What "Joy" Gets That "The Social Network" Didn't: Capitalism Doesn't Require Tragic Heroes

"Joy acknowledges the wealth-creating value of incremental improvements even in the most mundane items."


Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel has a sharp column at Bloomberg View about the differing visions of success portrayed in David O. Russell's movie Joy, which chronicles the success of Miracle Mop maker Joy Mangano, and Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network, which charts the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.


Both Joy and Zuckerberg see things others miss. Both have to fight for their ideas. Both get, and largely ignore, bad advice from people who seem to know "business." Both spend a lot of time in legal disputes.

But "Joy" celebrates creativity without credentials. It acknowledges both extraordinary gifts and ordinary life. While Sorkin's Zuckerberg shows contempt for anyone who doesn't match his formidable intellect, Joy treats everyone with respect. "Even if I was a cleaning lady, so what?" she tells her young daughter when a playmate teases the girl about the so-far unsuccessful mop. "There's no shame in hard work."

When [Bradley Cooper's character] Walker questions Joy's determination to represent her own product on the air, telling her that QVC uses only celebrities and spokesmodels, not regular people, she spits his own idealism back at him:

You said to me that David Selznick, the son of immigrants, married Jennifer Jones, an all-American girl from Oklahoma, because in America all races and all classes can meet and make whatever opportunities they can, and that is what you feel -- you reach into people's homes with what you sell. You said that.

She wins the argument.

The respect extends to products and customers. "Joy" acknowledges the wealth-creating value of incremental improvements even in the most mundane items.

Read the whole thing.

Postrel fears that because Joy celebrates an "untragic" hero who is also a women (played by Jennifer Lawrence), this paean to entrepreneurial capitalism may end up stuck in the "sisterhood ghetto" of chick flicks.

Which would be a shame since it's exceptionally rare to see a movie about business in which the successful people are not villains and hucksters who make money by screwing people over. As Postrel notes, despite the intentions of writer-director Aaron Sorkin to paint Zuckerberg as diabolical in The Social Network, viewers overwhelmingly identified positively with the character because they had a clear sense of Hollywood stereotypes and they liked Facebook.

The column ends with this tweet by Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales:

I think one of the most interesting and promising things about younger Americans (which I define generously as anyone younger than my 52 years) is that they increasingly are shucking off the stale and moss-covered ideas about capitalism that us older people were fed: Behind every fortune is a crime, don't you know, and the only way you make money is by tricking people or stealing from them. "Corporations" or businesses use up workers and then discard them, as happens in The Death of a Salesman (about the dumbest "great" play in American theater).

Millennials especially have no problem with capitalism (even if they can't define it or socialism with any precision) and many want to start their own businesses. Zeitgeist shows like Shark Tank underscore that the ideas that work are ones straightforward products and services that make people better off and that businesspeople need to be straight with one another. Best of all, most millennials want to pursue work that expresses their core values. As somone who grew up in a world where such an aspiration was unthinkable—work was something you did to put food on the table and have some money left over for the weekend—that's about the most amazing development of 21st-century America.

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  1. There's no way someone who dresses like Zuckerberg could be diabolical. I just refuse to believe it. If you're not wearing Hugo Boss, your evil is running with a governor on it.

  2. I'm glad that we can celebrate the fact that Joy celebrated "entrepreneurial capitalism" but it was a terrible movie.

    95% degenerate family drama, 3% plucky business acumen lessons, 2% redemption for the main character. Easily the worst of the Russell trio.

  3. ) is that they increasingly are shucking off the stale and moss-covered ideas about capitalism that us older people were fed

    That's why they struggle to come up with new terms for people who are successful who can't be pigeonholed into "evil": The Sharing Economy.

    The good news is, the Media's finally found out how to have a problem with that, too.

  4. J-Law in a chick flick? I don't think so.

    1. I can think of a very specific and detailed "chick flick" starring J-Law that I wouldn't be opposed to. 😉

      1. A remake of Steel Magnolias, with J-Law playing the role of Shelby? I am in!

        1. I've always been more of a Mystic Pizza man, to tell the truth.

          1. Worst. fucking. movie. ever.

            1. Not so! Hustler presents...Troll Toll: A boy's hole, unedited!...takes the cake.

              Purely anecdotal, whatever floats your boat.

              +1 social signaling....ha!

      2. Jenny Does Jacksonville?

  5. I'm sort of hesitant to see it just because I'm kind of burned out on the David O. Russell/Bradley Cooper/JLaw thing.

    I'll probably see it on video, but today I'm gonna go see a movie about the guy getting raped by a bear.

        1. That is what I was going for, yes. I guess it was not a good reference...

          1. Meow don't beat yourself up too much, it couldn't have been that bad if somebody understood it.

      1. +1 Revenant.

      2. "Do you need assistance?!"

    1. Grizzly Man? Or wait, Revenant? I want to see Revenant.

      1. Revenant. There is no evidence that the bear who ate Timothy Treadwell also raped him. Of course, there's also no evidence that it didn't.

        1. Treadwell would have engaged in consensual relations with a bear.

          1. "Alright bros I need to see your consent forms..."

      2. That movie sucked. You didn't even get to hear that asshole getting eaten.

        1. You didn't even get to hear that asshole getting eaten.

          I got my fill of that by watching this past season of Girls.

          1. I realized to late that I might have a phrasing problem there.

    2. I'll probably see it on video

      Check your VHS privilege, hipster.

    3. kind of burned out on the David O. Russell/Bradley Cooper/JLaw thing

      I didn't even like Silver Linings Playbook much. It's possible to make a movie about obnoxious characters without the movie itself being obnoxious, but SLP didn't manage it.

      1. American Hustle seems like it should have been better than it was. It all just felt kind of flat and washed out. Jlaw was excellent in it though.

        1. My opinion of American Hustle was that Russell was trying really, really, really hard to be Martin Scorcese and didn't quite pull it off.

          1. So that's why De Niro was in it.

    4. I still haven't seen any of these movies, even though I've been a fan of Russell, and ridiculous wigs, for a while.

  6. Behind every fortune is a crime, don't you know, and the only way you make money is by tricking people or stealing from them.

    Hey, I am looking to sell this bridge that I am the sole owner of. Is anyone interested in purchasing it from me?

    1. Depends...does it include the troll? And can that troll be trained to fetch beer from my fridge?

      1. Crusty owns the Aurora Bridge?

        1. "They have a cave troll!"

          1. #bringbackSeanBean

      2. Yeah there are like awesome trolls that come with it that will do whatever you want them to do.

      3. Do you have to pay the troll toll?

  7. Wow, the advertisements for this movie did it a huge disservice. I thought it was a movie about a middle age woman participating in community theatre to give meaning to her life (that's not sarcasm, that's what I actually thought the movie was about). It's nice when ads don't give away the entire plot, but some idea about what the movie's subject is would be helpful.

    1. I have seen at least two trailers for this movie and neither one of them let on that it was about an entrepreneur.

      1. I got that it was about woman with no education, no business experience, etc. (a "loser" IOW) ignoring all her naysayer relatives and starting her own business and succeeding against all odds blah, blah, blah... but I didn't realize it was based on a real person. I just figured it was boilerplate chick flick/ grrrl power stuff.

  8. Postrel fears that because Joy celebrates an "untragic" hero who is also a women (played by Jennifer Lawrence)

    JLaw has been the hero everyone deserves since that Fappening movie.

    1. She has a certain je ne sais quoi...

      1. Would you call it a...Mystique?

        1. I'd called it bleached.

  9. "Millennials especially have no problem with capitalism (even if they can't define it or socialism with any precision) and many want to start their own businesses."

    Millenials like the idea of "entrepreneurship", so much so that universities make bogus master's degrees in it. They love capitalism so long as it's credentialed.

    I work with a lot of start-up companies, and at least half of all grad student initiated start-ups list SBIR (small business innovation research) as their anticipated primary funding source. The older the CEO, the more likely they are to seek private funding and bypass government altogether. Granted, they're more likely to be entrenched in the industry with contacts, but that just means these Millenials need to find mentors, which they rarely do.

    BTW, the only federal innovation program that's worthwhile is NSF I-Corps, which focuses on customer-centered product development with mentorship. When you focus on a customer, you focus on a product and sales; when you focus on your own "invention", you focus on getting funding to push you through the valley. Of course, at a $50,000 price tag, but much better than interest-free loans and corrupt "pay for green card" international investment policies.

    1. The share of people under age 30 who own private businesses has reached a 24-year-low, according to new data, underscoring financial challenges and a low tolerance for risk among young Americans.

      Just more of the libertarian moment I assume.

  10. I just want to make sure J-Law was being paid an acceptable salary for this film.

    1. Of course she was, at least 77 cents on the dollar compared to male stars.

  11. Behind every fortune is a crime, don't you know, and the only way you make money is by tricking people or stealing from them.

    I see this sentiment going away with more direct customer contact. It's easier than ever to sell directly to your customer, or at least to minimize the bureaucracy. I don't think younger people trust things they can't see, so if you make the black box between producer and consumer smaller, they're less likely to be skeptical of capitalism. Of course, that goes right out the window when government is the black box.

    1. I'm not sure what this says about the place, but I see this sentiment rampant at Ars Technica, though almost exclusively with a corporation-is-bad flavor, where individual entrepreneurs are usually tolerated unless they mouth bad thoughts about one or more techno-lefty hobby horses.

  12. Ever notice that gently portly dude you like doesn't walk. He pads like a little bear. No way what he's doing with his fucking feet through the goddamn streets is perambulating. Bears don't walk they pad. And this is what that gently portly dude is doing.

    1. I've noticed that a lot of people's faces look like turtles. Or at least the cartoon caricatures of humanoid turtles, ready to crawl back into their iPhone shells. I wouldn't know, I have Republic Wireless.

  13. the only way you make money is by tricking people or stealing from them. "Corporations" or businesses use up workers and then discard them,/blockquote

    Which is why we need far-sighted people in government to control and direct the corporations. /sarc

    This is another thing that progressives get, not just wrong, but 180 degrees backwards. In reality, it's the businessman who has to take the long view to build relationships with customers, vendors and yes even his employees, to grow and sustain a business. And the politician who lies and tricks people long enough to get past the next election.

  14. """the only way you make money is by tricking people or stealing from them""

    I know nick was trying to point out that this is a widespread misconception....

    but i think he misses some of the truth in the idea, and why it bothers people.

    You don't make money by tricking people. You make money *helping them trick themselves*. You can't fool people who don't already have misconceptions. People *want* to be fooled, and will pay extra for *really good fooling*.

    That's what marketing is.

    And no one knows this better than the "authentic, crafty, anti-corporate hipster types"

    There is nothing so "corporate-y" as selling people "anti-consumerism". Its the same basic idea that turned the Che-Guevara T-shirt into a profitable brand.

    And as we've pointed out re: "Farmer's Markets" and other "all-natural, better than the evul corporatey"-offerings flogged at people.... the product you're *really* paying for is mostly Ego Food.

    These 'exposes' of frauds always miss the point. before they were exposed... people loved Mast Bros chocolate! its was so *crafty*. and people would rave about their dirt-covered carrots. They were *satisfied*. It doesn't matter that the "real" product inside was no different = the better-wrapper sold them what they wanted.

  15. I don't get the obsession with Jennifer Lawrence's acting ability. I thought her performance in American Hustle was hammy. I guess everyone gushes over her talent because most actresses her age are wooden, a la Kristen Stewart?
    Granted, American Hustle is the only movie of hers I've seen.

    1. I guess everyone gushes over her talent because most actresses her age are wooden

      That would be my guess.

    2. Well, she just kind of has this...

      *Eyes wander back to picture of JLaw*

      I'm sorry, what were we talking about again?

      1. I don't think she'll age well though, not like Cate Blanchett or Helen Mirren. (both much better actors than her, imo, especially Cate Blanchett) So she'll have to get much much better or she'll wake up one day and suddenly she will have mysteriously lost her talents in the eyes of the public.

    3. I confess = i've never really gotten it either.

      i'm probably screwed because my formative impression of her is from the uber-corny appearances in X-men & hunger games. When i saw her in SLP, i didn't recognize her (because she was actually "Acting")

      I can't really judge. I find her appearance bland and 'characterless', and unless her acting were over-the-top it wouldn't register much with me. Maybe this "Joy" thing is supposed to be her breakthrough Character-piece.

      1. I find her appearance bland and 'characterless'

        Good point, maybe that's partly why I felt the American Hustle performance was overacting. Her expressions didn't match the loudness of the personality. It was weird.

      2. Sorry, gotta disagree. She's had some good performances. No, she's not Helen Mirren, nor Cate Blanchett (no one is), nor Meryl Streep. Then again, she's still young. Very few actors/actresses are "just awesome" that young - and the few that do pull it off for a movie or two even more rarely can sustain it for a career. DiCaprio had some awful roles when he was younger - along with some great ones. A google search of critical reviews on him from that time is... mixed, and I think he's turned out to be better than many people expected.

        I think what people react to - and you've even said as much - is the critical/popular reaction to an actor's performances. It's the hyperventilating by the press that gives you the reaction to her work when you finally see it and think, "meh, not that great. Overrated." That's not her performance per se, it's in part what others have said. Because I completely ignore that stuff, I'm usually able to just take in a movie without the baggage of what's already been said.


        1. On the whole? I think she was very good in SLP, very good in "Joy." UhMAYZING!? No. But very good. And yes, exuding sexuality even in horrible 70's clothes doesn't hurt her, either. I thought American Hustle was very good, too. I thought that was as far as she's stretched herself because playing that kind of a shrew doesn't seem to be anywhere near who she is "naturally" - and I think if we're being honest that's in large part how we judge actors. Denzell won an Oscar for "Training Day" (deservedly, IMO) because that was sooooo fucking far from what anyone thought he could pull off or who he is.

  16. And so I can confess, I didn't like the new "Star Wars," either. I saw the originals when they came out in...shit, was it really 1976? Jesus. I loved them. But the remake?? Holy shit, that's the best they could come up with for a plot?? The SAME FUCKING DEATH-RAY WEAPON WITH THE SAME GODDAMN VULNERABILITY?!?! WHO THE FUCK ARE THE EVIL EMPIRE'S ENGINEERS??!!?

    I joked with a friend that what happened was after they shelled out all of the dough to get Ford, and Fisher, and Mark Hamill, to sign on, all they had left was 55 grand for the script, so they used some college interns and handed them the original movies. The kids never watched more than the first episode and so that's what you get - a complete rehash of the original.

    To the extent "teh kids" - including my own - like it and they see the originals, well, they'll be better for it. But Episode VII was so "overrated" it's not even funny. 😉

    1. Re: AF Slade,


      There was a big difference: this time, the weapon is inside a planet and, second, the target could not be destroyed with proton torpedoes which, we know, require the use of The Force to aim inside the two-meter port because it is impossible to aim any other way, even for a computer.

    2. Slade, they were basically remaking the first one to try to get Lucas stank off the franchise.

      I enjoyed it, but my suspension of disbelief (which is hugely overengineered) was creaking the whole time over innumerable avoidable stupidities in the script.

  17. I always thought the real tragedy of "Death of a Salesman" was that the main character, Willie Loman, didn't recognize what really made him happy, working with his hands, and he continued to try to be a salesman, in spite of his lack of success in sales. This was also compounded or underscored by how he treated his two sons. I had no idea that it was interpreted as an anti-capitalistic screed. Sounds like a real stretch, an overly-imaginative interpretation to me.

  18. Death Of A Salesman-- The dumbest 'great' play in American theatre

    I thought that was Our Town?

    1. I like Our Town. Though The Skin of Our Teeth is better.

  19. Slam dunk it one time dude. WOw.

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