Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett’s mentor once said, "In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine." Simply put, in the context of this movie, although GameStop is undervalued, it is impossible to predict the extent to which human madness can drive up its stock price.

In the end, Plotkin goes bankrupt. He did not anticipate that his opponents - the individual investors – would unite under the influence of Roaring Kitty's online charisma to form a collective force. Yes, Plotkin has billions of dollars at his disposal, which makes it easy for him to defeat a single "dummy." However, when tens of millions of "dummies" come together, the situation changes. From the perspective of the united individual investors, also known as the "dumb money," Plotkin is but a self-proclaimed smart dummy.

Dumb Money

3. The Dumb Society

The movie pays significant attention to the competition among "dumb" individuals and portrays various intriguing details. These details reveal the absurdity of society, or in simpler terms, the "dumbness" of society.

For example, at the beginning of the movie, a CEO named Steve Cohen is seen lying in bed while receiving a massage, talking on the phone with Plotkin and watching TV. Then, an inverted image of a TV screen is shown from his perspective.

Dumb Money

Dumb Money

This design is both fascinating and effective. First, it directly showcases the CEO's wealth while highlighting his carefree attitude. The content shown on TV also provides background information of the story. Second, from a metaphorical perspective, the inverted image of the TV screen implies the possibility of a reversal of fortunes. Him watching TV upside down suggests the upper class's disdain for the lower class. These metaphors set the stage for subsequent developments of the story.

Another example is the two highly contrasting transitions.

Let's start with the first one. Initially, we see Roaring Kitty in his home. After the stock price soars, his wife asks him about their earnings in the past two days. He replies that they have gained US$4 million on the first and US$5 million on the second. She exclaims, "We're like, really f***ing rich." The scene then switches to Plotkin's home, where his wife inquires about their losses in the past two days. He says they have lost US$1 billion each on both days. After hearing that, his wife remains silent.

Dumb Money

Dumb Money

Apart from the differences in visual tones (blueish vs. yellowish), there is also a stark contrast between the set designs of both families that underscore the wealth disparity. Roaring Kitty's home is modest and crowded, and his wife has to turn her head to see him. On the other hand, Plotkin's home is luxurious and spacious. He and his wife face each other while conversing at a corner of their roomy house. The dialogues between both couples also reveal the difference in their understanding of wealth. A few million dollars are enough to make Roaring Kitty and his family feel rich. Meanwhile, although he still has remaining assets worth over millions of dollars despite losing billions, Plotkin perceives himself as bankrupt.

Now, let's examine the second transition. Following his “bankruptcy”, Plotkin reaches out to another wealthy individual called Ken Griffin for assistance. Griffin readily agrees to inject US$3 billion into Plotkin's company. At the same time, Jenny Campbell, a low-level healthcare worker and individual investor of GameStop, witnesses this scene on her TV at home and expresses her frustration, saying, "All we've done for the past year is work our asses off helping people, and all we've gotten is one US$600 check."

Dumb Money

Dumb Money

In this transition, Griffin is being served in an upscale restaurant, while Campbell is occupied with cooking. Both scenes revolve around food, but Ken enjoys it while Jenny labors to make it, highlighting the stark contrast in wealth between the two.

These details are intriguing as they are conflicting, contradictory, and distorted portrayals. By delving deeper into the underlying causes, one can discern their implications, such as the exacerbation of wealth inequality in society resulting from an unjust system. As the story progresses, the director unsurprisingly takes a stance in support of the poor by depicting the defeat of the rich and the poor’s escape from poverty through the rise in stock prices.

Based on the analysis above, one might perceive this as a pretty decent movie. Indeed, it seems interesting and presents many viewpoints that may be considered "politically correct."

However, this is exactly the reason that makes me dislike this movie. I sense the creators’ hypocrisy from this "politically correct" story. Specifically, the movie's theme of standing "with the poor" appears to be a ploy to attract "poor" audience and gain their liking to generate profit. This manipulative approach by the creators leaves a negative impression on me and is the main reason for my dislike of this movie.

4. Hypocritical Values

The main issue lies in the design of its ending. The solution to wealth disparity and a happy ending is achieved by making the poor wealthy through stocks. The poor defeat the rich and become the heroes. This may seem exciting on the surface, but upon careful consideration, it is fundamentally unrealistic. While GameStop's success was a real event, it was too coincidental and is difficult to replicate. The success of GameStop was merely one side of the coin, as numerous individual investors ended up losing everything due to failed speculations.

"There are some ideas that once you see them, they start to slowly infiltrate your life." This is a viewpoint from Luke Burgis, an American entrepreneur, in his book "Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life." He believes that people have a natural tendency to mimic successful individuals they read about in stories. Speculation is an activity/behaviour that can generate profits or cause losses. However, "Dumb Money" only mentions the possibility for the poor to make money through speculation and portrays them as "successful," but fails to mention the risks involved. If viewers who are unfamiliar with speculation see the possibility of getting rich through "Dumb Money" and try to imitate it, it may ultimately lead to significant losses.

Additionally, I found another supporting fact in an article on Peliplat by marvelousmars titled "Dumb Money Thinks We're Dumb." The article discusses the film's producers, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. They are brothers who were already wealthy in their youth as portrayed in "The Social Network" and recently became billionaires through their investments in digital currencies. It is quite interesting that top successful investors from privileged backgrounds would choose to invest in a movie that tells a story about individual investors from humble backgrounds triumphing over Wall Street and consistently criticizing the wealthy. Nonetheless, I maintain my skepticism regarding their genuine support for the underprivileged, as depicted in the movie.

Therefore, I believe that the creators of "Dumb Money" do not genuinely intend to give a voice to the poor or portray issues of wealth disparity through this film. Their primary goal is to provide temporary joy to the audience (including the poor) and profit from the ticket sales. Making money is their objective.

In the final scene of the movie, accompanied by exciting background music, the hero/protagonist, Gill, shows his support for GameStop by posting that he is still very confident in GME. He doubles his stake to 100,000 shares and decides to step back from public life from then on.

The movie does not mention the subsequent stock price trend of GameStop. I will add it at the end of this article. At the time of the event, the highest price reached US$483 per share. However, since then, it has fallen by more than 95%.

Good luck to Gill.

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