"Late capitalism" was a term popularised by Marxist economic theorist Ernest Mandel; it pretty much covers the whole period from 1945 to now (which also includes the period known as the “Golden Age of capitalism” which lasted until the early 1970s and can be tracked in the “Mad Men” series, for example).
If the idea was to suggest that capitalism is subject to inevitable dysfunction and decay, then it may be quite easy to find poster boys for this condition in recent years. From Donald Trump, who says he’s qualified to be President because he’s rich and good at making money (but omits to say how his inheritance meant he started rich; or how many of his businesses have lost money); the UK’s Mike Ashley, whose retailer Sports Direct has taken staff exploitation to new depths (from zero-hours contracts to invasive surveillance and body searches); the Enron Corporation, whose hubris and collapse was memorably portrayed in Alex Gibney’s documentary ‘The Smartest Guys in the Room’ (2005); the many bankers whose corruption and role in the 2008 financial crisis was exposed in an even better documentary, Charles Ferguson’s ‘Inside Job’ (2010); and even the admittedly fictional Christian Grey of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, an "extreme vision of late-capitalist deliverance – the American dream on performance-enhancing drugs” according to The Baffler. When even our admiration for tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon is undercut by tales of tax avoidance, then maybe it’s time to spray the room.
So it’s good to be reminded of a much brighter (and multi-faceted) story of late-capitalism, and the American dream in particular, in David O Russell’s latest movie ‘Joy' (out now on DVD), the true-life tale of Joy Mangano, creator of the Miracle Mop and (could-only-be) played by Jennifer Lawrence. Mangano, an inventor by nature, built an empire through TV’s QVC network, itself a late-capitalist icon.
As well as making the case for entrepreneurship and the value of empathetic resolve, Joy reminds us that good associations and partnerships (like Mangano’s with QVC) are often smarter than a literal reading of the individualist myth. It underlines the true spirit and story of capitalist opportunity (QVC’s Neil Walker, played by Bradley Cooper, invokes legendary producer David Selznick, whose son-of-immigrants story is more American than anything Donald Trump could imagine). And it champions a brand of working-class feminism that favours impulse and action over nuance and debate, and that doesn’t need the distractions or compensations that lesser stories, or a lesser society, demand: “I don’t need a prince,” says the young Joy, “That’s my special power".