Episode 287: There Only Had to Be One Scarface

The Overthinkers tackle The Wolf of Wall Street, the moral responsibility of movies, and the Greatest Dogecoin Heist of 2013.

Ben Adams, Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, and Matthew Wrather tackle The Wolf of Wall Street, the moral responsibility of movies, and the Greatest Dogecoin Heist of 2013.

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21 Comments on “Episode 287: There Only Had to Be One Scarface”

  1. Hudsucker #

    Mr. Belinkie, Sean Connery’s swan song was actually the even more forgettable League of Extraordinary Gentleman.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      Ah, you totally well actuallyed me. Yeah, you’re right.

      I don’t know if I should be ashamed by this, but I don’t hate the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. Oh sure, there’s plenty wrong with it. But I also remember there being some awesome production design on the Nautilus, and I really liked the addition of Dorian Gray (he can’t be killed because his painting takes all the damage). I think if OTI had been active back then, we would have had a lot to say about it. And I’m speaking as someone who read all the Alan Moore books, and even sat there with my stupid 3D glasses reading the last pages of The Black Dossier.

      You should keep in mind that my ability to enjoy bad movies, and my willingness to watch bad movies instead of good (but less fun) ones is well-documented.


      • Hudsucker #

        why should you be ashamed about having an opinion? I mean, I know a large portion of the internet would yell at you for having that opinion, but Overthinking isn’t like that large portion of the internet, is it?


  2. PotatoKnight #

    I do encourage people to read the actual piece by Christine MacDowell, the now-adult daughter of one of Jordan Belfort’s business partners, titled “An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself.” It’s easily Googled.

    I think she makes an interesting claim that is district from what might show up in the facebookified version or what is addressed squarely in the podcast. Her primary concern doesn’t just seem to be the way the film depicts outsize rewards for criminal behavior. Her main concern is that the film IS an outsize reward for criminal behavior. Mr. Belfort now gets to put “From the Real Life Wolf of Wall Street” on books he writes and posters for seminars he teaches. He will make real money–probably a lot of real money–because this movie exists.

    But he’s also been given a reward that money can’t really buy. He has been made the subject of a major Hollywood film with a movie star playing him. That’s as close as our society has to deification–even if you’ve been made a dark god. Jordan Belfort is now in a category with Howard Hughes and the Dalai Lama. A filmmaker like Scorsese, who has a relatively high degree of control over what films he makes, has enormous power to make heroic figures out of human beings and I don’t think it’s wrong to question how he uses that power.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      At the risk of Godwinning the comment thread, I’d point out that he’s also in the same category as history’s greatest villains, many of whom have also been portrayed by actors in movies. I’m not sure it’s as simple as “having a movie made about you = unequivocally positive ‘deification’.” Not all movie protagonists are heroic, not all depiction of glamor is “glamorization,” and every image in a movie has a context. Not every isolated claim in a work of art can be taken literally. [T]he poet…nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth.

      Let’s treat audiences like grown-ups who can handle a dose of irony or ambiguity. Let’s treat human beings like complex, conflicted animals who are entitled to have mixed feelings about things and to work them out through the art they create or experience. Isn’t that part of the point of creative work?

      I’m wary of the alternative. I don’t believe artists should shy away from controversial topics—or any topics—because someone you disapprove of might be able to use the title (taken completely out of context) in their marketing. I’m not sure that a creator or inventor can really be morally liable for the misuse of their work (God help every scientist ever if she could be). If we did away with all the stuff someone might reasonably find objectionable or hurtful, what would be left?


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      I gotta say, this Christine MacDowell letter REALLY rubs me the wrong way. “You people are dangerous,” she writes to Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. “Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals.”

      I haven’t seen the movie, but Pete makes it sound like Scorsese addresses this very issue head on. MacDowell acts like the recent financial crisis is something Scorsese may not even be aware of, but he clearly is making the movie in the CONTEXT of recent events, as a response to them. That gap between the entertainment and the real-world consequences is one of the main points of the film. Of course, MacDowell hasn’t SEEN the film before condemning everyone involved, so she wouldn’t know that.

      “What makes you think this man deserves to be the protagonist in this story?” I don’t know, maybe because he’s a compelling character? Is that not good enough? Should we not make movies about bad people anymore, unless they’re dead and therefore can’t be flattered by it? It’s a very strange idea that Martin Scorsese (or ANYBODY) would make movies to reward their subjects, like the Make a Wish Foundation.

      Yes, I agree it’s a shame that Jordan Belfort might profit from the movie. He’s an asshole. But there’s a LONG way between that and saying this movie shouldn’t have been made and that the filmmakers are reckless and dangerous for having made it.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      Yeah, I read the actual letter. In addition to what we talked about on the podcast, it’s notable that this all happened to her when she was a small child, and the letter doesn’t reflect a particularly nuanced or full understanding of what happened – mostly just a lot of pain. It also doesn’t read like she’s seen the movie, which I think would be a necessary step to taking her critique of it seriously. Said the pot to the kettle.


      • PotatoKnight #

        As the token person who has seen the film we are discussing, would you say it does address her concerns? Can an adult watch the film and come away thinking Jordan Belfort is a cool guy who we should want to be like, so long as we stay away from the drugs and self-loathing?

        This question came up on the podcast, but the conversation sort of veered away each time.


        • fenzel OTI Staff #

          The movie makes the case that people do generally think this way — that they see people like Jordan Belfort and want to be like him, and think they will get away with it — just like Jordan Belfort thought he would get away with it.

          And then it makes the case not only that these things are generally tragic and awful, even as they are alluring — but that people like Jordan Belfort use this impulse in people to manipulate them — to attract followers, and then to destroy the followers in an effort to protect themselves.

          It’s basically the same way it works in every Scorsese movie.

          The movie expresses the same sort of anxiety she has in her letter, but it starts from the assumption that this happens in real life — and it has the added maturity of not assuming it can be stopped simply by not putting it on screen.


          • Dimwit #

            This problem is as old as the hills. Cast your mind back only a few short decades ago when Bonnie & Clyde were terrorizing the banks.
            Dillinger had groupies. Most of the sprees had sympathizers that allowed them to both propagate and extend far longer than normal. The big, bad banks were getting their comeuppance and the “little people” loved it. It didn’t hurt that Dillinger and guys like Baby Face Nelson were photogenic as all hell, too. Made for great press.

            What is really behind MacDowell is frustration with the banks and the financial system as a whole. She wants them all tarred and feathered and stuck in a hole, never to be seen again. There is the feeling that almost everyone has “gotten away with it” and even the ones that were caught are not *really* paying the price for all these shenanigans. Again the media circus is in town and she’s not impressed.

            I don’t think she’s aiming in the right direction by going after Scorsese but, sadly, I also don’t think she’s wrong.

            I certainly can’t blame her.

  3. Hudsucker #

    Have you heard of Belfort’s reality show idea, that will probably be picked up, according to some network execs. The show idea is:

    “The show sees Belfort, now 51, “stepping in to help others who, like him, have hit rock bottom but still hold out some hope for redemption,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/real-wolf-of-wall-street-jordan-belfort-shopping-reality-show-2013-12#ixzz2ozqw2iRK

    This idea sickens me. It seems as though he’s making it in response to the film, so that he can show he’s not really such a bad guy. However, we all know he’s done terrible things and I feel like the show will just be him saying over and over “I’m a good person now!” (not literally of course) How do you guys feel about this?


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      Yeah, this would be awful. People like Christine MacDowell, and indeed anyone with compassion for the victims, have every right to express their outrage at this. But the outrage shouldn’t be at Martin Scorsese, for making what Rotten Tomatoes says is a very good film (your opinion may vary, of course). The outrage should be at Belfort for taking advantage of that publicity, and at the networks who are willing to write him large checks.


  4. BastionofLight #

    Hydrox cookies predate Oreo cookies, which makes it almost impossible for them to be the knock off.

    Second, the U.S. Dollar is not backed by nothing, it is backed by taxes. Bitcoin and Dogecoin are properly backed by nothing.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      I know almost nothing about economics, but it seems to me that any currency that isn’t explicitly linked in value to another commodity (gold, silver) is only worth as much as people are willing to give you for it. Just ask Zimbabwe.


      • BastionofLight #

        Zimbabwe is what happens to a currency when the nation that issues it is having a really tough time.


        A government which taxes can offer you not going to jail (or whatever the penalty for non-payment is) in exchange for your dollars, and the value of the currency can be based on how well it does that.


        • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

          Got it. The government actually REQUIRES that everyone accept dollars as payment. That’s not the case with dogecoin. It doesn’t insure that there won’t be hyperinflation, but it at least guarantees a large user base for the currency.


  5. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    Great episode, guys. Wish I could have been part of the conversation.

    A couple doge related items:

    1) I prefer pronouncing “doge” rhyming with “vogue.” AFAIK there is no canonical pronunciation of the term. I love that there is this growing lexicon of words that come from Internet culture that are almost exclusively used in written form and lack a commonly accepted verbal pronunciation.

    2) The Verge just did a great piece on the origins of the Doge meme:



  6. Agam #

    “Is it ethically right to oppose a thing by insisting that people not talk about it?”

    The Gospel of Warhammer 40k teaches us that the answer to that exact question is totally:


    It will end in tears. And Heresy.


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