What's So Attractive About the Finance Lifestyle Anyway?—A Review of HBO’s “Industry”

When I finished binging HBO’s Industry in the span of a week, I couldn’t stop thinking about it in the days after. I flocked to online communities and news outlets to read what everyone else thought, ranging from the role of clothing in the show to the idea of the “zuppie,” a Gen-Z refresh of the 80’s yuppies. When that wasn’t enough for me, I recommended it to my friends just so I could debate the merits of this one character. 

I’m not the most avid media consumer—I don’t even have a Netflix—but Industry gripped me in a way that was completely unexpected. Objectively, all the main characters (excluding you know who…R.I.P.), suck. As much as Industry presents a bleak view of the business world, it also presents a startling look at the lives of our generation. The people who lead those lives are brooding, impulsive, self-destructive narcissists. And we just can’t look away. 

man holding remote, sitting on couch with woman, popcorn Photo by JEShoots from Pexels

The relationships in Industry are fraught with narcissism and ego. Creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, both former bankers, tackle pertinent issues along the way—racism, class disparities, privilege—and bring them together in the context of the trading floor. The result is a potent mix of self-loathing sex and drug use, a kind of self-medication that abuts The Wolf of Wall Street

The general feeling of the show is disillusionment. Those who work(ed) in banking praise it for its accuracy, down to the stage directions indicating what kind of jeans Yasmin is wearing, but that accuracy includes firm initiatives that don’t value its people and reframing women’s experiences in the workplace as a way to climb up the ladder. It’s hard to imagine the offices in Industry as an ideal workplace, whether or not you think locking a subordinate in a conference room is a fireable offense. 

I was a big Suits fan too, so the parallels between the two shows struck me immediately—starting with the protagonist’s fraudulent education credentials. Despite the similarity in the client-driven worlds they both operate in, there’s one major difference. Harvey Specter and Mike Ross may make you want to be a lawyer, but no one in Industry is going to awaken a passion for banking in you. You may be impressed with Harper’s intelligence or Rob’s ability to party hard and then be completely functional at work the next day, but there aren’t really any selling points to the lifestyle. Even when Harper succeeds, her celebration in an expensive hotel room is a lonely one-person affair. 

Sharon McCutcheon

Disillusionment with the finance world isn’t new. Most movies and shows that center around high-powered boardrooms and busy trading floors deliver a dark message. Whether it’s Succession or Margin Call, systems and the people who lead them are presented as corrupt and unreliable profit-maximizers. 

A common criticism, taken up by The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever, is the absence of any commentary on capitalism and exploitation. Industry takes a micro lens, focusing on individual employees and their lives at the firm. The result is a compelling drama—one that resonates deeply with actual industry professionals, including former, present, and wannabe ones. 

One thing’s for sure—I’ll be one of the first to order a Pierpoint & Co. Management Offsite hoodie once HBO (hopefully) decides to make some merch. I’ll wear it as I wait for the second season to premiere and, in the meantime, keep applying for finance jobs.

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