“Don’t Ever Put Yer Paws on me Jack” – why the Wolf of Wall Street is truly awful

So, a short rant (ATF publishing a short rant?! Whit?!)

I’m sort of addicted to the cinema and this time of year is my favourite cinema time because I’m a sucker for the buzz and I always have to see everything, like, yesterday. I’m a proper wanker really, I generally spend my Sunday evenings at this time of year in a cycle of wine and indie films at the Cameo like some sort of Guardianista c*nt – “but Peter Braaaaadshaw said it’s the most poetic use of foreshadowing he’s ever seen…so very meta” etc etc etc.

Seems the c*ntiness has been all pervasive really it took me the best part of a week to truly think about just how problematic one of the biggest films of this awards season really is. Despite the film’s nomination for five Academy Awards (although not in either of the Actress categories…uh-huh….) and subsequent reigniting of the now routine bi-annual Leo worshipping (anyone else think he’s actually deeply unattractive?) we probably do need to talk about the true fucked up nature of Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

The film is based on the real life story of Justin Belford (DiCaprio), a lower middle class (that’s how he describes it ok?) upstart from Queens who made his millions on Wall Street with the help of some more unorthodox moves which really pissed off some of the other hungry hungry hippos in the 80s/90s stocks bubble and, well, the FBI. Usually, films “based on real life yo!” are so loosely rooted in some vague tale that I basically discount it as another work of fiction but on further reading (thanks Wikipedia) about Belford’s life, it appears that The Wolf of Wall Street is pretty much directly and accurately biographical.

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The real-life douche – Justin Belford

For the oblivious reader (I’d intervene with a spoiler alert at this point but really, if you make it to the end of this SHORT RANT and you still feel the need to see this film with wonderment and surprise then honestly you pretty much deserve for it to be spoiled), a brief synopsis would read something like: man goes to work on wall street, man crashes out of Wall Street, man makes his way back onto Wall Street through a web of lies and deceit (wait, isn’t that *all* Wall Street and international finance and banking?! Say whaaaaaa?!), man makes millions, man spends millions on coke/vallies/prostitutes, man fucks over two wives and a child, man gets done by FBI, man loses everything but reclaims notable acclaim as a public speaker.

It’s more than obvious on even the most fleeting glance that this is a film about a corral of nasty cretins. In amongst the predicable wash of employee harassment and bullying, the gross and unrelenting pursuit of money, and the use of women as little more than ornaments or sexual accessories, there are some moments in the film which are sharp-and-totally-involuntary-intake-of-breath alarming to watch. In one scene, Belford is doing a run down of the soliciting habits of him and his band of very creepy merry men – first we see the “high class” escorts (champagne n that) and then the “good time girls” (stripteases) before the “bargain basement” girls, illustrated by a nervous and vulnerable looking girl no older than 18 laid out on an office desk whilst being subjected to a slow hump from a fat sweaty man with a minging tashe whilst an entire office of jumped up men on too many uppers watch, cheering and goading. In another disturbing scene, Belford and his cronies laughingly, yet entirely seriously, plan the launching of achondroplastic people dressed in Velcro suits onto a spinning Velcro wheel. The event attracts the entire office and a good two hundred people fist pump and scream as these individuals are literally used as human darts. And then there are Belford’s interactions with his second wife which are achingly abusive. In the throes of one argument he punches her right in face, sending her clattering to the ground. If that wasn’t bad enough, in another scene he rapes her before attempting to kidnap their child having been presented with divorce.

So far so nasty. But what’s the problem, you might ask. Sure, these events are grim but isn’t it the common role of film, nay art in general, to display the bad with the good, the challenging with the easy going, the fun with the depressing? I actually laughed a bit when my friend broached me with subtle caution: “umm, so this film isn’t very, well, PC….” Somehow I’ve now become The Feminist Grinch, unwilling to watch anything which doesn’t congratulate MY FEMINISM. Ummmm….no. I’m not interested in only consuming media which doesn’t offend me, why would anyone ever do that?! Isn’t that called, well, burying your head in the sand?! It’s like white people who don’t want to see 12 Years a Slave because “it’s too upsetting”. Um…that’s exactly why you *should* see it?! Like, I get that subject matter can be triggering and I would never want anyone to subject themselves to something which is genuinely likely to cause mental distress but you can’t live in a world of ponies and daffodils and so shouldn’t at least some of the media and art you consume reflect that? Each to their own I guess, I suppose escapism is really important to a lot of people but some balance might be good for remembering all-the-shit-what-happens-in-the-world and why we shouldn’t stand for it, particularly if you’re someone with, y’know, privilege n that.

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I Googled ‘Lads on Tour’ and this is what I got.

But here’s my actual gripe – whilst I don’t think it’s a terribly bad thing for a film to broach somewhat explicitly disturbing material with the aim to remind us of the realities we live in, the crux of the matter is always that of analysis. I would have expected the film to actively reflect on just how abhorrent and damaging this grossly excessive, misogynistic and amoral the Justin Belford stockbrokering world was. I wasn’t expecting a laboured critique of the evils of capitalism or Da Patriarchy but I thought there might at least be some subtle allusions to the dark things the film says about humanity, about greed, about violence against women. Through all the black humour and the storytelling, I was waiting for this reflection. But it never really properly came.

Instead, from his elongated leaving speech which focusses gratuitously on the “service” he did a single mom in need by hiring her with a lavish golden handshake, to the ending with all the sentimental vibes of The Reformed Character doing the “speaker tour” which is just “selling more shit”, Belford is celebrated throughout. The funny and absurd moments no longer qualify as “black humour” and the story becomes nothing more than another tale of boyish japes, “lads on tour”, “boys will be boys”.  And we *accept* it. We accept it because instead of attempting to point out and breakdown aggression driven by patriarchy, we are taught to attribute male spurts of violence and nasty behaviour to inherent aspects of the male gender. We are taught that this is just what men and boys *do*, that they can’t help it, and that we should overlook this in favour of a “story” and some laughs (about a slimy white dude who lied on Wall Street, made loads of money and took fuckloads of coke….like, woah, exciting……..said no-one ever).  The myth of unmoveable gender flaws is total shite of course. Total lazy shite which does nothing but prop up of system which continues to oppress and hurt women on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. A system in which two out of three women murdered will be murdered by a parter at home and in which one in four women worldwide will experience serious sexual violence at the hands of a man with whom they are intimate.

So, not such a short rant but whatever, don’t go and see The Wolf of Wall Street – it’s shite.

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Further Reading:

Beware the Ides of March…and “left-wing” sexist bawbags

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