Our Toxic Public Dialogue

No one should admire the exploitation movie headlining Leonardo DiCaprio as “the Wolf of Wall Street” who holds a false fixed grin for three hours, selling us, inviting us to share the life of a greedy, sex-crazed sociopathic stockbroker, who dupes naïve middle class investors to buy worthless stocks so that DiCaprio’s character can live in a mansion, and have a helicopter, trophy wife, yacht, prostitutes galore, countless lines of coke, morphine, and endless quantities of Quaaludes.

One movie reviewer claimed the movie was “lethally hilarious.”

There’s nothing “hilarious” about porn, drug addiction, prostitution and marathon boiler rooms stealing from hard-working middle class “marks,” all the time glorifying the thugs in suits that laugh at their off-camera victims.  This movie is not “ordinary” movie fare; its aim is unrelenting painful excess that some mistake for the American dream.

The lead FBI agent who pursues DiCaprio’s criminal character, is featured in one of the movie’s final scenes, a disparaging setting, riding anonymously home on the Manhattan IRT with other working “stiffs” – underscoring DiCaprio’s earlier accusation in the flick that the Agent led a sorry life riding the subway home to an ugly wife (whom DiCaprio didn’t know to describe) while DiCaprio stood high and mighty on the deck of his lily white yacht throwing greenbacks at the agent. 

When DiCaprio is arrested, he “rats” on his associates, and weasels his way out of prison in 22 months, the cost in custody of his corrupt “business,” to build his next fortune including the two books that he wrote in real life that “inspired” this “blockbuster” movie.

In this movie, there’s a Quaalude party that DiCaprio convenes at his mansion with his partner, played by Jonah Hill; they pop so many Quaaludes they nearly die.

Terrence Winter, the film’s screen writer, says this scene is so funny, that “DiCaprio and Hill on drugs rival Laurel and Hardy.”   Talk about twisted.  Mr. Winter “spins” this dark and toxic drug fest pretending a near death drug experience is a thigh slapper in order to get us to buy a ticket to his show.

Jonah Hill admits, “I was disgusted by what I was doing!”  Among the gross acts Jonah “did” was to “pleasure himself” at a party amidst watching bystanders while he fixed his onanistic gaze on the woman who became DiCaprio’s trophy wife (after DiCaprio kicked his first wife to the curb).  DiCaprio is equally disgusting when he man-handles a flight attendant the way a disobedient Fido might.

Martin Scorsese, the Director, admits, “People can take their identification with movies and novels to some alarming places.”  But Leonardo and Martin are not concerned whence their viewers go after the movie, whether “alarming” or not, as long as they go to the movie in the first place to justify the $90 million they spent making this flick.

Movies often lag the cultural context that movie makers believe makes their product saleable.

Martin and Leonardo appear to have read the nation accurately.

As a nation, we have become insensitive to schemers, personal affronts, invasions of the most personal privacy as our elected figures, pundits, shock jocks, among others, recklessly publish whatever comes into their head, including the most hurtful and unfounded accusations, entirely indifferent to good taste, accuracy, compassion or privacy.

DiCaprio compared his movie to Roman Emperor Caligula’s reign.  Caligula inflicted pain and death, acted unjustly, looted the public treasury, and engaged in all manner of sexual misconduct.

DiCaprio said his movie was “a modern-day Caligula, the height of debauchery.”

Is the face of our nation truly mirrored in DiCaprio’s distasteful art – a nation at the height of debauchery?  Perhaps we fall short of the heights he claims.  But we’d do well to start by dialing back on our toxic dialogue or risk doing to our nation what Caligula did to his.

5 thoughts on “Our Toxic Public Dialogue

  1. Epluribusunum

    Sullivan adds to it here:

    People respond to revelations of their own incompetence in different ways. But the proudest – and this group of people are not exactly renowned for humility – can sometimes respond by internalizing an ever more extreme version of their own previous mindset. They cannot compute the fact that they failed, and so they have to construct a version of reality that insists it was all someone else’s fault, and then build Twitter Goes Public On The New York Stock Exchangeon that an ideology of their own unrelenting heroism, which is now, on their minds, unfairly impugned.

  2. Epluribusunum

    This is from a must-read article examining and trying to understand the real life versions of these characters, prompted by the recent Tom Perkins hathos.

    The last 35 years or so have seen a period in which the celebration of wealth and the wealthy has been near the extreme end of the pendulum swing that has moved back and forth over the course of American history. Let’s not distract ourselves, for the moment, with whether this view is right or wrong. It’s a pendulum swing as old as America. In this view, the super rich, the founders and most successful entrepreneurs, not only wow us by their genius and success but are also seen as the people driving forward the society and economy and prosperity for everyone. That’s a nice climate to be wealthy in.

    That all changed very abruptly at the end of 2008.

    Suddenly, there was vast public animus at “Wall Street” and the Big Banks, exacerbated massively by the politics of the bailout. And not just from the left but from the right too, though in a different form. Pretty deserved on many levels: the financial sector, the figurative “Wall Street”, had come close to crashing the global economic system by a mix of irresponsible risk taking and gaming the political system to permit this high-risk, wealth-juicing leverage. But if we’re to understand the psychology of the individuals involved we must appreciate the whipsaw nature of that experience.

    Quite simply, these were and are folks who just weren’t used to public criticism. The whole “masters of the universe” mythology was basically, sure we’re massively wealthy. But we’re also the ones keeping the globe we all live on from spinning off its axis. So let us enjoy our Hamptons estates and our private jets in peace and we’ll do our jobs and you do yours. The crossfire hurricane that ripped apart that social contract stung a lot.

  3. David Dickinson

    The two intersect often. Think Andy Warhol.

    OK, then turn on Netflix and watch movies instead. There is little difference.

    Weird and freakish and perverse have long been avant-garde in art circles. Many artists across all kinds of mediums are far more self-interested than they are in creating something that emotionally connects the viewer with the subject.

    John’s question was, “Is the face of our nation truly mirrored in DiCaprio’s distasteful art – a nation at the height of debauchery?” Using the examples stated earlier in the post (porn, drug addiction, prostitution and stealing) and looking at the rampant use of these across the country, I say the answer to this question is still yes.

    We have become a nation of self-interested individuals. I think the reference to Caligula is appropriate because, like the mighty Roman Empire, these United States’ biggest enemy is the enemy from within…ourselves.

  4. Pariahdog

    When I think of art, I think of a museum or a gallery and don’t normally turn to the TV, except to see Great Performances or Austin City Limits. There are shows like Downton Abbey where the writing is high drama, and the costumes, cinematography and music are artistic. But generally, pop culture definitely is not art.

    I think that the author was referring to the fact that DiCaprio and other great actors are “artists” in the same sense that professional musicians are artists. He wasn’t conflating pop culture with art.

  5. David Dickinosn

    “Is the face of our nation truly mirrored in DiCaprio’s distasteful art – a nation at the height of debauchery? ”

    Given what is projected in other “art” mediums, one has to conclude that the answer to this rhetorical question is a resounding “yes.” Just turn on your TV and flip through a few dozen stations.

    Sad, but true.

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