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The Misdirected Outrage Over The Wolf of Wall Street

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Martin Scorsese’s film about a boiler-room stockbroker who managed to reach the major leagues of financial services industry swindling, The Wolf of Wall Street, has garnered both strong box office sales and heated denunciations. The critics, including the daughter of as associate of the movie’s huckster in chief, Jordan Belfort, argue that it glorifies depravity and criminality.

Now having seen the movie (yes, I saw it, as a piece of Wall Street iconography and separately because I enjoy Leonardo DiCaprio when he plays schmucks) it is a frenzied, sprawling, cynical depiction of how easily get-rich-quick scamsters who come across the right formula coin money to feed their outsized addictions (in this case, to the standard boy toys, sex on demand from as many women as possible, and way too many drugs, with cocaine and quaaludes the mainstays).

The picture focuses on the almost non-stop bacchanal of the men of the firm that Belfort built, Stratton Oakmont, before he and they were busted and went to prison for stock fraud and money laundering. They are shown as getting almost as high fucking clients as the many women they bought. The movie apparently hews more closely to real life than you’d expect, including the most outrageous-seeming scenes (nearly crashing a helicopter while operating under the influence and wrecking a luxury yacht while trying to get to Monaco to conduct some urgent private banking business).

Now it is true that this movie is one-sided: it’s told from the point of view of Belfort, so we see nothing of his financial victims. The casualties on his side (such as a suicide and a handful of other deaths) are mere barely-regretted asides. And we only get one shot in prison, that of him playing tennis.

Belford and his merry band of crooks’ antics are so insanely out of control that they make for great voyeurism (and that’s before the added bonus for many viewers of getting to see so many hot babes in considerable or complete undress). But they are also pathetic. They clearly need, or come to need, relentless risk-taking, overstimulation, and ginormous amounts of controlled substances just to get through the day. And they get stupider as they become more disinhibited. Some examples: one of the main characters gets in screaming match while making a cash delivery, leading the cops to intercede. Belfort not only recklessly meets an FBI investigator on his boat and tries bribing him in code (Belfort looks like at first like he’s just having fun messing which the agent, but then starts taking his sales pitch too seriously) but later welches on a deal cut with the SEC to save his hide, believing too much in his own twisted code of micreants’ honor (ie, unbridled id). Belfort also tried screwing some not cooperating stewardesses and generally carrying on loutishly in first class, leading him to be exiled to coach and forcibly restrained in his seat. And the scene where Belfort and his sidekick take too many ‘ludes and mayhem results is sure to become a classic.

But, the moralists will howl, this makes crime look glamorous and rewarding! Well guess what? Crime is rewarding, and if you can do it on a big enough scale, you can even buy some glamour. So why are you shooting the messenger?

If you are worried about the corrosion of American values, you are a good generation and a half too late. The glamorization of ill-gotten wealth began before the Reagan/Thatcher era, although it started getting turbo-charged in the 1980s. What about the crooked oil baron J.R. Ewing, the central character of the TV hit Dallas that ran from 1978 to 1991? How many corporate raiders, who were effectively co-conspirators of Michael Milken, were prosecuted? (trust me, the degree of collusion ran afoul of securities laws). And how about the polite lack of interest in Hillary Clinton’s implausible parlaying of $1000 in commodities investments into $100,000? (one of my colleagues was shown her trading records at the behest of some Congressmen; he said her results were completely impossible. She got the best price of the day every day she traded).

And during the period where the conduct of the rich and powerful was subject to less and less scrutiny, the poor and disadvantaged were being treated more and more harshly. New York City’s campaign against squeegee men and graffiti artists was seen as a model for policing for the US (it’s far more likely that the fall in crime rates was actually due to the removal of lead from gasoline; results across countries show dramatic declines roughly 23 years later and the evidence is robust). And the poor were the scamsters; think of Reagan’s ballyhooed “welfare queen” and Clinton’s ending of “welfare as we know it,” premised on the idea that impoverished people needed to be forced to work. So if the benefits of being rich and the (already considerable) costs of being poor were rising, and on top of that, no one was questioning the conduct of rich people all that much, why should we be surprised that more and more people would think it’s legitimate to tromp on other people in the pursuit of lucre? That’s become so routine in the US that it’s hard to overcome outrage fatigue on this blog.

And as to the narrower issue of penny stock fraudsters, boiler rooms have long been the sordid underbelly of American securities markets. So again, if you are offended by The Wolf of Wall Street, where were you when the Jumpstart Obama’s Bucket Shop Act was being passed, which makes it even easier for the Jordan Belfort wanna-bes to ply their trade? As we wrote at the time:

Obama seems determined to roll back the few remaining elements of the New Deal. As we’ve recounted, he’s keen to cut Medicare and Social Security; he said as much in a dinner with leading conservative luminaries shortly after his inauguration. And his JOBS Act, which guts securities law protections on smaller stock offerings, is touted as a way to increase employment by helping to fund smaller businesses. In reality, the only jobs it is likely to create will be due to the resulting explosion in stock scamsters and bucket shop operators.

Simon Johnson was of the same view:

In other words, you will be ripped off more. Knowing this, any smart investor will want to be better compensated for investing in a particular firm – this raises, not lowers, the cost of capital. The effect on job creation is likely to be negative, not positive.

Sensible securities laws protect everyone – including entrepreneurs who can raise capital more cheaply. The only people who lose out are those who prefer to run scams of various kinds.

Similarly, do you breeze past Richard Smith’s ongoing series on international frauds? They are exactly the same type of predator as Belfort. Richard became interested because a friend of his was suckered by one, not once, but multiple times, even after Richard had dug up incriminating information and warned him.

And vastly worse that Belfort’s liberal use of drugs and whores for his own amusement is their widespread use as sales tools in the much bigger ticket parts of the securities industry. Where is the upset over the revelation in the Academy award winning movie Inside Job that major Wall Street firms routinely run bills for prostitutes and drugs through the company as research expenses?

And if you have any doubt that these sales tools resulted in penny-stock-equivlant dreck being sold on a mass scale with resulting serious social costs, you have to look not further than the CDO business, which as we described long form in ECONNED, was the product that turned what would otherwise have been a S&L level subprime crisis into a global financial system meltdown.

Those deals depended critically on placing the junkiest layers, not the AAAs (which had ready buyers) but the AA to BBB tranches (much of that was rolled into other CDOs, but some was placed with actual real buyers). If those parts could not have been sold, the entire CDO machine and the subprime origination business that depended on it, would have died in the 2004-2005 period when the Fed increased interest rates.

Some of these lower tranche CDO investors were simply completely clueless, or in the industry nomenclature, stuffees. But their buying power collectively was too limited to provide an large enough outlet

A good chunk was placed directly as a result of the use of what amounted to bribes in the form of big ticket “entertainment”. If you have any doubts, read the barely-fictionalized account (no doubt due to UK libel laws) of former Goldman CDO salesman Tetsya Ishkawa in his book, “How I Caused the Credit Crunch.” One memorable scene: The young protagonist, “Andrew,” is told to get close to the members of a bank’s team in the hopes of influencing his heretofore impossible-to-sell boss through them. His target, a German banker named Dirk, makes it clear he can influence the boss and actually states that it’s a shame banks don’t entertain them more. Andrew offers to take him out for a weekend, all expenses on his firm (Andrew’s manager has already authorized this). Dirk, who is married, tells Andrew the cover story (they are at a conference) and then tells him how to drive to a palatial German estate called FKK, which is populated with model-gorgeous naked women serving drinks. The buffet, bar, pool and spa were covered by the entrance fee. The girls were not, and Dirk rounded up a group and went off to a room. A line from that scene when Dirk emerges and asks for more money:

I was pissed off…but I quickly reminded myself that the man standing in front of me naked with his groin at my eye level was my client.

And a Wolf of Wall Street plot twist: at this point, Andrew has a girlfriend back in London, a Brazilian escort he’d met through work, natch. He hadn’t been strongly inclined to take advantage of the girls at FKK until one who looked like the younger sister of his girlfriend chatted him up. He found both the conversation and the fantasy of cheating with his girlfriend’s sister far too tempting.

He learns much later she was his girlfriend’s sister.

Consider: as deplorable as the conduct of Belfort is, the Wall Street institutional investors who take bribes like the one Dirk solicited to put the money they manage into dreck are just as crooked. Fund managers have a higher duty of care to their investors (they are fiduciaries) than mere brokers do (who are generally held to the lesser standard of “know your customer” and suitability).

So if you are unhappy about the glossy treatment of Jordan Belfort, you should direct your ire at better targets. It’s weak enforcement of securities laws that allows people like him to suck money out of the greedy, gullible and actively complicit. Most salesmanship is huckesterism, as James Surowiecki reminds us in the New Yorker:

Con artists are independent and typically self-made. They don’t have to kowtow to a boss—no small thing in a country in which people have always longed to strike out on their own. They succeed or fail based on their wits. They exemplify, in short, the complicated nature of American capitalism, which, as McDougall argues, has depended on people being hustlers in both the positive and the negative sense. The American economy wasn’t built just on good ideas and hard work. It was also built on hope and hype…The greatest business icon of our era, Steve Jobs, was legendary for his “reality-distortion field,” which allowed him to convince people that improbable outcomes were not just possible but certain. Jobs’s endless rehearsals for his public presentations and his scripting of every moment for maximum effect—these are all straight from the con artist’s playbook.

Jordan Belfort is therefore a worthy object of study. The public should want to understand how predators like him work their chicanery so they can vaccinate themselves against their narcotics and use his behavior to support a call for tougher laws and enforcement.

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95 comments

  1. ambrit

    Oh H— Yves! Does this mean that Patagonian Beefsteak Mines is not a sure thing? That negative interest bank account of ours has us chasing all sorts of yields. Makes me want to become a Gold Bug. Oh, but that’s in bubble territory. Blast!

  2. Ferrous Male

    Good article, though I would not call such critics “moralists,” but PR shills. The intent is clear to me: frame the movie not as an example of some of the corrupt aspects of Wall Street, but as a tale of a man brought down by his own moral failings and/or the supposed depravity of liberal Hollywood elites.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? These are examples of the articles in question:

      10 Reasons the Real-Life “Wolf of Wall Street” Is a Schmuck Who Shouldn’t Be Glamorized

      ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ scion writes scathing op-ed to Scorsese, Hollywood

      Real ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Jordan Belfort still owes millions to victims: prosecutors

      My take was that the objection was the lack of a moral perspective in the movie. Belfort didn’t suffer, and he has no regrets or guilt. But cons, particularly narcissistic cons, seldom do.

      1. Ferrous Male

        Well, that was a fail of epic proportions on my part. I had both the movie and the criticism bassackwards. I stand corrected and humbled.

      2. larry

        I would go further than consider Belfort as only a narcissist. He seems to me to have all the “qualities” of a classic highly functioning psychopath, especially where he claims he virtually cried. Psychopaths can cry but it is solely in the interests of manipulation. It isn’t “real”. It would be worthwhile to see what score Robert Hare, an expert on psychopaths, would give Belfort on his Psychopathy CheckList should Belfort agree to take it.

        1. digi_owl

          That is one of the things people seems to get wrong about psychopaths/sociopaths. They read that these people are without emotions, and so expect them to be outwardly flat. Some of them may be. But others are quite capable of demonstrating any emotion at the drop of a hat, if they have something to gain by doing so. That is what makes them really dangerous, especially without any compulsion against hurting or killing. One moment they are the coziest of lambs, the next they are tearing you apart in the most literal sense.

      3. optimader

        Re:‘Wolf of Wall Street’ scion writes scathing op-ed to Scorsese, Hollywood

        How much is about not getting a role in the movie? I don’t know, but I’ll just guessing she is a bit of piece of work as well.
        http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1876480/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
        Christina McDowell
        Bottom line, Hollywood is toward the bottom of the list of places to look for moral authority. If it’s directed by Scorsese, no doubt it’s an entertaining movie, any critical thinker can leave at that.

        1. AbyNormal

          Opti, somewhere along my path i finally chose to choose what entertains me…paying to watch another wall st. sociopath glitter is horrific to me. (especially since he’s paying down his targets with the proceeds…more of the same: taking it from the front & rear end)

          “It is important to recognize and politics positive thinking is often the slaves’ virtue – something that people do to con themselves about the burden and change being placed upon them.”
          James Bovard

          1. James Levy

            The older I get, the less I scoff at people who want their art and entertainment to be representational and edifying. The idea that if a work of art is “transgressive” and/or formally “inventive” it must be better than if it has a moral point of view is really getting old.

            I saw this most powerfully with the remake of Battlestar Galactica, which because it was so violent and amoral was praised by critics to the skies (“dark” is suddenly an adjective denoting the highest praise), while they simultaneously by comparison heaped abuse on older shows like Star Trek for being oh so moral and uplifting. What the hell is so bad about moral uplift? Why, in a society that breeds way too many creeps like the “hero” of Scorsese’s movie is it deemed pathetic and old fashioned to put something in the film to indicate that this is a person worthy of your whole-hearted contempt? Can’t we finally drop the Pomo ironic distancing and radical refusal to judge at this late date? Hasn’t it had its 15 minutes? Would it kill us in our art and entertainment to call a degenerate thief a degenerate thief?

            1. AbyNormal

              “Would it kill us in our art and entertainment to call a degenerate thief a degenerate thief?” taking this with me, Thank You J.Levy

              with this in mind:
              “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Kierkegaard
              …what do we view from the promo? (most won’t be able to afford the movie and promo is all they’ll have…if that)
              many will see abundance of food, shelter, short ladders, sleep without nausea and hope for their children…they’ll see ‘fall up’. hard to learn when your children maybe hungry… any day now.

              Thanks for the share James.

          2. optimader

            Aby,
            one of the more fascinating movies I’ve seen, I actually bought a copy for the collection. At the same time, IMO the Soviet Union was an appalling failure stocked with plenty of sociopaths, more than enough to go around
            http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079907/
            Siberiade (1979)
            “Sibiriada” (original title)

            That said,”Wolf of Wall Street” is pretty far down my list and is in teh category of wait til the library has a free DVD for me.
            Michael Moore had a funny quote along the lines of “Ya know its like the Rolling Stones ((Insert Scorsese) I really enjoy their music when I hear it, but damn if I’ve never bought one of their albums”

            1. AbyNormal

              Opti, im not picking on you…i hope you don’t take it that way.
              the movie has just enough to make one Want to Look…like a 12 car pile up. im not above a glimpse but with all we read and research…we know what is what. the majority won’t and the majority of that majority will mostly walk away feeling they deserve their lot. (it’ll also grow and pull a few sociopaths out from under their rocks…just what we need leaned into us).

              thanks for the link…i may have seen it…looks familiar

              “If bones could freeze, then the brain could also be dulled and the soul could freeze over. And the soul shuddered and froze- perhaps to remain frozen forever.”
              Varlam Shalamov, Kolyma Tales

      4. Publius

        Maybe we should stop becoming enraged by the drug, sex, and toy excesses depicted in books and movies [e.g., Wolf of Wall Street] or debating the morals attached therein?.
        .
        Instead, let’s fund and start a Jon Stewart-type tv-cable show that pokes fun at such. I don’t see how many Wall Street types can avoid easy ridicule. A couple of weeks of such on-air fun will quickly lead us to look differently at Wall Street and perhaps capitalism in general.
        .
        Can Wal-Mart, for one, withstand much satire? The list of “victims” is unfortunately pretty long. And they make easy pinatas. I guarantee that prospective writers for the show will fight to work just for the fun it.

      5. fairleft

        I don’t think you meet the criticism directly, and the ‘where were you’ approach is answered ‘criticizing that crap’ by many or most of us. Why couldn’t a film have been constructed that made a powerful moral case by contrasting the wasteful but outlandishly entertaining excesses of narcissist Belfort on Wall Street with the deprivation he caused in the ‘real’ America? I understand the movie is 3+ hours long (the reason I’ll avoid it: Scorcese bloat), so there was plenty of room.

  3. YankeeFrank

    I haven’t seen the film and probably won’t (well, at least until its on netflix) because it sounds like a thousand other films that have already been made. At least that’s how it feels. My big problem is really why Scorsese chose this particular story. If he wanted to tell a story of Wall Street chicanery there are much better, more relevant and more recent stories he could tell. It just feels stale and pointless. But then again, that’s how Scorsese’s movies have felt for over a decade now.

    I mean really, how about a story of the housing bubble? It would be much more relevant and as Yves points out there was plenty of hookers and blow in that story too. He just winds up minimizing the much larger, more important story that’s still right in front of our faces.

    Scorsese’s vision is tired and old. Its time to hang up the camera or whatever directors do when they retire.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Actually the movie is not like the other Wall Street pictures. It focuses much more on the out of control behavior of the brokers and less about the details of the con. It’s much more in keeping with this Guardian story, “Did cocaine use by bankers cause the global financial crisis?” And remember, Scorsese apparently once had a coke habit.

      I certainly saw my fair share of sniffly noses and gurning jaws at City bars every Thursday night. I also heard overconfident gibberish being spouted by brash wide-boys throughout my 12-year banking career. There were also lots of stories about some of the big swingers in New York enjoying a line or 10 of an evening. Bernie Madoff’s office was apparently known as “the North Pole” such were the gargantuan quantities of “snow” to be found there and most bankers are aware of the published allegations that Jimmy Cayne (former CEO of Bear Stearns) had an anti-acid medication bottle that was filled with cocaine.

      Dr Chris Luke, an A&E specialist based at Cork University Hospital, Ireland, who has studied the effects of cocaine on bankers, has stated that “prominent figures in financial and political circles made irrational decisions as a result of megalomania brought on by cocaine usage”. He concludes that “people were making insane decisions and thinking they were 110% right … which led to the current chaos.”

      http://www.theguardian.com/business/shortcuts/2013/apr/15/cocaine-bankers-global-financial-crisis

      I was never bored and this was a 3 hour movie. I’m not sure I’d recommend it, but it was better than I expected. I think the review in Variety is pretty fair. The big draw is the acting. Watching it, you wonder how DiCaprio and the other actors could pull off such insanely high energy, flamboyant performances. For instance:

      But a talented performer can do much to camouflage such shortcomings, and that’s precisely what DiCaprio does here. A reliably good actor who too often shows you all the hard, technical work he’s put into creating a character, the DiCaprio of “Wolf” seems loose and uninhibited and freed of premeditated mannerisms. In his fifth collaboration with Scorsese, he’s a constant joy to watch, whether crawling across the floor like a baby while his bombshell second wife (appealing Australian newcomer Margot Robbie, who deserves more screen time) engages in a particularly cruel form of cock-blocking, or rallying his disciples with an impassioned variation on Gekko’s “Greed Is Good” speech. DiCaprio doesn’t just play this part; he inhales it, along with everything else that goes up Belfort’s nose and into his bloodstream.

      http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/film-review-the-wolf-of-wall-street-1200940974/

      1. j gibbs

        Haven’t seen the movie but did you know it was at Lehman Brothers where the key Stratton players learned all their tricks? Stratton was not a penny stock firm. It was organized after the 1990 Penny Stock Reform Act made the retailing of low priced stocks (under $5 per share) illegal. Thus, the SEC transformed a penny ante parlor game in which a few thousand people lost a few thousand dollars and a few small companies actually obtained financing, into a colossal fraud in which the boys at Stratton stole over $100 million from rubes across the country in amazingly large chunks, but they never retailed a stock priced at less than $5.

        Anyhow, Belfort has now found a way to recapitalize his crimes as a movie producer after doing only 39 months at Club Fed. No doubt he is the model repentant con artist, claiming to have found himself in prison playing tennis, but perhaps he has just identified another class of suckers, those willing to pay $10 to look at big tits for three hours while fantasizing about running the same scam themselves? Only in America!

          1. optimader

            Re: Rehab
            That’s what one does when the word comes that a criminal indictment is being organized.
            File under: Jessie Jackson Jr.

      2. FederalismForever

        It’s entirely plausible that cocaine use by bankers played some role in the financial crisis. Just as China was the victim of Britain’s Opium Wars in the 1800s, one can say that the U.S. has been the victim of Latin America’s Cocaine Wars since the mid-1970s, and the full societal impact of this sharp increase in powder/crack cocaine use has yet to be told.

        The passing reference to the purported link between lead in gasoline and crime rates is also a very interesting topic. One problem with that theory, however, is that Japan saw no similar upsurge in crime even though it too had tons of lead-spewing vehicles being driven through highly populated areas.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I spent a lot of time in Tokyo, where the bulk of the population lived, and absolutely no one drove a car to work save board members who had a car and driver (one of the few executive perks). And retail was famously fragmented, with small grocery stores within walking distance in every residential neighborhood. So with no driving for commuting or pretty much all food shopping (and less “other” shopping due to super small size of Japanese apartments, they were much less into shopping as leisure activity than Americans), you’d had less use of cars per person. I as a bad gaijin who refused to use the subway (my excuse was concern re getting lost, all signage in the mid 1980s was in Japanese) always cabbed to meetings in Tokyo. Never did I encounter much traffic, nor did I see much when I’d sally from the office and walk nearby to lunch.

          Now you might have seem more in other cities, but Tokyo is such a monster population center that it would have a very big impact on national averages. And gas was expensive in Japan (by design, high taxes) another disincentive to driving.

          1. AA Bender

            Yves:
            Your point is well taken. I lived in Japan for a time as well, and it is worth noting that many Japanese cabs in the 1970-80s were powered by LPG which emitted less CO2 and no lead. Therefore some of the most active vehicles in Tokyo were not emitting lead.

            I think in the 90s the Japanese cabbies started to go back on petrol though, but by then I was long gone.

            1. FederalismForever

              All of that occurred after Japan enacted one of the world’s strictest emissions control regimes around 1970. It seems that Japan had experienced a rapid increase in vehicle usage and lead pollution prior to the passage of these reforms. See:

              http://njkk.com/about/industry9.htm

              Even so, Japan did not experience an increase in violent crimes rates during that time. This is a problem (though surely not a fatal one) for the lead-causes-crime theory.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                Japan has extremely aggressive policing (cops are basically spies, they talk to everyone in the neighborhood) and 99% conviction rates (they beat people and extract confessions). They have also kept hard drugs out of the country by cutting a deal with the yakuza (the yakuza are allowed to run all their other rackets in return for keeping hard drugs out). So not comparable to anywhere else.

        2. Binky Bear

          America is not a victim in the cocaine wars; we are the perpetrator going back over a century. The War on Drugs is a price support.

    2. Klassy

      That was my feeling too– why is always the bluest of white collar criminals that are featured?

    3. Dan Kervick

      That’s my feeling too, Yankee Frank. I’ve seen Good Fellas. I’ve seen The Departed. I’ve had it. I don’t need to see another one of Scorcese’s Type A psychopath joyrides.

      I agree with Yves that the Scorcese take does not really glamorize his subjects. They all crash and burn. But nevertheless, we are expected to be highly entertained along the way by their high-octane transgressive audacity and then their catastrophic self-immolation.

      American car-wreck capitalism just isn’t funny anymore. It’s not even dazzling or shocking. It’s just tediously ugly.

      If someone wants to make a five minute movie about taking Jordan Belfort up to the top of the Empire State Building and throwing him off, I might pay to see it.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Ha. I heard descriptions about this 3 hour romp, and all I could think of was that I’ve seen already seen “Porky’s” which led to the director receiving enough financing for “A Christmas Story.”

        Yes, young Ralphie grew up to be a sexual predator.

        1. Dan Kervick

          I believe that in The Departed, Matt Damon’s final line is something like “Just kill me.” And that’s what you feel by that point: Just kill all these scumbags, Scorcese, and put them (and us) out of their misery.

          I think if I saw The Wolf of Wall Street, I would be thinking “Just kill these guys, Scorcese,” after the first few minutes. But there would be three tortuous hours left.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            The Wolf of Wallstreet sounds like Scorsese tried to make his own version of “The Hangover” with the background of financial crime, but it was really an excuse to be an ass without jeopardizing his reputation.

      2. F. Beard

        Yea, it must make Progressives sick to know how much wickedness they’ve enabled. Or how they’ve been duped by the rich.

        1. steelhead23

          I doubt that Belfort was robbing progressives – most of us are dirt poor to begin with. Nope, he, like Madoff, stole from wise guys, folks as cocksure of themselves as Belfort – believing that “dammit, I deserve to be rich.”

      3. mark worden

        “Assault on Wall Street” a Ewe Boll entertainment, might be more satisfying for those who are looking for retribution.

        Oh yeah, and Jim Baxford is…still out there.

    4. optimader

      ” My big problem is really why Scorsese chose this particular story.”

      Because his syndicate could put financing together.
      Part of the reason they (Scorcese) could get financing probably lays in the fact that it is a metaphor for out of control FIRE sector fraudulent behavior (relevant theme), but negatively touches directly a much smaller demographic than those burned in the RE bubble, a circumstance that could jeopardize sales rather than just invoke some healthy controversy.

      Not much is left to chance when financing big budget movies, so they budget resources to minimize negatively marginalizing potential viewers w/ a loose $15.00.
      The demographic that was burned in RE bubble schemes I presume is overwhelmingly greater that those that bamboozled by stock hustling boilerroom scams. Human nature, People in general don’t like to see their negative experiences rubbed in their noses.–

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I guess I’m not a creative type, but lets be honest, would a loan officer reviewing mortgage applications be exciting? Or a self-made real-estate tycoon who just leased a Beamer be a riveting character? Their rise and fall is less the by-product of their actions then of luck of timing.

        Walter White earned his money and didn’t wait on interest rate questions to be settled, and Belfort is the same way. He may be a sociopath, but if I want to see boring people do boring things, I can see that everyday. Would Breaking Bad be as exciting if Walter had acquired a real estate license in 2000? Oh wait, Q and Jane probably were flipping houses on the side. They had to rent to Pinkman with the economy instead of flipping the place they had renovated. Did they make an episode where Q decided to be a boring old guy and a crummy air traffic controller? No.

        1. James Levy

          I think you inadvertently hit the nail on the head. What you are saying is you enjoy “lifestyles of the evil and degenerate.” You think that’s drama. The struggle of good against evil seems to bore the shit out of people today. Better to watch the struggle of the evil to get ahead. That probably says all we need to say about the general state of our culture. Man are we screwed.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            No. I was just saying we aren’t going to see a mortgage crisis movie because its boring. Selling subprime loans is crummy, and two, Breaking Bad isn’t entirely about getting ahead. As it was pointed out, Walt never cared about the money. He’s Heisenberg.

            How many episodes of Star Trek follow Data around all day? Once, and even then they had to add a Romulan spy story. How many episodes of Doctor Who just follow him at museums without getting into shenanigans? None. In the best episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer becomes the Union President, or the town buys a monorail (written by Conan O’Brian and features Marge) depending on your favorite episode. These two are the best.

            The mortgage crisis is boring because its not just a story of scammers. Its a story of the ignorant and people who really believed they were helping people make it easier to pay for their house. People from cognitive dissonance and don’t think issues through.

            If I “inadvertently” hit the nail on the head, its probably because I was responding to a comment about why we won’t see a movie on the current mortgage crisis. Its just boring and lacks personality, much like how there is a movie about Patton but not Omar Bradley. In this scene, Bradley hears about how Patton shot some mules (which probably didn’t happen) while discussing whether it would be feasible to provide soda pop to the troops as part of care packages. Patton telling guys to crossing the river into a war zone is just cool.

            Not a riveting movie:

            “But we had our heart set on that elementary school.”

            “I know but they won’t come down from their offer.”

            “Oh, gee what about those 0% loans.”

            “People are doing those. You can qualify, but the rates can go up. It hasn’t happened yet.”

            “Oh, lets do it.”

            Five years later.

            “Gee, honey. I’m sorry we have to take the dog to the pound but we can’t afford to feed him and you. Sorry, we bought all this dog food in bulk.”

            Wow! I smell Oscars polish, but I don’t see a movie in the mortgage crisis short of a Belfort character.

            1. JTFaraday

              I agree that the mortgage scandal, in its all pervasive nature, involves many more mundane characters. But I don’t agree that many of those mundane characters didn’t know what they were doing.

              Not immediately and not all at once and not the extent of the societal crisis that would result, but they knew that they were making unsustainable loans on over priced houses that was going to lead to grief for the would-be homeowner in the end. That’s their business, and they do it well enough when they want to do it.

              There have also been people who were inexperienced but enlisted into this scam who, due to the mass production nature of what they were doing, got to see it in its worst incarnation, and they knew what they were doing, and they’ve talked about it too. This is where you’d see a lot of Belfort-like characters, and they made good money.

              And the people at the investment banks who were driving the whole thing, they certainly knew, and they presumably lead the high life depicted in the film.

              So, it’s perfectly possible to make a film about the housing scam that both probed the con, and informed a mass market public, and titillated the… whatever it is that Hollywood needs to titillate.

    5. mary

      So when can we expect “Timberwolf: The Musical”? Or “The Girls of Abacus”? Will Scorsese be giving us “The Magnetar Men” anytime soon?

  4. Banger

    I hope to get around to seeing the movie. It sounds a lot like what guys hanging out and getting high and daring each other to do insane things is like. I know that scene and I can just project it into the financial speculation business. Why non? Doesn’t the culture agree that the highest good is wealth? And the Wall Streeters should get style points for their audaciousness. They do have the virtue of making a mockery out of the American Dream load of crap we are handed by the myth-makers. Americans had the opportunity to face reality in 2008 but instead chose “yes, we can” and escapism.

    The proper stance towards corporate and political leaders is radical cynicism. They represent a wasteful and destructive aristocracy who run a corrupt and illegitimate regime–that’s the reality of our system. As in Rome, the Empire went on whether ruled by Marcus Aurelius or Caligula–we can weather all this but, since we claim to be a democracy, we are responsible for allowing this on our watch.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      FWIW, DiCaprio looked like he was selling insurance. Even though he must have met Belfort, the pitch seemed weirdly impersonal. Contrast with this:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmOuegybLQs

      But I agree, that clip is still cringe-making.

      Various news outlets have Belfort insisting that he wasn’t making any money on the picture but he might have extracted payment in kind.

  5. DakotabornKansan

    Excellent review!

    Let the moralists howl!!

    “Crime is rewarding, and if you can do it on a big enough scale, you can even buy some glamour.”

    This reminds me of the ”Dickens from Detroit,” Elmore Leonard.

    In his novel “Glitz,” Leonard wonderfully paints the preying gambling world of Atlantic City’s Boardwalk :

    ”Two thousand a day [tour buses] came into the city, dropped the suckers off for six hours to lose their paychecks, their Social Security in the slots and haul them back up to Elizabeth, Newark, Jersey City, Philly, Allentown. Bring some more loads back tomorrow – like the Jews in the boxcars, only they kept these folks alive with bright lights and loud music and jackpot payoffs that sounded like fire alarms.”

    Leonard gave the following directive about his clever crooks to movie producers of his novels:

    “These guys aren’t being funny, so don’t let the other characters laugh at their lines.”

    This is why the movie “Get Shorty” was a success.

  6. Skeptic

    Trillions Up In Smoke and not one significant movie about it. That demonstrates that Hollywood, i.e. film distribution, is controlled by the 1%. Hollywood produces Fantasy and Distraction not Reality.

    (I note that in most Hollywood movies, for example, everyone has Limousine Healthcare. Hospital scenes are usually of private rooms with lots of techy, beeping machines and nurses and understanding docs in attendance. Nothing too good for the Big Screen.)

    1. Banger

      Like all other corporate structures the film and entertainment industry represent their class interests. They seek to distract and delude people and rarely make films that tell the truth. Films are engineered not made, for the most part. I see many Hollywood films that are put together like marketing campaigns and, from a technical perspective, suck. They use lazy methods, constant repetition of mood, symbols, gestures–they lack nuance and emphasize a “look” like a fashion shoot rather than telling a story. I rarely see a Hollywood film that is even half-way decent from a technical or dramatic perspective. That’s not so different than the days of yore–but technically many of the old films were pretty good and they at least tried to tell a story with some wit. Perhaps I’m irritated at watching some of the Black Dahlia (it held my wife’s interest but not mine)–a film I can go scene by scene and show you both the technical problems and the inability to make a story that is typical of most Hollywood movies.

      1. j gibbs

        I don’t think anyone has made a movie worth seeing for twenty years. The last one I saw was Cobb. It was a peach.

        In case you are curious, the target audience for Hollywood movies is 12 year old girls.

  7. PopeRatzo

    Jordan Belfort was one of the job creators. Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful.

    He is John Galt’s id.

  8. Ddf

    This is a much better movie about Wall Street than Wall Street. Characters are richer, story is closer to reality and yes this is also a movie about American capitalism and society: the raw energy, the vulgarity, the class barriers. Only a 17th century equivalent of Jordan Belfort could have convinced the pilgrims to get on the Mayflower…

  9. John Mc

    For anyone who has been asked to sell their bosses a pen to secure a job, I was glad to finally see this level of nuance in persuade training. Boiler room tactics and the culture of saying anything to get the sale is a fundamental part of the neoliberal trail of deterioration and betrayal of trust our financial service providers have been incentivized to sell us over 40 years.

    Certainly, there are bigger fish to dry than Scorsese and Di Caprio?

  10. John Hacker

    Thanks for the words, the dumbing down of the nation after Kent State brought us here. When the upper classes were not challenged, they got lazy. When Victor Posner bought Sharon Steel i knew i was screwed.

  11. steelhead23

    Yves, I too thought the movie and DiCaprio’s performance excellent. However, after leaving the theater and reading a bit in Wiki about Belfort, I felt a tad suckerish. By buying a ticket, I was supporting this scum – he wrote the book and no doubt pockets some coin with each ticket sold. That he is currently well behind in his payments to his victims suggests that the tennis-country club prison he finagled himself into wasn’t sufficient motivation for him to “come clean.” As much as I enjoyed the movie (especially when his trophy wife took him to the cleaners), I rather hope an unamused federal judge tells him to pay up or go to the big house – with Bubba as a roomy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, various accounts have said he didn’t make any money from the picture. And guys who write books on which movies are based (except perhaps J.K. Rowling, but I’d bet she was a producer of the Harry Potter pix) never never get a piece of the action. They get paid a flat fee for having their books optioned (and those fees are small). Advisors to movies are also modestly paid.

      Belfort is way way behind on his $110 million in fines. I believe there are statutes re not profiting from crimes, which would have allowed any fees to be collected by the Feds anyhow. Frankly, IMHO it would have been better for Belfort to have taken dough and said it was all going to victims, but that would put the focus on the fact that he hurt a lot of people.

      He did play this brilliantly. The value of the PR to his motivational selling business is worth vastly more than any money he could have gotten the normal way for the book rights.

      1. steelhead23

        Thanks for your reply – and you are probably right, but remember this: when Belfort was at the top of his game, he used “friends” bank accounts to hide his looting, collecting his share in cold hard cash. Hence, it would not much surprise me if the FBI agent tailing Belfort gets a photo of Scorsese sliding an envelope or brief case to our “motivator.” I’m not saying this is so, I’m saying it would be true to form.

    2. fajensen

      By buying a ticket, I was supporting this scum –
      This may be, but: By going to work, paying taxes, in fact doing anything at all that generates extractable revenue, I am supporting numerous and far worse people as well as keeping alive many different kinds of nut-job politics/religion and fraudulent economic “science” than this one fraudster.

      If I did not “volunteer” to support all of those things I am against and offended by on a daily basis, I would be living alone under a tarp in the woods somewhere, still on the hook for the DKK 300,000 net loss on the sale of my house from when I got fired back in 2011 and had to move, of course right after we renovated the house. We have recourse mortgages, where I live. They can and absolutely will persecute you for 25 years over small’ish debts – unless you are special and manage/arrange to get wiped out with a loss in double-digit millions, then you can always get a deal. Usually Bankrupt, which clears the debt, and you are off again using wifey’s name & money this time. Billions in loss especially on property investments, no problem, you are too big to fail – or rather, your bank is, so you get to keep quite a decent portfolio and you may even get a job with Finansiel Stabilitet A/S, to help them manage all the dead investments on behalf of taxpayers.

      It’s the system, not this one person gaming it (and being caught!), we should be angry with.

      Dozens of bigger fish got clean away thanks to “the invisible hand” of our governments, the one entity that was supposed to enforce the laws equally and all that crap.

      PS:
      This year, I managed to pay my bastard bank back, hopefully destroying about 3,000,000 worth of “capital”, in the form of junk bonds (with usury rates and fees) made up from my overdraft. Serves the fuckers right too, those rats were getting real uppity around Christmas. Smelling Fees.

  12. Roquentin

    I’ve been on the fence about seeing this. I was way more interested in it before I saw the trailer, which made it look like it would be two hours of lifestyle porn. I like Scorsese in general, but I can’t tell if this was just an attempt to feed moviegoers a little obscenity under the guise of a serious drama, a chance to live vicariously through someone who they wish they were in real life but can’t be, or if there was something more serious going on. Could a major motion picture even get produced in our current social climate which portrayed those at these firms as vicious, stupid swine? Maybe I’m not being fair. It’s not good to judge something you haven’t seen, but the trailer didn’t exactly give me high hopes.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      No. Good movies probably can’t be made. Danny Elfman, the composer of The Simpsons theme song, has said Tim Burton who makes weird movies (not always of the same quality) would never get funding today. The studios are dominated by MBA types who skew towards conservatism. Economics majors are a self-selective group.

      They are releasing an “original” Jack Ryan movie, but the ads seem directed towards 20 year olds. What 20 year old knows who the hell Jack Ryan is? Who the hell is Tom Clancy? Didn’t he make a video game? The last decent Clancy book was “Executive Decisions,” and the last enjoyable one was *before*** Debt of Honor.” Now the factory turns out Jack Ryan Jr.. There may be a brand awareness, and the new Captain Kirk is in it. Who cares? They have some brand, and we can’t get a “Without Remorse” movie made because Jack Ryan isn’t in it. Of course, how many movies get made where a cartel leader seals a guy in a barrel of heroin so he goes insane from an unquenchable addiction?

      People always complain about young people, but much of our culture is determined by 50 year old MBAs. Lets be honest, they were coke addled thieves from the 1980′s. How much of what we have available is largely due to the long term effects of heavy drug use in the 1980′s?

      ***Debt of Honor is utter trash.

  13. craazyman

    I probably won’t see this movie out of moral outrage and jealousy. Not that I’d want to con people, but how does a guy like Jordan Belfort get 100s of hot naked women running around serving his every whim? Most guys wouldn’t have a problem with that. You ever notice how the women in these movie are always Cecil B. DeMille background extras? What motivates them? Why do they participate in this stuff? What’s their story? it couldn’t happen if it wasn’t for them. You never hear that one. Maybe ’cause there isn’t much of a story. Maybe the story is “money”. Or maybe not? Maybe the story is “belonging” or maybe it’s “affirmation” or maybe it’s some purely imaginative form of power. That would be kind of an interesting movie. How do you go from being a little girl with a animal hat and a doll and a cute face to walking around naked with a cocktail at a pool looking or action. That way those of us who aren’t going to con somebody can learn how to set it all up without the con and enjoy the festivities, giving them exactly what they want — just to be nice. hahahaha. But maybe they want the con. Maybe the con is an essential ingredient. Oh well. Too bad. I guess that’s why they have massage parlors.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      First. The women weren’t probably that hot. Two. Make up goes a long way in Hollywood. Many models would be seen as unattractive by in-person standards. Three, our brains remove blemished and odd lines when confronted with groups, so everyone looks more attractive by comparison. Four, there is a sense in the “art community” which tends to conflate shock with art which isn’t to say art can’t be shocking or the right color on a rectangle canvass can be art (you have to see it in person to understand).

      These people were doing coke, not pot. Cocaine is a helluva a drug, and people will do crazy stuff to get that high.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I have to tell you the girls at the high end strip club are very attractive (although most dance like they are bored) and they are less well paid than high end escorts. You’ve recently had boatloads of drop dead gorgeous Russian “models” who are functionally indistinguishable from prostitutes except they are fussier about who gets to buy their attention invade Manhattan. And a major Hollywood picture could buy plenty of pretty T&A. Look what appearing in Playboy did for Sharon Stone. One of my male buddies stresses that gold-digging is prostitution except the purveyors are less honest about it than sex workers and you see plenty of that too. For a very large number of women, their dealings with men really are about trading sex for security or other goodies. The hard core feminists aren’t wrong about this.

        I even met a guy (on the American Ballet Theater board which means he’s a buddy of the Kochs, and I amused myself by hitting his libertarian buttons) whose Russian wife was clearly one of those Russian “models”. She was a former ballet dancer he’d met on the Internet, and her accent was so thick and her English so limited (unlike the “models” I’ve encountered in Manhattan) that she had the earmarks of a direct purchase (and no, he hadn’t done business in Russian and dated her over there). Not a good talker, no sparkle in her personality (although he was one of the dullest people I’ve encountered in a while, flat affect, inherited a successful business, so she might have been plenty lively by his standards).

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          I should note I have uncorrected better than 20:10 vision, so from my perspective, everyone is ugly*. That may be true. I think strip clubs are disgusting, but I was in St. Petersburg about two years ago and thought the women were incredible. I’ve never seen a place like it.

          *Gee, what kind of blemish are you trying to hide? That’s an interesting scar! Wow, do you see what that person over there is doing when they think no one can see them?

          1. craazyman

            I always found the women in strip clubs to be pretty damn hot. It was painful just to be there, only looking. then if you tried to hit on them it was pretty much a lost cause, for obvious reasons. It was so bad I didn’t go very often. And then I stopped going at all. Better to do something like study mathematics or read classical literature in the original language, and then have a sherry by the fire. Why torture yourself? The massage parlor is a much better place to spend money.

            It occurred to me today reflecting on all this — how about all the people in the world who deserve a Jordan Belfort in their lives. All the people who are miserable human beings, guilty of the high crimes of hate, viciousness, usurpation of others’ hard earned work, moral degeneracy, supercilious and unctuous arrogance, the wanton affliction of their turpitudes upon defenseless good and open souls — do they somehow, perhaps, deserve a Jordan Belfort? A lesson of sorts, from God? It may be. I think of people I’ve met and, frankly, they deserve it in some cases. Some might say I deserved it. It’s like that. Sometimes you just have to let the world be itself and not wonder so much why.

          2. F. Beard

            I have to agree about Russian women – the beautiful ones that is. Stunning!

            But, of course, there is more to attractiveness than static physical appearance alone. And sadly:

            All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. Isaiah 40:6

        2. F. Beard

          I have to tell you the girls at the high end strip club are very attractive Yves Smith

          Sad if true but then women are very poor judges of attractive women, in my experience.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Gee, they are the same type of women that got hired as hot babes in the movie, and men pay for their services in all sorts of ways. So how is my taste off?

            Women’s “taste” is usually based on clothed women and fashion designers push women who wear their clothes to be thin, since it’s easier to drape clothing over women who are lanky and whose shoulders are a more prominent feature than their boobs or butt. And if you don’t have a great figure, you look better thin than not. Hence the bias among women to be thin, when a lot of men like women who are built more like belly dancers (fleshy but voluptuous). FWIW, in all the strip clubs I’ve managed to be dragged to, I’ve never seen that body type, so this isn’t my bias, it’s the bias of the men who run these places.

            1. F. Beard

              … and men pay for their services in all sorts of ways. So how is my taste off? Yves Smith

              I’m also amazed at the huge pass women give “men” for degrading women and I’m no Alan Alda type.

              But in general, women admire so-called exotic and beautiful while I prefer regular features, pretty, clean and wholesome.

    2. j gibbs

      It was the money. Back in the Nineties, a guy deeply involved in this scene told me the one thing he had learned was that you could get a woman to do anything with a promise of $30k a year. It’s probably less these days. Depressing, isn’t it?

      1. F. Beard

        It’s enraging! AND COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY!

        Banks and those who support them have caused more misery than anything else I can think of.

    3. optimader

      He made it is a shitty way and he spent it like an uninspired dick. Not much to be jealous about here crazymaan.
      At least my sociopathic alter ego would still have retained a nice spread adjacent to either the Nahuel Huapi or Los Arrayanes National Parks held in a Trust after things inevitably blewup.
      The problem w/ being a bonefide sociopath though is that consideration of when things ultimately blow up are not on the radar…

    4. Heretic

      Craazy, you are a poet.

      I liked this line:
      ‘How do you go from being a little girl with a animal hat and a doll and a cute face to walking around naked with a cocktail at a pool looking or action. ‘

      For me it is a sad and poignant line…. Something to mull over, though I don’t fully grasp its significance, nor your intention behind it.

      Too bad we humans do not have have the vision to see each other as little toddlers. There would be good and bad with that perspective, but perhaps there would be more gentle with each other….

  14. susan the other

    Outrage fatigue. Yes, that’s what I’ve got. But the situation is so rotten that nothing will save it. It needs to be discarded as quickly as possible. The “market” is a fantasy. An uncontrollable fantasy. Hong Kong just announced that Bitcoin is a virtual commodity and as such needs no regulation. I submit that everything that is traded is a virtual commodity. We need to start over from scratch.

  15. fromGermany

    fun fact:
    FKK – in german is short for ‘Frei Koerper Kultur’, it translates to ‘free body culture’ (or so).
    So FKK-area means that everybody has to be naked in fhat area.
    It’s sort of a hobby here.

    ps – I always hoped tat the magnetar guys would make it to holywood

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The names were all made up (remember this was a thin fictionalization of his life) so Germans would get his FKK joke and not the dumb Anglos!

  16. Waking Up

    Yves, I was very aware that “the glamorization of ill-gotten wealth began before the Reagan/Thatcher era, although it started getting turbo-charged in the 1980s”. Many people (including myself) recognized back in the 1980′s that this message would have very negative long term consequences on the American psyche. Fast forward to 2014 and we have corruption at the highest levels of government with a president who believes it is legal to spy on everyone around the world, that has a “kill list” which results in civilian deaths in other countries in spite of the fact that we haven’t declared war, who believes that CEO’s of financial institutions which nearly collapsed our economy and continue the same corrupt business practices are “savvy businessmen”, and the list goes on.

    We are collapsing as a society and Hollywood has been in the center of the propaganda machine since D.W. Griffith made “In Old California” back in 1910. It seems that you have addressed the movie from an “intellectual” perspective and frankly I agree with all of your comments about fraud and corruption within the entire system (isn’t that after all why so many have appreciated your blog for years?). However, what is the impact of this movie on a typical 15 to 30 year old male who grew up in a system of “greed is good”? Will they view this movie as a cautionary tale of corruption or instead that Belfort was stupid and they will have the “glamour” without stupidity (perhaps they will go about it in the manner of the Jamie Dimon’s of the world). If we can’t ask for a “moral” lesson now after all the country has gone through and continues to experience, then when can we??

  17. Chauncey Gardiner

    As a citizen out here in flyover country, I feel only a deep sense of betrayal, anger… and yes, shame. I thought voting and jury service were enough, especially when trying to raise kids.

    Nearly half of Americans employed in FIRE sectors … For those of us once interested in MRP, the real economy and related processes, the Belforts of the world won —whether they’re at Wall Street banks, private equity firms, some hedge fund in Connecticut, on K Street in DC, or phoning from a boiler shop in Florida.

    So where do we go from here?… and how do we get there?

  18. Tyler

    Yves, I love ya. I was starting to think there was something wrong with me for liking this film.

  19. Jim

    “And on top of that, no one was questioning the conduct of rich people all that much so why should we be surprised that more and more people would think its legitimate to tromp on other people in the pursuit of lucre? That’s become so routine in the US that its hard to overcome rage fatigue on this blog.”

    “The public should want to understand how predators like him work their chicanery so they can vaccinate themselves and use his behavior to support a call for tougher laws and enforcement.”

    I would argue that what is moral becomes and remains self-evident only within a powerful and deeply compelling system of culture. In general such a system of culture consists of two motifs which are intimately related. One motif is controlling, which articulates what actions one cannot perform and the other is remissive, which articulates the actions one is encouraged to perform. This controlling-remissive complex seem to be a pattern of moral demands within a culture of what we may or may not do in the face of infinite possibilities.

    If the remissive or releasing part of a culture gradually increases its jurisdiction to the point where it no longer seems to support the controlling motif (what we now see in the behavior of our political and financial /economic elites centered in DC and in the more blue collar/boiler room mimic behavior presented in Wolf of Wall Street) I believe that it can be persuasively argued that our culture might be reaching some type of breaking point.

    If this analysis is anywhere close to accurate it raises the issue of whether an alternative political movement should be calling for the articulation of a moral demand system centered on the importance of what is not to be done.

    Would the articulation of this cultural dimension, then, also be a necessary and crucial part of the vaccination process?

  20. lark

    I think it’s an issue of whose perspective is represented.

    I happen to know someone who has worked for a film director in the Scorsese caliber but not Scorsese. “An American icon.” He has many houses and a fleet of maids on constant duty though any given house may be empty for almost the year. The maid waits outside the bathroom and if one uses it they immediately clean it, including folding the toilet paper to a point. It must appear unused and completely fresh should the Great Man appear (even if he’s known to be out of the country). Another bastion of entitlement is Jay Z, google it. Amazing.

    The point is, our celebrity culture is as out of touch and offensive as our financial culture. I think Scorsese is representing not only the financial class – but his class. It’s a gleeful portrait of 1% entitlement and narcissism, including the whole Hollywood band of hucksters. The reason there are no ordinary people suffering in the portrayal is that in the elite worlds of DeCaprio and Scorsese such folks don’t exist.

    You may like that, or not. But it is surely worth pointing out, and if anyone’s response to the movie is annoyance or worse, that is perfectly understandable.

  21. masaccio

    This is right on every count. The fiduciaries screwed the stupid people who trusted them, not just the salesfolk, but the Trust Officers at the RMBS trusts and the lenders who were happy to throw money at anyone who could scratch an X on the dotted line.

    That’s why American Hustle is an accurate picture as well: the attention to detail and the focus of the players is crucial.

    For those interested in boiler rooms, there is a great description in a case I link in this post: http://fdl.me/waTnhV
    The head of the operation wanders around shouting that the Mooch Has Your Money In His Pocket.

  22. mrtmbrnmn

    Yves
    I call your attention to “Boiler Room” a small independent film released to little notice in 2000. Compared to that film (essentially about the same scammers), Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street” is itself just a gigantic big screen “pump & dump” effort. Noisey, excessive, heavily larded with f-bombs but at the end of the day worth about a penny….

  23. tdraicer

    >We are collapsing as a society

    Amazingly, we always have been. The Religious Right looks for the End Times, and parts of the Left declare the end of civilization, and the reality is that history is mostly made up of bad things with bits of progress attached. I would actually be fairly optimistic about the future of the US (which continues to have many advantages, and where basic demographic shifts are moving the country in a more liberal direction over time) but for the one wild card we haven’t seen before: massive global climate change. But I’m afraid decades of crying wolf over our being doomed has made it very difficult to convince people that this time it really does appear there is a wolf out there.

  24. Marrisa Salenetti

    My question is — is this movie doing anything new? At this point, “white Wall Street conmen experience meteoric rise and disgraceful plummet, as accompanied by prostitutes and drugs; cause us to question our own social values” isn’t new ground to tread. In a year where we had some pretty cool and unusual things happening in mainstream cinema (an animated “princess” movie where the most important relationship was between two sisters, a space thriller whose face was a middle-aged woman, a high-grossing action movie starring a young woman, a sci-fi blockbuster where 2/3 leads were NOT white men, a female buddy-cop movie), this just seems….tired. And honestly, nothing in this review is making me think the movie is going to ask any questions that haven’t been asked a million times, in similar explorations. Pass, sorry.

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