Scene it: How TikTok is ruining ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

A photo of Leonardo DiCaprio playing Jordan Belfort in "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Rorye Jones PO ’23 argues that you don’t have to be a finance bro to like “The Wolf of Wall Street.” (Courtesy: James Devaney/WireImage)

You don’t have to be a finance bro to like “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

If you have not yet watched this film, please find the time to do so — it is a cultural watershed, a striking critique of capitalism through the explicit depiction of immoral excess. Viewers get the privilege of watching three hours of Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey and Jonah Hill directed by Martin Scorsese. It is disgusting, entrancing and well worth watching.  

It also managed to pin down the oft-fleeting status of relevance in today’s fast-moving pop culture scene. The real Jordan Belfort, upon whom “The Wolf of Wall Street” is based, is now on TikTok with the handle @wolfofwallstreet, having amassed nearly 1 million followers — even as he still owed nearly 100 times that figure for fraud as of 2018. In fact, some people worship the man, commenting not-so-jokingly about wanting to be him, mistaking the movie’s critique of wealth obsession for the model of an ideal lifestyle. 

If a small collection of teenage boys and equally immature adults choose to misinterpret the film, they cannot be helped. A movie’s fan base, no matter how insufferably they miss the point, should not determine the quality of the movie itself. 

Therefore, I must reiterate my original point: You don’t have to be a finance bro to like “The Wolf of Wall Street.” If you like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and are not a finance bro, it’s OK — no need to feel ashamed.

As excruciating as it may be, I should first define the term “finance bro” so we’re all on the same page. As a commonly accepted and implicitly understood definition, the finance bro is a typical white male stereotype: He might have a trust fund; he might work on Wall Street; he might be a bit of a privileged douche; and he certainly owns a Patagonia vest.

The first few times I saw people mocking this stereotype online circa 2013, around the time when “The Wolf of Wall Street” was released, I found it mildly amusing: Yes, eat the rich, especially the loafer-wearing ones. But the stereotype has persisted, leaking into TikTok, and by now, it reeks of banality. 

And, as with most things on TikTok, the younger generations have taken the stereotype too far on both sides. I’ve seen many comments on Belfort’s TikToks from aspiring finance bros declaring their love for Belfort and the movie based on his life, attaching an unwelcome stigma to a genuinely good film. From user @sagethoughts: “Sir I’d just like you to know that I have your character’s famous holding the $100 scene painted above my trading desk. It inspires me daily.” 

Then there are those who insult the people who like the movie — solely based on the finance bro stereotype. At first, this was mildly amusing. Now, leave the film alone and find the next thing to cancel. 

Nothing disrupts the mindless relaxation of scrolling through my For You page more than unwarranted criticism of “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Last week, an affectedly alternative TikToker — one who might ask if you’ve ever heard of this really cool underground band called Tame Impala — claimed that if you like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” you should try speaking to women. I exhaled extra air through my nose when I watched this, but then the algorithm struck again. An unimpressed-looking blonde woman implied you should run if “The Wolf of Wall Street” is the favorite movie of someone you’re interested in, and then more similar videos kept popping up until I was sufficiently irritated.

“It is an intentionally ignorant choice to interpret Belfort as a hero rather than the embodiment of the consequences of consumption and corruption.” —Rorye Jones PO ’23

The individuals who come out of viewing “The Wolf of Wall Street” wanting to truly be Belfort are either a little confused or deliberately amoral. If one believes that Belfort’s spiral into drug addiction and two wrecked marriages are something to aspire to or simply ignores these portrayals and concentrates on the impressive yachts, mansions and fast lifestyle, as a finance bro might, then larger personal issues are at hand.

What Scorsese shows us is that the yacht crashes and burns, the wife leaves, there’s always a comedown from the drugs and, though not much, there is time in prison to be had. And equally as important is what Scorsese does not show us: Belfort’s kids are suddenly grown up, and viewers, in addition to Belfort himself, have no idea how they got to be that way.  

Granted, it is a lot more fun to pretend Belfort is a hero, but nevertheless, it is an intentionally ignorant choice to interpret Belfort as a hero rather than the embodiment of the consequences of consumption and corruption.

So, when others criticize the movie based solely on the willfully ignorant people who praise it, the movie receives unjust vilification. If anything, instead of criticizing “The Wolf of Wall Street,” people should continue piling criticisms on the so-called finance bros who worship Belfort, as overdone as the criticisms themselves may be.

How soon we have forgotten the brilliance of McConaughey improvising the famous money chant as his character lectures Belfort about the necessity of stress-relieving cocaine and hookers for a stockbroker like him. Neither can we leave out the scene where Belfort rolls down the stairs, the extra strength quaaludes just taking hold, and claws his way up from the ground into his scissor-doored Ferrari as his business empire crumbles around him. 

Essentially, please hate on the things that deserve to be hated on; do not let the unfortunate misguided idolization of a few detract from the value of a film. Leave “The Wolf of Wall Street” alone; it has Robbie in it.

Rorye Jones PO ’23 is TSL’s TV and film columnist. She relishes in dressing from the waist up for Zoom classes and often wishes she could watch “Breaking Bad” for the first time again.

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