The Ploughshares Round-Down: “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Its Backlash

Writing MoralsOkay writers, it’s 2014. And what better way start a new year than with an enormous media controversy surrounding a Scorcese film? I KNOW: perfect.

If you’ve missed it (I’m sure you’ve had your noses to the ol’ writing grindstone), here’s the deal:

The Wolf of Wall Street is a Martin Scorcese film based on a true story. In it, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the debauched Jordan Belfort, who got his start “peddling penny stocks to the poor and desperate,” and wound up swindling over $100 million from thousands of investors—many of whom didn’t recover. But apparently criminal schemes and unconscionable excesses make for good cinema; The Guardian described the film as “throwing off sparks,” and luring viewers with its “infectious fun.” Hooray!

Except that the “fun” this movie has via Jordan Belfort’s despicable behavior is creating a massive uproar. Does it glamorize criminality? Minimize suffering? Or merely testify to reality? The debate has implications for storytellers everywhere, so I’m bringing you into the fray.

Columnists have accused! Bloggers have ranted! Moviegoers have walked out! This makes for a mid-January win for all of us. Read up, weigh in, and then go write your way into controversy.

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Chucking “Art for Art’s Sake” – Writers and Social Impact

will write for social changeOne morning in late September, I found myself backstage at the “Annual Day of Peace” in Covington, KY—an event that kicks off October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’d been asked to perform a song I wrote about my family’s history of domestic violence, and was listening as speakers urged the young audience to find—and use—their voices to prevent violence. I wondered how many listeners were writers, performers, artists, and how many might go on to use their art as voice, changing their communities in the process.

audrelordeLeaving that day and re-entering the media binge on the word “shutdown,” I couldn’t help thinking about writers around the globe: how we use our voices; whether (and how) we’re heard. I also couldn’t help thinking of Audre Lorde:

We lose our history so easily, what is not predigested for us by the New York Times, or the Amsterdam News, or Time magazine. Maybe because we do not listen to our poets…

Creative writing has the potential to change perceptions, elevate public discourse, inform, protest, and/or bring awareness to difficult issues and situations. Could we do more with this potential? Should we?

is this gonna get political


Before anyone gets politi-scared, hark! I don’t believe writers should start “politicizing” all our work, or Woodie-Guthrie-ing our poems for the greater good. But I do believe that if we’re moved by any current economic, cultural, political, and/or social suffering, there’s a place for us—and our craft—in the fray.

But how? Where? If you’re interested in finding your writerly place in this kind of work, here are three steps even non-“activist” writers can take to dive in:

  1. Identify Our Stories
  2. Re-imagine “Going Public,” and
  3. Chuck “Art for Art’s Sake.”

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