A few days after Christmas, my fiancée and I caught The Wolf of Wall Street, the popular Martin Scorsese adaptation of a novel about Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who made millions in the 1990s. Just this morning, I finished the The Buy Side, a recently published piece of non-fiction by Turney Duff, a successful trader during the early 2000s.
Both stories have similar storylines -- an innocent, hard-working kid pursues a career in the big city, starts making a decent living, which quickly turns to excess in terms of money, drugs, girlfriends (then wives and ex-wives), questionable behavior, and in Jordan Belfort's case, legal trouble.
What drew me into both stories, however, wasn't just the money, details of illegal financial activities, wild sex scenes, or the eventual fall and redemption -- but that both of these guys, and their friends, were out of their minds. The Wolf of Wall Street shows little people being tossed like lawn darts onto a Velcro target, which The Buy Side also references. Both characters routinely do an obscene amount of drugs (cocaine, Quaaludes, ecstasy), yet still manage to show up for work on time and perform demanding jobs with high stakes. In addition to their talent, Belfort and Duff both possess insider knowledge resulting in million dollar profits for themselves and their companies. Each story showcases husbands cheating on their wives with prostitutes, clubs and parties with no limits, and an overall portrayal of high flying execs and their brethren flashing just about anyone, including authorities, with the proverbial middle finger.
I just can't buy into the total validity of either story -- both of which sound like something we've heard before. While a few of the individual stories are likely to be true, the majority of them have to be created and/or embellished for entertainment's sake. I cannot fathom the authenticity of a story where a drunk and stoned broker lands his own helicopter coming home after a night of partying, or a trader hangs out at the "White House" where successful finance pros come and go during all hours, snorting copious amounts of cocaine and taking turns with hookers.
Is this lifestyle realistic? How often do you drink until 2:00 a.m. and still function at a high level in the office? Most of us are guilty of enjoying a few, or more, beers on a Thursday night and moving A LOT slower come Friday morning -- and we're not making million dollar decisions with someone else's money.
Does the entertainment industry have its eyes set on glorifying Wall Street? Will there be a rash of books and films focusing on the short cobblestone block in Lower Manhattan, memorializing the misdeeds of those whom Americans have trusted to invest on their behalf? Similar to non-fiction stories of the wild lives of athletes and celebrities -- like the new Johnny Carson biography -- disbelief cannot be suspended for either The Wolf of Wall Street or The Buy Side -- or whatever the industry gives us next.
One thing I can be certain about is that this type of extreme and excessive social behavior wouldn't fly in 2014. Clearly these guys benefited from the technology voids in their era, specifically those of smart phones and social media. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest providing a daily glimpse into our private lives, could people really behave this way and not get penalized? Wouldn't photos or videos of these antics show up on Facebook or Instagram the next day and spark a few questions from family, friends and co-workers? I think so.
While certainly fun to follow, both stories must be viewed with a wary eye as storylines manufactured for entertainment's sake. And remember, as "glamorous" as this lifestyle appears to the viewer or reader, these people did destroy their lives with greed, addiction and indecency -- three traits no one should be proud of.