The Placebo Effect: What The Wolf Of Wall Street Has In Common With Michael Jordan In 'Space Jam'

by Dan Scotti

Remember this scene?

A beat-down, hopeless team of Looney Tunes (resembling more of the Utah Jazz on the road, than a team about to defeat the mighty Monstars of Moron Mountain), sitting around the locker room, with the booming sound of defeat just about ready to rear its ugly head. All of a sudden, BAM. A little bit of "Michael's Secret Stuff" is passed around the squad. Victory.

As we all know, "Michael's Secret Stuff" was nothing more than a little bit of sink water (which, if you consider all the water-pollutes, probably hurt the team's performance). The fact of the matter is, it didn't matter what was actually in the bottle; it was about what the team thought was in the bottle that gave them the boost they needed to steal a win.

This is a classic example of the placebo effect. Everyone's been a victim of it at some point, probably at some time during your "experimental" phase of high school. Maybe it was when you ate a whole pizza pie after watching six episodes of "Family Guy," only to find out that the "weed guy" who sold you the "pot" actually sold you some oregano. I think you get the picture.

Ultimately, the placebo effect is a real, scientifically proven aspect of human behavior. We saw it in "Space Jam"; we saw it firsthand it high school. Where else have we seen the placebo effect? Oh yeah, that's right, "Wolf of Wall Street."

For a second, think of Jordan Belfort as Michael Jordan. The group of business associates Belfort compiled -- who, in turn, made him millions without having seemingly any business in doing so -- are Bugs, Daffy, Porky the Pig and the rest of the Tune Squad. How did Belfort push his band of misfits into a successful, multi-million dollar heist? Seems like Jordan Belfort had some "secret stuff" of his own.

Belfort, like Jordan in "Space Jam," didn't surround himself with any "all-stars," like we're used to seeing in the LeBron Jameses of our generation. He handpicked a few people close to him -- childhood friends, his own father -- and gave them positions of power. I guess you could say he put his friends in high places -- literally, and figuratively speaking. Most of the workday consisted of drugs, and other vices. It didn't matter, though. Belfort kept feeding his band of warriors that "secret stuff," and BAM, success fell at his feet.

So, what was the "secret stuff"? Could it have been some water from the bathroom with a couple Quaaludes dissolving at the bottom? No, but they very well may have been fed that too. What Belfort fed his childhood buddies, whose two-cents on penny stocks were essentially valueless, was simple: dreams of success. The idea of success is something any ambitious person should be motivated by. Belfort enlisted people he knew would be ambitious, in that fashion, to know no limits.

I mean legal limitations, here. Because, God knows, what Belfort and his team did surely was not legal. By selling near-worthless stocks at incredible values, Belfort essentially robbed the rich and poor, alike. They knew no limits given their business inexperience. Belfort hired lifelong friends and some local drug dealers, for the most part.

Selling drugs certainly falls under the "sales" category, no? It didn't matter to the employees of Stratton Oakmont, Belfort's corporation. Belfort's "secret stuff" had them feeling successful; so, in their minds, why wouldn't they be successful? He took his cast of characters and made them millions. I guess it worked.

It seems as though every ex-Strattonite who's come out to the media since the making of "Wolf of Wall Street" says the same thing about how they got there: "Jordan Belfort promised me millions of dollars." Jordan Belfort promised his little worker bees something that no one could resist working for: that marker of success, loads of money.

I think we can all take something out of this connection. Although, in life, sometimes things aren't as realistic as aliens and cartoons and basketball. In the same light, in life, sometimes things won't always guarantee you large -- and I mean large -- sums of money. The connection between the two of these stories is success, and the infallible truth that you can always strive towards it.

Whether you go to your own sink and swig some water out of the faucet, believing it will lead you to where you want to go, or you need to look elsewhere, surround yourself with people that will inspire you -- or at least those you think will inspire you.

It's not always what's inside you. It's what you think is inside you that will be your own "secret stuff."