The Blind Eye of Mainstream Financial Media

Observation on film reviews of “The Wolf of Wall Street”

You may have heard of Martin Scorsese’s latest movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”. It is based on a certain Jordan Belfort’s rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life and all that and his subsequent fall involving crime and corruption. The movie is likely to be nominated for an Oscar this year and it has already won Leonardo di Caprio a Golden Globe as best actor. It, hence, doesn’t come as a surprise that “The Wolf of Wall Street” has been reviewed extensively in the international press. And in this respect, it is worth the while to note what financial media have to say about subject movie. After all, it can’t be denied that “The Wolf of Wall Street” does provide some insight into the more dubious aspects of the financial industry and of capitalism as a whole. 

So, here is what Joe Morgenstein of the Wall Street Journal (Online edition) writes respectively:

“In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, the celebrated crook of the 1990s who prided himself on his ability to sell anything and did in fact swindle investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Martin Scorsese’s epic-scale comedy of criminality, adapted by Terence Winter from Mr. Belfort’s book of the same name, is selling three hours of incessant shouting and sensationally bad behavior—mud wrestling without the mud that includes drugs, booze, debauchery, degeneracy and dwarf-throwing. It’s meant to be an entertaining, even meaningful representation of the penny-stock maestro’s life and times. But I couldn’t buy it, and couldn’t wait for the hollow spectacle to end. (…)The film may well prove profitable: Lurid outlaws are always appealing, and there’s pleasure to be had in the downfall of slimeballs. But “The Wolf of Wall Street” demands a huge investment of time for a paltry return.” ( see: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303290904579278012548994926)

The Economist of London echoes Mr. Morgenstein’s view:

“Still, the rowdiest parties are also the most tiring. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is, essentially, a string of hair-raising anecdotes, and while all of them are funny, outrageous and masterfully told, very few of them advance the plot or deepen the characterisation, so they become exhausting. It takes about half an hour for the hard-working Dr Jekyll to mutate into a hedonistic Mr Hyde, and from then on the film just keeps charging from one orgy to the next until the inevitable day when the FBI agent makes his move. It’s a wisp of a narrative, given the three-hour running time—Mr Scorsese’s longest ever.” ( see: http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2013/12/new-film-wolf-wall-street)

And under the caption “Does The Wolf of Wall Street Glorify Crime?” Sheelah Kolhatkar of Businessweek summarizes her take by citing a New York Magazine comment:

“Critics are divided on the question. “The Wolf of Wall Street is three hours of horrible people doing horrible things and admitting to being horrible,” writes David Edelstein in New York magazine. “But you’re supposed to envy them anyway, because the alternative is working at McDonald’s and riding the subway alongside wage slaves.” (see: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-12-30/does-the-wolf-of-wall-street-glorify-crime)

That is all said media have to say about this movie: No reference to habits and extravagances on today’s trading floors; no comment on whether the use of drugs in financial brokering is in deed as common as inferred; no contemplation of the devastating effect that certain call center sales techniques have; and certainly no analysis of the primordial role that the ability to sell has in everyone’s life these days.

Now, why is it that the aforementioned issues never come up in the financial media’s review of “The Wolf of Wall Street”? Is it that said questions aren’t being considered as relevant? Or does the industry take it for granted that today’s reality on trading floor cannot possibly have anything in common with what was being portrayed in “The Wolf of Wall Street”? – Probably, none of the above is true. Instead, it is more than likely that the Wall Street Journal and others are quite aware that trading floor activities to this day are beholden to a darker element that his hard to communicate to the outside world. And yet they cannot openly talk about it. Because their ideological support for free markets is so religious that it would infringe on their piety towards the money market establishment to look at things as they are. It, therefore, doesn’t come as a surprise that the judgments of said media outlets are clouded sometimes by a snobbish sense of superiority; Witness “The Economist’s” endorsement of the Iraq invasion, – which, as we all know, went pretty sour subsequently; or witness “The Economist’s” call for a hard, punitive strike against Assad’s Syria, – that, fortunately, hasn’t been acted upon… 

So,  if, after all this, you still want to know whether “The Wolf of Wall Street” is worth your while then you should read Richard Brody’s piece in the New Yorker Magazine (The Lasting Power of “The Wolf of Wall Street”;  Jan 3, 2014). Because he nails it down in such a perfect way that we ourselves could never hope to replicate on our own account.. Here is an excerpt of Mr. Brody’s interpretation:

“The Wolf of Wall Street is even more capacious. Let’s start with that last shot, which I cited but remained coy about when writing about the movie before it opened. By now, there has been enough discussion for everyone to know that it shows an audience—attendees at a sales-technique seminar held by Jordan Belfort, in New Zealand, after his release from prison. Belfort challenges those in the front row, one by one, to sell him a pen. None of them has a clue, and Scorsese’s camera rises over their heads to scan the yearning, vacant faces of the aspirants in the rows behind them. 

It’s a moment with a terrifying, Olympian blend of compassion, disdain, and anguish; it shows a fatal lack of imagination combined with a desperate range of unfulfilled desires. The shot shows not just an audience, but the audience: Scorsese puts the film’s viewers face to face with themselves, charges us with compensating for our lack of imagination and fatal ambition through contact with the wiles of a master manipulator. Just as the fictionalized Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is presented at the seminar by a host (who, in a diabolical cameo, is played by the real-life Belfort), so we, the movie audience, have been introduced to Belfort by another enthusiastic impresario, namely Martin Scorsese, who knows perfectly well that he is giving us something that we want, something that we need, and something that taps into dreams and ambitions that are both central to life and completely suspect.” (see: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2014/01/the-lasting-power-of-the-wolf-of-wall-street.html)

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