Although perhaps not widely recognised for such, over the years Leonardo DiCaprio has quietly developed a talent for personifying some of the most significant developments in capitalism through the medium of film.
In ‘Titanic’, DiCaprio takes the role of a romantic Irish artist who, along with so many others of his class and ethnicity ended up dumped in the freezing cold water of the Atlantic Ocean.
Many pundits have used the Titanic disaster as a metaphor for financial catastrophe suddenly looming out of the dark to scupper a supposedly unsinkable vessel. I have described lifeboats reserved for the privileged few as the way democratised money acts as an escape for the financial elite.
Funnily enough, recently Titanic co-star Kate Winslett pointed out there was actually enough room on the door she lay on to save the DiCaprio character at the end; he really didn’t need to die next to her in the freezing water after all. A fitting description of austerity if ever there was one.
In ‘The Aviator’, DiCaprio portrays Howard Hughes; famous and reclusive multi millionaire entrepreneur. Throughout the film Hughes spends his time either publicly engaging in theatrical argument with Congress or trying to get his massive and impractical seaplane, the ‘Spruce Goose’, off the ground.
At the climax of the film, the Spruce Goose does actually take off for a single flight, proving that Howard Hughes was right, at least in theory. Its all reminiscent of the Feds quarter point interest rate rise…. Just enough to prove its possible and then no more. And the film ends just as Hughes starts to go REALLY crazy. How apt…
DiCaprio ‘s latest offering, The Revenant, features our hero suffering an attack, reputed to be possibly sexual in nature, at the hands of a wild bear.
Again, this is an excellent dramatic metaphor for the ‘bear’ markets in the aftermath of the present cycle of dislocation that has caused wild fluctuations and devaluation in the global equities market.
Throughout the course of ‘The Revenant’ we see various European colonisers treating the natives and each other with unremitting cruelty and treachery. This cruelty is in turn mirrored by, or even exceeded by the brutal terrain which they inhabit.
Just like Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, the central theme of The Revenant is that Europeans revert to a savage state if circumstances warrant it. Sounds a bit like my discussion of The Great Unravelling..
There is a sense in which the achievements of the past decades are increasingly lost in the New World we find ourselves in. It has become a commonplace that the children of this generation, (at least in the developed world), will find themselves in greatly reduced circumstances compared with those who have gone before them.
And furthermore these reduced circumstances will inevitably lead to an increase in competition and savagery. Traditional optimistic capitalism is leaving the stage, as Shakes pears famous phrase has it: ‘pursued by a bear (market)’.The only question remaining seems to be whether the character exits stage ‘left’ or stage ‘right’.
Should our hero decide to exit the stage on the right, waiting in the wings he will find someone, or something, like Donald Trump waiting for him. Trump is most famous for The Apprentice television series; a sometimes diverting comedic parody of the capitalist process.
The characters who regularly appear in ‘The Apprentice’ obviously have little or nothing to do with a serious political and economic system. They are more like a group of suburban revenants, survivors of a collapsing America, gradually having their absurd rhetoric of self worth stripped away by being asked (and failing), to perform even simple capitalist tasks.
The Ultimate Zero Hours Contract
Contestants end each episode in a kind of ‘Judasfest’ where they condemn each other before a magisterial Trump who finally informs one of the team: ‘You’re Fired!’. As I have mentioned before, since no-one is actually employed yet, this has to be the ultimate zero hours contract…
The Wild Bunch
The underling idea of ‘The Apprentice’ is to rescue something (represented by the winner) from an ever increasing set of adverse circumstances the ‘Best of A Bad Bunch’ might be a good alternative title for the program. (just as ‘The Wild Bunch’ might be a good alternative title for America).
In other words ‘The Apprentice’ illustrates a process of attrition -A Zero Sum Game. The irony is that since this is entirely a kind of abstract competition that in itself represents the end of capitalism.
In neither TV programme or Presidential campaign, is Trump even slightly concerned with trying to maintain some kind of relevance to the logic and exigencies of capitalism or indeed any economic rationale whatsoever..
Trump makes proclamations that are simply broad generalisations along the lines of ‘We Will Make America Great Again’ or ‘We Will Make The Army Great Again’ that are in no way constrained by any practical considerations.
In essence Trump is running a salvage operation. His central claim to competence is that he can pick whatever diamonds there still are out of the dunghill. Trump is popular precisely because he does NOT bow down to the shibboleths of capitalism. In fact, Trump represents a yearning to adapt to the new set of post capitalist circumstances.
On the other side we have Bernie Sanders offering equally vague prognosis and solutions. But where Trump perspective is avowedly Anglo Saxon, Bernie is advocating ScandiSax – the Anglo Saxon version of a Scandinavian style integrated ‘socialist’ society. Except post WWII Scandinavian society is definitely an idea whose time has come- and gone. I have discussed on numerous occasions the tension between a welfare state and a mass immigration state. It seems like the decision has been made in favour of mass immigration in Scandinavia.
Sanders suggests a return to primitivism in the form of an idealised Eco world which is just like Trump, but from a different perspective and with different rhetoric. The central thrust is how to save what can be saved from an ending political and economic system.
And then again we have to consider Frau Clinton. Who is a whole another thing. Because while Bernie and Donald are all about what they are going to do, Hillary is already totally there-in the zone.
Hilary can be described as Full On Ultra Primitive Cultural Constituency. Donald and Bernie have some sort of idea why they want the Presidency, other than that she just wants it Hilary has none whatsoever.
Hilary does not argue, I WANT x, y or z. She ‘argues’ I AM a woman. Of course, this is not an argument, it is a statement. This is the essence of Cultural Constituency. If there is no argument, there can be no logic- there is no basis for logic if there is no argument. If there is no logic, there is no rationale. If there is no rationale there is no basis for agreement or compromise. Politics as we have understood it is over. This is the Great Unravelling.
In Titanic DiCaprio faced the consequences of his identity and embraced it at the point of his death in the sea. He agreed to Give It All Up for his Protestant Germanic love.
In The Aviator DiCaprio as Hughes came to terms with isolation,separation and finally disintegration (see ‘Vector History’), from everyone else and faced the terrible consequences of this. He embraced his identity, madness and death.
In The Revenant DiCaprio is estranged from his own coloniser people and the native Americans. In the end he sees his Native American wife heading into a dark forest without him and- you guessed it, he embraces his separate identity and death..
Get the picture?
So that leaves the question, given this strange ability to prefigure the life of the Germanic Cult of Capitalism what will DiCaprios next role?
I think I know.