Does the wolf of Wall Street know how to be successful?

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort in the 'Wolf of Wall Street'. (AFP)

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort in the 'Wolf of Wall Street'. (AFP)

The Wolf of Wall Street was an incredible movie. It combined the film-making brilliance that Martin Scorsese is known for with a wonderfully idiosyncratic dialogue reminiscent of Woody Allen's finer moments.

It also gave us another reason to hate the film academy for not giving Leonardo Dicaprio his Oscar yet, damnit.

The movie was farcical, horrifying and sometimes even a little vomit-inducing. It served as a terrific cautionary tale of what NOT to do in life, ever. 

So why the hell is Jordan Belfort, the character the story is based on, riding the success of the movie to sell his services as a motivational speaker to us? And by us I mean South Africans, the poor sods whose leaders actually managed to avoid the worse of the recession that smug and criminally irresponsible bankers such as Belfort were in part responsible for. 

Belfort is the star of South Africa's latest talk shop the Success Summit in Sandton next month, where you get to pay anything between R997 to R29 242 for the privilege of hearing his thoughts on how to make a success of things.

Now to be fair, Belfort apparently turned his life around and, as a changed man, wrote his book of his past excesses as a playboy banker.
He is now a dedicated motivational speaker. 

But it is quite obvious from a webpage dedicated to the summit that Belfort is being branded as "The Wolf of Wall Street". 

He is being punted at the apex of an all-male line-up. And by apex I mean he quite literally appears foremost in a line of speaker headshots that looks like the bad made-for-TV version of the movie. The guy to his right is Steve Wozniak, with his title reading "Apple co-founder". Belfort? His title is pretty straight-forward: "The Wolf of Wall Street". 

So this isn't entirely a new, re-invented Belfort at our services here.

In fact, in a video advert for the conference that starts playing as soon as one visits the page Belfort urges South Africans to attend the summit, saying he'll be describing his "Straight-line system" from the movie that, as Belfort smugly says, "I'm sure you've all seen, it's a big hit". 

It's clear that Belfort is not selling himself and his expertise as someone who turned his life around. Instead, he is trading on the fame his wild methods brought him in his previous life and hoping to teach us more about this. 

Remember, this is a man who was imprisoned in part for swindling middle- to low-income earners out of their savings so he could live a drug-addled rock star lifestyle. He was ordered by the courts to pay back millions to the few victims they could round up but he has yet to finish doing so, despite saying royalties from his book and movie are going in that direction, and ostensibly the massive speaker fees he gets for the ridiculously priced summit. 

Who thought it would be a good idea for this man to give South Africans business advice? Is he even aware of our socio-economic issues? 

But wait, there's more. Remember that line-up of speakers I told you about? They're all men. White men, with one man of colour lurking right at the back who doesn't even make it to the list of featured speaker profiles at the top of the page. I was beginning to think he was a token after scrolling and scrolling through the summit page to find out who this lone black person was, until I found a profile buried at the bottom of the page. Turns out it is Siyubulela Xuza, an engineer and Harvard graduate who is all about clean and affordable energy, and the type of guy that makes one proud to be South African. So why is he right at the bottom of the page about a conference on how to be successful aimed at South Africans?

Because maybe the organisers of the summit, whoever they are, think we were so inspired by the sight in the movie of Belfort writhing on the floor in a drug-induced paralysis or throwing little people at dart boards that we want to be just like that. And isn't that just the danger of the distorted capitalist dream that Belfort and others stood for? 

I'm sure Belfort won't be preaching the downright criminal methods he used to achieve fame and riches. He's smarter than that. But he is using the associated glamour from the movie to tell us how to be successful. The problem is, just what is his idea of success?

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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