The Wolf of Wall Street: A Relationship to the Entertainment Industry

Films and Society

Films have a big impact on how people act and think in society. Additionally, the majority of films mimic the deeds of well-known members of society. The Wolf of Wall Street, a movie that is based on the real-life deeds of Jordan Belfort, is a prominent example of this type of movie. As a result, the movie explores a variety of subjects related to the entertainment business. The American dream and capitalism are two of these topics that are prominent. Therefore, it is crucial to consider how the movie and the cultural/entertainment sector are related. The depth of this analysis grows as diverse sociological theories are used to ground and illuminate the issues.

Non-Traditional Narrative Structure

From the analysis of the film, it is clear that the film does not follow the standard narrative structure employed in Hollywood. The film does not adopt the traditional goal-oriented structure where characters overcome various hurdles to achieve their goals. Instead, the movie details the indulgence of Belfort and how he swindled money from unsuspecting investors. Although he is later arrested and convicted, Belfort appears to have gotten away with his crimes as he serves only a short term of three years in a minimum-security prison. There is no Hollywood happily ever after for aggrieved parties who lost money in the scam ran by Belfort and his partners. In the conclusion of the film, Belfort is shown to have continued his success through books and motivational speaking. Furthermore, Jordan is continuously engaging in monologues in the movie while praising his prowess in swindling unsuspecting investors for their money.

Exploitation of Flaws in Entertainment Industry

Regarding the entertainment industry, the motion picture exploits the Belfort’s flaws as illustrated in the actions of the character. Scenes of constant indulgence in immoral sexual activities and high levels of drug abuse are repeatedly shown in the movie. Consistent with a majority in the entertainment industry, the exploitation of these flaws is used to illustrate how indulgence in drugs and prostitution can lead to a quick downfall from success. This situation is evident when Belfort’s partner Donnie Azoff and Brad the drug dealer and their money smuggler brawl resulting in the arrest of Brad with a briefcase full of cash. Additionally, the character’s shortcomings are used to show how they lead to more greed and disregard for other people’s wellbeing. The need to indulge in his drug and sex habits force Belfort to continue the misappropriation other people’s funds. Due to his greed, Belfort can talk himself out of a resignation as he was making the resignation message even after knowing that the FBI was investigating him. The movie portrays how greed has corrupted Belfort such that he is incapable of self-control even in the face of imminent action from the authorities.

Commercialism and Selling Out

Commercialism and the “selling out” notions of films about the entertainment industry are heavily represented in the motion picture. To begin with, Belfort abandons any idea of morality or integrity in favor of the monetary success derived from fraudulent stock trading practices. Belfort and other people in his firm disregard the morality codes that emphasize on honesty and respect for other people’s properties. The Stratton Oakmont firm ran a scam and efficiently misappropriated investors’ money. The need for Belfort to smuggle, launder, and stash his money in Swiss bank accounts by using Brad shows the depth of dishonesty in Stratton Oakmont. Furthermore, the film extends the notion of commercialism through Belfort and Mark Hanna’s arguments that the only focus of a stockbroker is to earn money for themselves with a disregard for the needs of the investors.

Influence of Capitalism

In the movie, it is clear that ideals of capitalism influence the actions of the characters in the film profoundly. In fact, Belfort’s mentor in the financial markets, Mark Hanna, teaches Belfort that a stockbroker’s job is to earn money for themselves by bullying the investors. These events portrayed in the movie present the real-life scenarios resulting from capitalism. Capitalists have exerted an exaggerated emphasis on the monetary measurement of success. As Choo & Tan (2007) observe, this overemphasis on money as a measure of success undermines and dilutes other goals more so, in the corporate world. As a result, there is increased fraud and greed among corporates in society as illustrated by the actions of the characters in the film. Additionally, capitalism is characterized by different social classes measured by the amount of money earned (Wolff & Zacharias, 2013). There is a tendency for the upper class in capitalism to abuse other classes. The film presents evidence to support this claim as Belfort and partners use the brokerage firm as a means to obtain funds from unsuspecting investors. Furthermore, the tendency for the upper class to circumvent the law and find loopholes in regulation is shown by the reduced sentence that Belfort served.

Sociological Theories on Capitalism and Broken Trust

To explain the capitalist basis of why Belfort and other corporates engage in fraudulent activities, the sociological theories of stewardship and broken trust are used. In the stewardship theory, Albrecht et al. (2004) indicate that corporate executives are stewards of the companies and act in a manner that the company draws the best advantage, overwriting their interests when they conflict with those of the company. This kind of stewardship trust is placed on Jordan Belfort and other stockbrokers by the various investors. It is from this stewardship theory that Albrecht et al. (2004) developed the broken trust theory, which is represented by the fraud triangle concepts. The various concepts in the triangle are pressure and opportunities to undertake fraudulent activities and the rationalization of those activities. In the Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort is pressured by his greedy, sexual, and intoxicating habits to engage in fraud. Furthermore, Belfort’s ability to aggressively pitch and bully investors to remain in the stock market and earn high commissions present him with the ability to commit fraud. Consequently, Belfort can rationalize his actions through different arguments of capitalism.

The American Dream and its Impact

Apart from capitalism, the chase of the American dream is another theme that is presented in the movie. The ethos that freedom breeds equal opportunity to prosper and succeed is the core of the American dream. This ethos fuels the need for families to climb the social ladder for better living and economic conditions. Being firmly rooted in capitalism, the American dream adds pressure on the use of money as the yardstick for success. As a result, the achievements rooted in the dream result in the fraud activities practiced by Belfort in the film. It is the pursuit of the American dream that drives Belfort to seek employment and training from the stockbroking company L.F. Rothschild. This constant pursuit of the dream pushes Belfort to begin trading penny stocks in a boiler room brokerage firm at very high commissions. In the end, Belfort can establish his brokerage firm, the Stratton Oakmont, that also engages in underhand trading activities and swindling of people’s money.

Sociological Aspects of the American Dream

The American dream is a sociological theory used to explain various forms of criminal activities such as corporate fraud. In this theory, scholars stress the comparison of the weight placed on monetary success and that placed on the methods used to attain the desired levels of success. This theory details that the resulting sociocultural conditions in American society are those where social norms are no longer able to regulate behavior. The situation may be due to the stress on individual achievement where the community is reduced to a bystander rather than an active contributor. Consequently, the various social institutions such as family, politics, and education become subservient to the institution of the economy (Choo & Tan, 2007). As a result, people are pressurized to succeed economically, for other parts of their lives to become relevant.

The American Dream in the Film

The elements that define the American dream theory are heavily present in the Wolf of Wall Street. First, the cultural and social ethos is so weak that Belfort and his partners can swindle millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors without any itch on their conscience. The social code of respect for other people and their property in the journey towards success is absent in the movie as Belfort is a bully and greedy as he seeks to achieve financial success. Furthermore, it is clear that all other social institutions in Belfort’s life have become subordinate to his economic institution. Take his social institution, for example; he divorced his first wife, Teresa, who supported him when he was establishing himself as a stockbroker. Even after marrying Naomi, the woman he cheated with, they later end up divorcing due to Jordan’s neglect of his family as he pursues the American dream. The disregard of the authorities and regulations in the financial sector while committing various crimes illustrate how subservient Jordan’s polity institution and duty are to his pursuit of economic success. Successful careers in financial markets require constant updating of skills and knowledge through education. However, there is no point in the film where Jordan attends a class, seminar, or workshop related to investment and financial industries. Evidently, Jordan’s pursuit of economic success has led to the subordination of his social institution of education to the economic system. As manifested in the film, the American dream theory of crime does play a significant role in the actions of Jordan Belfort.


In summary, it is clear that the movie Wolf of Wall Street does not follow the traditional Hollywood narration structure. However, the narration is exploitative as it exploits the shortcomings of Jordan Belfort and provides ample evidence of commercialism and “selling out.” The themes of capitalism and the pursuit of the American dream are apparent in the movie. Sociological theories of stewardship and broken trust are used to analyze the subject of capitalism further. The American dream crime theory expounds on the idea of the American dream as represented in the film.


Albrecht, W. S., Albrecht, C. C., & Albrecht, C. O. (2004). Fraud and corporate executives: Agency, stewardship and broken trust. Journal of Forensic Accounting, 5(1), 109-130.

Choo, F., & Tan, K. (2007). An “American Dream” theory of corporate executive Fraud. Accounting forum, 31(2), 203-215.

Wolff, E. N., & Zacharias, A. (2013). Class structure and economic inequality. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 37(6), 1381-1406.

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