It hit me while I watched the FBI agent with the perpetual five o’clock shadow riding home on the subway, elbow to elbow with other bedraggled working class commuters. Having endured several hours of The Wolf of Wall Street’s antihero drinking, drugging, and womanizing his way through untold millions of ill-gotten gain only to run afoul of this stalwart, middle class government employee, I realized that this wasn’t about financial sector corruption. It was an argument for class warfare.
Is financial sector corruption really about class warfare?
The Wolf’s protagonist has the money to indulge every chemical, sexual, and ethical whim imaginable, all at the expense of the middle class. He destroys a very expensive sports car while in a stupor. He lashes mountains of cocaine up his nose. He buys a yacht with a helicopter and then destroys it on the high seas. He does some time in a country club prison where he plays tennis. Then he gets out and reinvents himself. Long after the saga was over, the FBI guy was probably still riding the subway.
Moviegoers will get the message. The bad guy got off, maybe not scot-free, but better than the victims of the class warfare waged by Wall Street. We didn’t learn much about the mechanics of corruption, but instead were treated to wretched excess funded on Middle American backs. Is this Hollywood creation a tribute to Obama’s vision of the wealthy rubbing the middle class’s face in the dirt and the government stepping in to protect Main Street? Not so fast.
Does populism make corruption okay?
There are different types of class warfare. While the Wolf’s tycoon made fun of the poor schlubs he took advantage of, the middle class’s best hope in American Hustle are a populist politician with good intentions and a couple of working class con artists. This time the argument is that class warfare might justify the means, even if those means include influence peddling and bribe-taking. If you are going to be a crook, just make sure it benefits the middle class and you might get off as easy as a dishonest Wall Street stockbroker.
Hollywood quietly indulges its own class warfare.
What was sad and amusing about these films happened well before the lights went down. Both times I walked up to the ticket booth the person behind the cash register asked for $10.75 for a matinee show, something many middle class Americans would be unwilling or unable to pay, even to see themselves defended on the big screen. Like so many ardent Democrats the wealthy in Hollywood talk the talk of paternalism towards Main Street, but someone has to cough up their salaries. Funny how in both of these movies money corrupts absolutely, while in Hollywood it creates celebrities who want to give to Obama.