FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Sandpit of Capitalism

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Forbes Magazine made him rich with a sharply directed blow beneath the belt. He was so crooked he decided to straighten the bumps of his character, but only after falling. He cheated. He stole. He adapted. Cleverly, the stock broker Jordan Belfort, the subject of Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, has decided to take money now in the honest way: robbing people in broad daylight with his words, caressing their vulnerabilities before swindling them in the name of the wealth credo. Nothing new – this is simply deception practiced with greater honesty. After all, the Belfort formula was what took the US, and the globe, to the great financial crisis of the last decade. Fictional earnings, and even more fictional accounts, were what mattered. Fraud was king, and the aristocracy of deception reigned.

A few effigies need to be burned from the outset. Christopher Orr gets the matches ready with his review in The Atlantic (Dec 25, 2013). Don’t see this film as a “scathing indictment of capitalism run amok”. Forget the idea that this is a “cautionary fable for our time”. Victims do not figure in a film Orr regards as “a magnificent black comedy, fast, funny, and remarkably filthy.” In truth, the perpetrator is the focus, the victim, the conqueror, and, just in case we forgot, the victim again. In an almost sinister way, the anti-hero is the victim extraordinaire. All other victims are merely ordinary.

Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is chockers with coke, Quaaludes, Adderall, Xanax, pot, morphine and rehab sessions. He, and his colleagues, are in the sandpit of capitalism. The effort is drowsily wearying. It is unacceptably long, though some forget that Scorcese likes length and lingeringly thick vegetation in his scripts. And the theme is old, as old, in fact, as the Wall Street crash of 1929, when the frail system of American capitalism was left to dry and blanch as politicians and bankers locked up the credit. Mark Kermode noted for The Guardian that certain parallels existed between Scorcese’s effort and Rowland V. Lee’s The Wolf of Wall Street (1929).

Some see Scorcese’s effort as painfully repetitive, doing the rounds, taking the same depraved tour through a stretched film. It is flatulent. It smells of the frat boy. But the corporate world is the wonder that reifies the excitement, fortifying it in coke, sex and mythical assets. Boom needs bust. The rise requires the near lethal fall, though that fall tends to be buffered by other people’s losses. Sniffing coke from the arse of a hooker gets dull after a time, even if the arse changes.

What Scorcese’s film does with relentless brutality is chart the lines of cult, Wall Street as a chanting, committed ideology, and, in the end, Wall Street as uncontainable. That witchdoctor is not for taming and exists outside any sense of regulation.

The start of the film, featuring Mark Hanna, played with brief but striking effect by the sharp shooting, toe crunching Matthew McConaughey, demonstrate this with primordial ferocity before attacking the first martinis of the day. This is jungle land, the land of hoots and toots. The tribe has its own rules and despises the law book that comes from the outside.

The cult effect of the film has voice, and effect, beyond the camera. It convinced Jonah Hill, who plays the clumsy Donnie Azoff, to get a heavily reduced income for working on the film. Hill, along with his thespian projection, find themselves as Scorcese’s perfect expressions. They are aspiring purveyors of swill who must make good. They are doing his bidding to climb the corporate tree. Scorcese, in a sense, becomes Wall Street. To succeed, they will also chant the primeval songs. In Hill’s case, they will take a pay cut, receiving $60,000 before commissions and taxes (NY Daily News, Jan 22).

The moral effort to subdue Belfort must fail. And that message does fall on deaf ears. For one, it makes such individuals as Thomas S. Hibbs, Dean of the Honours College at Baylor University dismissive. Hibbs can only see “frat-boy machismo” with “cloying” sexual scenes, scenes which evidently leave him drooping with disdain. (Anyone who doesn’t enjoy sex scenes, or sex, might be regarded as suspicious, but let’s allow the dull Hibbs this one flavourless vice.) He learns nothing, and suggests to his readers that nothing can be learned.

Missing the film’s point, he finds with pinching fury that the “The Wolf of Wall Street fails as both art and as entertainment. Scorcese’s latest is notable for its monotonous, self-indulgent nihilism” (National Review, Dec 27, 2013). If Hibbs was to look closer, he might find that the very nihilism he finds so disgusting is the very system that he wakes up to and profits from. Laughing at one’s self in a system where Wall Street’s activities are sacred can be dangerous.

Belfort was the contaminant who could go one better than the blue stock solids on Main Street. From penny stocks, he moved to the IPOs. He screws the screwed and gets screwed. The illustration is worth noting. White collar criminals might be bad, but they will still be envied as necessary spokes in the capitalist wheel.

America may well be a land of greedy little bastards, but it is also the land that produced counters and ripostes, where karma coils and recoils under a messianic and moral glare. Even Belfort, for all his perversions, is moral. “It was about a month in when I realised,” suggested the flesh and blood Belfort to Piers Morgan. “That was the first moment where I allowed greed to get the better of me.” Behind every American tragedy is the poem of resistance, even if poorly written. That aspect might have been brought out by Scorcese, but that would have been too much.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail