Of Wolfs, Wall Street, Art, and Poser Populists

I was not planning on seeing The Wolf of Wall Street but may have to after reading an op-ed by Christina McDowell, the daughter of Tom Prousalis who was a lawyer in the pump and dump schemes portrayed in the movie. She makes the argument that the film and especially the film makers, Scorsese, DiCaprio, and Winters, have glorified these tactics:

So here’s the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

And yet you’re glorifying it — you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by the Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you’d be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn’t made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don’t even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.

On the one hand, I think McDowell is suggesting that these “liberal” film makers are what I like to call poser populists; lots of lip service to certain ideals but not much beyond that. Maybe that is so. Some artists and writers were horrible in private life but wrote works that capture and celebrate humanity. Do we stop reading them? No. When the opposite is true, however, we may indeed pass up the work. On the other hand, there is the film by itself. Is it that bad?

With McDowell’s critique, I find I may have to see the blasted thing to determine whether it is as lacking substance as it seems. The trailers made the film seem pretty much as McDowell describes. And I happen to find the Scorsese and DiCaprio combo flat film-making. But these images and perspectives of how to conduct one’s life come up in both business associations and professional responsibility. While I believe people should make what they wish for film, T.V., books, etc., if those works become popular, I find I want to know them so I can counter-punch the message or give some context to what students see. Thus I agree with McDowell that creators can exercise judgment in what they make, but once the thing is done, blast it all, I may have to dive in if I want to say “Not for me” and back it up with why.

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