Is Leonardo DiCaprio a figment of the collective Libertarian imagination?
Now, now, don’t misunderstand me. He’s good-looking, I’ll admit, with an impressive array of supermodel ex-girlfriends. But I’m talking about his filmography. (Post-pubescent, because Growing Pains.) In fact, I suspect Leonardo DiCaprio has done more to explain and explore the idea of capitalism than any other influential American artist.
Consider the titles for a moment: Gangs of New York, Revolutionary Road, Blood Diamond, J. Edgar, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, Django Unchained, The Departed, TITANIC, The Great Gatsby, and now The Wolf of Wall Street. A recurrent theme in these movies is simple, but ultimately American: Money – what does it do to people and what does it make people do?
That’s not to say these movies are all the same – on the contrary, they range from bio-flix to Action-Adventures to Romances to Tarantino. The time periods are also vast, though interestingly the majority takes place solely in the American Age (exception for The Man in the Iron Mask. Which despite its impressive cast is a very, very bad film. If you don’t believe me, here’s Janet Maslin).
But Gangs of New York captures the desperate poverty and lawlessness of early immigrant life in New York City. Revolutionary Road captures the desperate middle-class asphyxiation so many people felt in the sixties. Blood Diamond speaks to the dangers of a globalized economy, where demand can choke out morality. J. Edgar (in my opinion a highly under-rated film) explores the exact same issues as the NSA Scandal: Where does the government stop being a force for good and start upon a path of corruption, both fiscal and moral? Catch Me If You Can is all about the parade of money without work – and for most of the movie, we can’t help but wish the government weren’t raining on Frank’s parade. Same with Gatsby, The Wolf on Wall Street – I could keep going, but the man’s done a number of movies.
Somehow, I suspect movies like Catch, Gatsby and Wall Street are doing more to sell capitalism than anything else. Because for all his characters’ flaws, we admire their ingenuity, their “smarts,” and well – the fun, careless decadence of their lifestyles.
But before we decry these movies as morally bankrupt, consider: Isn’t the American tradition of capitalism a little bit lawless? Not so much interested in breaking the contract as in bending it a little? And before we grow defensive at that suggestion, let’s take a moment to wonder whether that is not indeed capitalism’s greatest contribution to Libertarian philosophy. If Libertarianism is a political philosophy with freedom as its greatest end, then we must appreciate the splendor of a spirit that won’t be bound by other people’s demands and limitations.
If we use this definition, then perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio is the most American film actor of the moment. And I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers, either (you know what I’m sayin’).