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Los Lobos Bonobos Apropos

February 23, 2014

A guy moves into town, does not have too much going on, has a lot of freedom with his time, decides maybe he will do some performance art, stay silent in the Bridge for three weeks, come up with something to make it interactive with the public, why not? And so he does. Doesn’t that just make you happy?


This was the freedom, the play, the yes, the love, the snatching of life from the jaws of death and his brothers. For all the constraints involved, this work is ultimately about freedom. All art is. The freedom of its making. It says: look at what can be done. Look at what this person has done. Look at what we can do. Not out of necessity, not what had to be done, but what is done out of the sheer extravagance of life, alive in its vast field of play.    

–from “Restivo Watch Day 19: Real Talk” (2/23/11)

I was just reading this piece about The Wolf of Wall Street. Not bad, it has some nice observations. But one thing stuck out at me, something that is not nicely observed, which I not think is an observation at all. At the end of this sentence: “For all of these brokers’ humble, bridge-and-tunnel beginnings, they’re no underdogs: their violent rise makes them the ultimate oppressors, with their piggish money swindling, casual homophobia and pathological woman-hating.” I did not see any woman-hating, pathological or otherwise, among those characters. You would not call them respectful of women. They treat women badly, frequently.  It is fair to say they are sexist. They are very enthusiastic sexual harassers; presumably, with all the drugs and booze involved that sometimes crosses the line into rape.  But they are not haters. These characters are monsters of selfishness, of the most indulgent and vulgar and venal kind. The are horrible to other people. The movie spends three hours throwing this in your face. It is not subtle. But nothing of this characterization indicates hate. Not any deep lasting motivational hate, toward women or anyone else. These men don’t care enough to hate. They are not serious enough to hate. They are just about getting their own, satisfying their desires and ego, regardless of the cost to others, in a blatantly infantile way.

Now maybe there was something in the movie that I missed, that Naomi Fry could point to, that would suggest woman-hating in particular rather than just shitty-person-being. Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think she is just being mindlessly ideological. Because it is a thing now, among many leftward thinking people, to simply identify mistreatment with hate. With regard to women the word used is, of course, ‘misogyny.’ I am glad Fry went with ‘woman-hating’ because ‘misogyny’ is tossed around enough so that you cannot always be sure how to take it, sometimes the hate no longer seems implied. ‘Woman-hating’ is admirably direct and open to argument.

Treating people badly is not necessarily an indicator of hate. Even outright cruelty is not that. This is so completely obvious a point it makes you wonder what could possibly be leading people to miss it. I have some thoughts on that but it is way too complicated a subject to fit into in this post, like Fermat’s Last Theorem. I just wanted to point out this fine example of the problem.

Looking at the second extract from Restivo Watch above while thinking of that movie, it does occur to me that lifestyles of its characters, and therefore the lifestyles of the real people they are based on, with the stealing and drugging and whoring, dwarf-tossing and douchebaggery, might fit in with the description of art there. Not the art that is the movie but the performance art that is the living of those lives. Which is not a happy thought but there it is. Art has some nasty neighbors; among the free-living unrespectables of the world there are the foul as well as the glorious.

But that is just why such stories are good material, and a Scorsese can come along, free their energies from the damage done, and safely thrill us in our seats.

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