The global financial crisis had some curious effects. And not just debt, a commodities crash and the Bush administration’s bailout (the United States government’s most sincere act of socialism since it gave away the polio vaccine). The GFC produced a remarkable Australian treasurer in Wayne Swan. This guy breathed life into the near-dead idea of the nation state.
But Rudd-Gillard-Swan were pretty much on their own in thinking that economies don’t just manage themselves. Everyone else, including the liberal-Left, seemed content to leave serious economic discussion to investors. Money was probably evil but no more evil, say, than online bullying or sexist television advertisements or alcohol that tastes like soda pop. Few talked critically about capital, save for Occupy, and even that didn’t last long. Born and briefly raised in the forcing house of the GFC, the 99% veal was slaughtered and eaten before it had a chance to moo.
After such a graphic illustration of the influence of capital, it seemed odd that we should turn away from it. It seemed odd that there were, and remain, so few popular critiques of cash. I had secret hopes when Oliver Stone revisited Wall Street in 2010 of seeing a finessed morality play that would move a new generation into an era of productive cynicism. Instead, what I got was the sensation that the real-life credo of Goldman Sachs now made Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” read like a greeting card.
But, hope, unlike material resources, is renewable, and I was optimistic again this year with Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, in cinemas this week and freshly injected with the endorsement of both a Golden Globe and a fake controversy. Perhaps it would be good?
I am over 40 and out of patience with younger reformists who don’t seem to care about capital. And so in an era where Church Lady scrutiny of books, T-shirts and video games for vice saps the middle class of its activism, I was happy for a balls-out, whore-heavy “troubling document of the present” (A.O. Scott, New York Times).
If this film is a troubling document of anything, it is Scorsese’s lost flair. To save yourself $20, just stay at home watching RedTube for three-and-a-half hours, pausing occasionally to masturbate, throw some baking soda on a lady’s bottom and then look at pictures of people wearing (and then removing) Gianni Versace’s worst work on luxury yachts.
As a critique of capital and the superstructure of masculine conceit, the Will Ferrell toilet humour buddy movie Step Brothers surpasses Wolf by a Marxist mile. What a pile of shit, Scorsese.
It is not so much the naked whores and the naked whores on yachts and the rape of naked whores on yachts and in planes and in penny stock lairs that is disturbing, although that’s pretty disturbing. After the first, say, 20 acts of abasement, one gets the idea that Women are Just Objects to These Immoral People, and the last 500 acts of Sodom lack any salt. It’s not the rape, which is defended by the movie’s star as prescriptive-not-descriptive. It’s the fact that one of the best filmmakers in US history made a film about money that says nothing about money. Other than it buys you a lot of naked whores.
At great personal risk of being sworn at mildly by seven angry ladies on social media, I disclose the hope that Scorsese, a Left-leaning Democrat, would have used his masculine stylings here to better effect.
How do I explain this faith in the power of the masculine without coming across as an admirer of naked whores on yachts/Camille Paglia? I’ll give it a go.
The Right has long supposed that economies should just manage themselves. Now the liberal-left does, too. Cultural, rather than material, management is widely seen as core business by Leftists who would prefer to tackle, say, the question of homophobia by supporting same-sex marriage.
People whose intelligence I respect argue with no trace of doubt that this will “stop youth suicide”. Of course, the most direct cause of suicide in kids who do not identify as having a normative sexuality is that their lives are made unbearable by parents who will toss them out of home. But homeless rent boys don’t make great Upworthy videos. Nice couples loving each other warmly do. And so, the unpleasant topic of youth homelessness and suicide is not addressed with the provision of homes and mental health support. One can argue that “we can do both at once”.
And some people are fighting for both things at once. But there are three of them. And they are all distracted by the marriage debate. (Stay with me now. I’m getting to the bit where I make a point and you can really hate me.)
Such tactics for reform are due in large part to the feminisation of the Left. Or rather, to the view that the feminine is the Left. (OK. Start tweeting. Here is one I prepared for your immediate use. “Again, Razer proves herself a misogynist. Cancelled my subscription @crikey_news #Misogyny”.)
One of the few great things about communication this century is that so many women are writing and broadly read. (Granted, we’re getting paid a lot less than male writers. But, hey, capitalism loves to maintain a social class.) One of the truly terrible things about communication this century is that the emotional is valued far above the rational, the cultural far above the economic. Traditionally feminine practice has eclipsed traditionally masculine practice in the expression of ideas.
Please don’t try to tell me that these are not oppositions we do not traditionally understand as the schema of gender. They are. And please don’t think I am suggesting women are naturally emotional while men enjoy whores on yachts. I’m not. (I, for example, am emotional as a Vulcan, which is why I feel able to say such horrible things about the long-despised but now irrationally prized virtues of the feminine. Also, and, as we have by now established on Twitter before reading to the end of this column, I enjoy whores on yachts. Ergo, I have experienced no evidence that would compel me to believe the nonsense that Women are Naturally Like This and Men are Naturally Like That.)
Activism and commentary has swapped its theory of radical economic reform as central to social change and replaced it with a Care Bear. We will not storm the Winter Palace led by Lenin. We will redecorate Care-A-Lot Castle at the invitation of Tanya Plibersek.
There is no current hope of radical economic reform because so few people want to talk about it, even after the GFC. This reluctance is due, in large part, to the emergence of feeling and of (understandable but unhelpful) rage as the era’s most marketable tone.
Let me be clear: I believe Andrew Bolt and Bill O’Reilly to be part of this ladylike trend. Bolt’s excitable, culture-focused “prose” “style” is that of an under-informed stay-at-home-mum who has just upgraded to an iPad with 4G and can post her feelings easily from the day spa where she is troubled by the accent of her Russian waxer. And O’Reilly sounds just like my mother. They have borrowed not from a masculine literary tradition but from women’s magazines, who did what Upworthy or GetUp and many news sites are doing now so many years ago: invent a problem and then sell the solution in three minutes or less.
In his first go ’round, Kevin Rudd was an absolute master at this Fuck It Up and Fix It format. He invented problems and gave solutions, and nowhere was his appeal to the Empowered Feminine more apparent than in the 2020 summit, where he pretended to care about Feelpinions.
Even as Rudd got down to actual government business of collecting and spending revenue (and we seem to forget that this is what we appoint governments to do), he presented the public face of a woman concerned about the culture and its alcopops and its terrible comedians and its dangerous photographers.
I’m pretty sure Rudd, a bright man who knew the difference between shit and political shinola, didn’t give a rat’s about any of these “cultural” “issues” per se and knew that it was only within his power to stimulate the financial economy and not the moral one. He was probably wishing for a Bill Henson-style scandal to crow about so he could quietly pass the super profits tax that was his undoing in 2010.
Rudd used the Caring thing cynically, just as the Right does. It’s just that in the case of Rudd, we actually got some half-decent Keynesian reform. The Right tends to use Culture to explain “reform” like border protection, tax breaks for Gina and as a way to get around the Native Title Act. Because they care.
This pantomime of feminine care is common from the Right — the people who brought you the Culture Wars and made you forget all about that boring old economy. But it was anticipated less — by me, at least — in internal discourse from a Left that, we must remember, has the equitable redistribution of material resources as its first principle and final authority.
The interests of the Left are now the interests of the Right in mainstream discussion. They are both girls who want to talk about their feelings. It’s just that the Left is yet to learn the trick of crying crocodile tears. And so, it is not yet completely feminised.
Again. To be clear. Women are not genetically and not always culturally disposed to one mode of expression and to think so would betray ignorance of Joan Didion, Fran Lebowitz, Audre Lorde, Helen Thomas, Michelle Grattan, Marcia Langton, Camille Paglia, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Germaine Greer. These are some hard bitches who have tackled the unpopular and the social and done so without offering a neat solution or crying. The viral mill of Upworthy that encapsulates the model for much Left discourse comes up with crap like Right Before Dying From A Rare Lifelong Disease, Sam Revealed His Three Secrets To Happiness.
Solutions are EASY and feelings are IMPORTANT.
I don’t mean to diss the sisters. I am saying, though, in what was less a feminist-led disavowal of the masculine and more of a resort to the easy, trivial, reassuring mode of the low-nutrient, high-energy snacks fed successfully to women for so long, we now tend more to read and write like girls. (Again. To be clear. Girls, as capitalism reformed them.)
And so, when there is the promise of a critique of capitalism made by one of the very few people in the world who is permitted to be unashamedly masculine in his work, I got a bit excited. I supposed that an Old Man of the Left might behave like an Old Man of the Left and talk about capital. I found that Scorsese is no more a man’s man than Andrew Bolt. When it comes to critiquing the economy, he’s a little girl’s blouse.
Ditching all that had come from Mean Streets with its unflinching disgust for a nation that made bad men out of money, Scorsese now celebrates a nation that makes idiots out of women and a hero of capital. I mean, we were never expecting fully realised women from Marty, but nor were we expecting men with a character arc no longer than a dollar bill.
Scorsese is, like Bolt, driven by his uncritical approach to money and his belief that that a single man — in this case, unconventional trader Jordan Belfort — is to be admired for his against-the-odds success.
The promise of upward mobility is as much of a dangerous, insidious, violent lie as gender. It makes us believe we are independent actors able to achieve ANYTHING when, in fact, a good sociologist could probably plot our life’s course in five minutes on Excel. It is an “empowering” lie of the sort told to good end by Kevin Rudd who made his constituency believe for three years he was listening to their “feelings”. When he knew that what they really needed — and that all any government can provide — was economic reform.
I pray that Plibersek’s Care Bear is a suit she puts on at will. But I doubt it. And I doubt that Scorsese, now a man who has lost the best part of masculinity just as the Left favours the worst part of femininity, will ever make another decent statement in film.
Scorsese and Bolt and all the empowered lady writers are now, finally, in accord. Who’d’ve thunk that one day feminists, the IPA and mobster fetishists would all have the same goal: to help us believe that money is just something that should flow without regulations, that solutions are easy and that economies look after themselves.