Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail