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:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail