PG Alternatives for R-rated Business Ethics movies
January 22, 2007 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I have several films assigned for a Business Ethics class that I teach including Thank You for Smoking, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Wall Street. They make for good discussion and a change of pace from lots of tough reading. This semester for the first time I have a student who does not watch rated-R movies. I want to accomodate the student. So I'm looking for movies with themes equivalent or similar to these three movies that are rated below R, and preferably PG or G. Any ideas?
posted by ontic to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Somebody's going to say it, so I may as well get it out of the way: If this student is so sheltered and sensitive that he or she can't watch movies that are rated R for language, he or she will never survive real work in business ethics. Perhaps your duties as a teacher would be better fulfilled by suggesting a new course of study.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:50 AM on January 22, 2007 [5 favorites]

How to Steal $500 Million, concerning the Phar-Mor fiasco.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:00 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

How about have the student watch This Movie is Not Yet Rated, a documentary about the ethics of rating movies. That should foster some interesting discussion...
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:01 AM on January 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Two ways to go here -- on the one hand, you assigned the movies, the student should watch them or not watch them and face the consequences. You aren't asking him to watch llama porn. Unless the student is under 17, in which case you probably need parental permission anyway.

The other possibility, if you're truly feeling like bending over backwards, would be to assign the scripts of Thank You for Smoking and Wall Street, and then an article on Enron. That way they can participate in class discussions without breaking their streak.

However, I don't think you need to bend to their needs -- you aren't asking anything egregious, and they need to get some thicker skin.

P.S. mcstayinschool, in an ironic twist, the original cut of "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" actually received an NC-17 rating. Ha! The release cut of the film is, appropriately enough, not rated.
posted by incessant at 9:04 AM on January 22, 2007

How about a frontline doc? There's one on Enron. I haven't seen it.
posted by miniape at 9:04 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

(that last post was somewhat of a sarcastic recommendation, as "This Movie is Not Yet Rated" actually got an NC-17 by the ridiculous MPAA).

The fact that the Enron documentary gets an R, but extremely violent films get PG or PG-13 (Casino Royale is one I just saw) really makes you wonder.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:04 AM on January 22, 2007

Frontline was a great recommendation. They cover things that fit into Biz Ethics frequently. I esp. liked the one they did on the history of Credit Cards, which couldn't fit better.

The 2hr. "House of Saud" was fantastic too...not sure if that fits perfectly with the course, but it's not too much of a stretch considering it charts the history of American oil interests in the Middle East.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:08 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's a list titled Business Ethics in the Movies that should give you some ideas, although the ratings aren't listed with the film titles.

For the record, though, I agree with Faint of Butt.
posted by amro at 9:09 AM on January 22, 2007

Have the student get a profanity-filtering DVD player, which probably puts at least the Enron movie back into play. And "Thank You For Smoking" is available edited in a family safe version.
posted by IvyMike at 9:10 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Corporation is not rated but, as I recall, very clean. It's an excellent documentary about corporate malfeasance.
posted by chickletworks at 9:23 AM on January 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Frontline also did a program on Wal-Mart, which you can watch online. Along the same lines is this documentary, which is not rated for the the US, but got a PG in the UK and Ireland.
posted by steef at 9:26 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maybe Black Gold, which according to IMDb is unrated. The website says "Educational institutions wishing to acquire a DVD copy of Black Gold - please contact our US distributor California Newsreel". I saw it at a film festival last year, and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't a straight-up Starbucks-bash, but actually seemed quite fair.
posted by featherboa at 9:27 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

amro, that's a great list. Thanks for posting it. In particular the breakdown by theme is very handy. I wonder if any of these movies listed are actually PG.

Definitely second the Frontline suggestion - I too saw that history of Credit Cards, and their work is consistantly top notch.

The whole 'I can't watch anything R rated' thing is one of the most shocking things I've ever read. I'm not sure what educational level you're teaching - I took a biz ethics class in second year university, so I'm assuming college level. Regardless, Faint of Butt is right... perhaps this kid is not going to enjoy the class and/or having his mind openned up, which is the point of education in the first place. It's nice that you want to accomodate the student, but help them if they had a real, viable problems - if they have a disability, if they're had a death in the familiy and need extra time for a paper, etc. etc. Please don't accomodate a student who isn't willing to open his mind. No scripts, no handholding (or covering of the ears or eyes). This is an ethics class on business, not a sewing circle. Ok, I'll stop now...I think you get the point.
posted by rmm at 9:28 AM on January 22, 2007

"I have several books assigned for a class that I teach including Voltaire's Candide, Joyce's Ulysses and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. This semester for the first time I have a student who is offended by books with sexual content. I want to accomodate the student. So I'm looking for books with themes equivalent or similar to these three that are not obscene or objectionable. Any ideas?"

I'm with FoB, don't self-censor. My hat is off to you for trying to be so accomodating, but this student probably needs to see these films more than anyone else.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 9:29 AM on January 22, 2007

I wonder if any of these movies listed are actually PG.

I only skimmed it, but I noticed Monsters, Inc. on the list, so there's at least one.
posted by amro at 9:31 AM on January 22, 2007

I second both the filtered/for tv versions and the script idea. As a prof who sometimes needs to provide accommodation I don't mind putting the student to work to make said accommodation. They need to know that's how life works. I think of it like this: If you're a vegan, friends won't always cook a special vegan meal just for you, so you have to pick around and make due.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:41 AM on January 22, 2007

Is this student Mormon? I ask out of curiosity; my friend is Mormon and she generally does not watch R-rated movies. The only other people I have ever heard of who have such restrictions as adults are Mormon as well. She usually calls me and asks how "bad" some movies are - it's usually anything too sexual or violent that she dislikes, not language. Although... she did watch Borat!

Why not have the students read Thank You for Smoking instead of watching the film? The book is entertaining and is a quick read. IIRC, there is some sexual stuff but maybe the student wouldn't mind as much since it is in print, not film.
posted by sutel at 9:44 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

A few of the Frontlines that would be good:
-investment banking research analysts and conflicts of interest
-KPMG and tax shelters
-probably the history of the credit card, which would be really good consumer education for almost anyone
posted by milkrate at 9:48 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

For the record, it's not the simple fact of not being able to see an R-rated movie that crosses the line for me. My wife, for example, can't bear to see graphic depictions of violence. I understand this and accommodate her-- violence, even when simulated, can be awfully hard to watch. Even if the student objected to nudity or sex, well, I'd probably laugh at the sheltered prude, but I'd try to make allowances (and upon inspection of the IMDb, I see that Enron contains "some nudity" (apparently footage of strippers) and Thank You for Smoking contains "some sexual content"). But I'm pretty certain that the main reason these movies are rated R is because people say "fuck." I'll bet people say "fuck" a whole lot of times in the Enron doc. Guess what? People say "fuck" a lot.

My final analysis: If you can't watch Glengarry Glen Ross, then a business ethics course is out of your league.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:51 AM on January 22, 2007 [4 favorites]

Well, you could go for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or The Distinguished Gentleman, but that's not really Business ethics.
posted by stovenator at 9:53 AM on January 22, 2007

Start Up is interesting although dot com specific, and Glengarry Glen Ross with the ef-filter turned up high.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:55 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Super Size Me definitely pointed out some bad business ethics...
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:12 AM on January 22, 2007

You could also just show selected scenes of those movies, or tell that student to just watch specific scenes (easier if s/he has the DVD version). The bits of Thank You For Smoking that are potentially objectionable are pretty detached from the interesting bits about lobbying; and most of the pertinent bits of the Enron doc, as far as I remember, are pretty tame (insofar as ratings go).
posted by landedjentry at 10:27 AM on January 22, 2007

Barbarians at the Gate. It's based on the true story of the attempted hostile takeover of Nabisco by KKR and how H. Ross Johnson rose up to takeover the company. A lot of similarities to Enron in the end.
posted by mattbucher at 10:29 AM on January 22, 2007

Perhaps this student is doing this to be difficult and possibly get out of having to do some work? Assign a fifteen page paper on why Business Ethics was a study choice for the student, instead of watching the movies. Perhaps suddenly the language in the films wouldn't be so much of an issue...
posted by sephira at 10:52 AM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the great suggestions, and definitely keep them coming. I hadn't thought of Frontline, and will definitely use that for Enron, maybe Barbarians at the Gate for Wall Street.

For those urging me not to accomodate the student, I thought about this, then learned there may be legal issues involved, given that the course is quasi-required. There is no conceivable substitute in a literature class for Chaucer, Joyce, or Voltaire, but since it seems possible in this course to get the same lessons without the gratuitous strippers in the Enron video, I thought I'd give it a shot. I also have no reason to think the student is slacking off -- the student has offered to do work outside of class, for instance, to make up for the time with the films and seems to be an exemplary student in other ways.
posted by ontic at 11:32 AM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: For the record, even though it's R, I think one of the best Business Ethics movies not on amro's list is Crazy People.
posted by ontic at 11:38 AM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ontic, I use CRAZY PEOPLE to teach advertising copywriting. It's a *terrible* movie, but it does have fantastic ads. Expect the crop of ads coming out of my students to mimic all those in the film.

As for accomodating students, I've often done it. Whether it's different interests, different standards, whatever. If they can make a solid case for it (and isn't that what most of business/professional life is all about), then I'll allow them to come up with an alternative.

I typically let them make the suggestions and then respond and tailor. That way, it's more applicable to their interests and they'll find clever workarounds to the things they want to avoid, rather than have me assume anything. Then again, I taught copywriting, so their ability to find a creative solution to the issue and pitch it to me successfully was a teaching opportunity in itself.

I always make sure, however, that it's an equal, if not a little more, amount of work than the standard assignment and it's not a lot of additional work for me. Sure, I'll give up an extra three evenings to grade SWOT analyses, but if it requires me to do background research or go too far afield, I'll reject it.

Make sure whatever you choose doesn't suck up 10 hours of your life you wouldn't have spent, say, watching 3 PG-rated movies you wouldn't be interested in (personally or professionally) normally.
posted by Gucky at 12:17 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think the Enron documentary should be crucial. I do not remember why it was R except for showcasing the greedy nature of everyone involved. The nudity was not gratuitous (I did not even notice it, I think they showed a strip club at some point) and the language is what I see everyday in the business world.

In fact if you ever do business with say, I don't know, egotistical 30 something males ... Enron is a great documentary showing how hubris got away from them. I am sorry but said student, if they enter the business world, will be entering an unsheltered world with a bunch of newly rich bachelors. I think the llama porn comment is very apt.

That said, in my business ethics classes we talked more about the Asian crisis (and whether it was responsible for the government to bail that out), the terrible pollution in China and some ethics regarding the general idea of promoting a product abroad without listing the health effects it was required to do domestically (e.g., cigarettes).

I would try to find some Frontline or WSJ documentaries, as they will be more business oriented than mainstream films. And to business students, a lot more fun.
posted by geoff. at 12:18 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

My comment on re-read seemed sort of corny, but the point remains: if this is an undergrad wanting to go into business I would express to them that perhaps another career would be best. I only assume that they are business majors based on the fact I have not known an undergrad to take the course unless they were going to into business.
posted by geoff. at 12:25 PM on January 22, 2007

The R rating stands for "restricted", as in viewing restricted to adults, or to those with adult permission. If the student is an adult, and the movies chosen are unerringly appropriate to the course material, the onus is on the student to be up to the challenge, not on you to make exceptions.

I know that you are trying to be a good sport about this, but remember you'll be setting a precedent that this student's future teachers may be held to. You need to challenge this. Perhaps you will wind up providing alternate materials ultimately, but indulging the student by acquiescing from the get-go is not in anyone's best interests-- not yours, not the student's, not the school's. And that's something that I think the student would benefit from hearing, and should be able to respect.

When I was in college I was running auditions for a play. One actress's resume stated that she would not let herself be considered for any role in which the script would require her to use even mild swear words. I considered the request to be a mockery of modern theatre: an actor who is judgmental of their character and never strives to understand a perspective outside his/her own is not an asset to any program. Why was she even here? Why would I cast anyone who began issuing conditions before auditions even started? She was a smart girl, hardworking, earnest. Her resume went to the bottom of the pile and stayed there.
posted by hermitosis at 12:47 PM on January 22, 2007 [3 favorites]

Ironic: don't most ethical violations come from seeing oneself as an exception to a rule somehow?

If the student is unable to read a little about the individual movies you've selected, take into consideration WHY their particular contents resulted in a restricted rating, and weigh the decision based on the overall circumstances of the situation, then they are being unreasonable. While many religions discourage the viewing of rated-R movies, it is hardly a rule that they enforce. Invoking religious freedom in such a matter is gauche.

I mean, I personally find overhead fluorescent lighting to be abhorrent and demeaning to humans, but that doesn't mean that I demand that professors allow me to wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat in class.
posted by hermitosis at 1:05 PM on January 22, 2007 [3 favorites]

Side Effects is a take-down of the pharmaceutical industry in the guise of a cheesy romantic comedy. It was made by a former pharmaceutical sales rep, but is actually OK as a movie.
posted by alms at 1:10 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

This thread should perhaps be subtitled: Delighted to be offended by people who do not believe EXACTLY what you believe? COME ON IN.

Certainly the Wall Street genre of films are going to be more in the R-rated area, but is there a reason - and I'm not actually being funny here - you can't have the kid watch, say, episodes of The Simpsons? They deal with business ethics all the time. (I know you think I'm making this up.)

Some thoughts:

Mr. Plow, wherein Homer starts a snowplow company and finds himself in competition with former best friend Barney

Please Homer, Don't Hammer 'Em, wherein Marge, a talented carpenter, has to have her husband front as the real artisan because people think blue-haired ladies can't do woodwork

Fraudcast News, wherein Mr. Burns buys every media outlet in Springfield, and only Lisa's self-published newspaper still tells the truth

She of Little Faith, wherein Mr. Burns buys the church and turns it into a profitable pseudo-arcade

Sweets and Sour Marge, wherein Marge takes on Big Sugar (seriously, you can show the kid this and skip Thank You For Smoking.)

Poppa's Got a Brand-New Badge, wherein Homer becomes chief of "Springshield", the town's new private security force

PS: I am not as big of a nerd as having this knowledge at my fingertips makes me seem. Er.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:44 PM on January 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Turn it back on the student and ask him/her to do some research and suggest some alternatives. As a former professor, my general opinion is that if students want special consideration, they have to meet you more than half way in figuring out that will be.
posted by ga$money at 3:57 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Muppet Movie. There's a major subplot about a chain of frog-leg restaurants that wants Kermit as their mascot, and they're willing to kill him to accomplish it.

The Secret of My Success (PG-13)

Tron (PG). Aside from the video game stuff, it's about the firing of the old guard and the stealing of intellectual property.

But I only give you these answers as an exercise. You should really take the student outside and rub his face in shit.
posted by bingo at 4:45 PM on January 22, 2007

To the folks who suppose it ironic to be taking an ethics class and opt out of addressing a particular perspective: the class is not purposed to engrain a particular ethical viewpoint, but to work in accomdating others. It would be hypocritical of both the teacher and student to refuse to compromise, so by the teacher modifying content is making an ethical business decision, no? Would it not be glaringly obvious to the student the multitudes of counterarguments to his/her decision, without bothering to even bring it up?
posted by vanoakenfold at 4:57 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Sweet Smell of Success, while focused on writers rather than corporations, is one of the all-time best stories about a man denying what is ethically right for his own selfish gain. It may not be right for your particular student, but it's great for anybody else even remotely interested in the theme.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:07 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Boiler Rooom??
It’s a Wonderful Life should be right up his alley though…?
posted by hadjiboy at 8:31 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by hadjiboy at 8:32 PM on January 22, 2007

CNBC launches it's own primetime News Magazine Program 10pm Wednesday Night: BUSINESS NATION.

The first 3 topics handled: All the stolen shit that we buy on eBay // an airplane that's been on the market for 40 years that has a habit of killing people--15% of its fleet has crashed // the Ultimate Fighting circuit that now draws bigger ratings than baseball playoffs (this one's for you, Damion!).

Sounds like a good ongoing source of discussion topics re: business ethics, and knowing CNBC, the raunch is probably quite within the tolerance of your insane student.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:40 AM on January 23, 2007

ontic: "For those urging me not to accomodate the student, I thought about this, then learned there may be legal issues involved, given that the course is quasi-required."

I doubt it. If you're teaching this at a university, your department, the college, or the university itself likely has a policy somewhere that protects you in cases like this. At the very least, take this to your department chair. If the student needs/desires to be accommodated, he/she can find another section of the same class to take. The student doesn't have to take your section, right? Are you the only section?

It's kind of you to try to give it a shot, but this way madness lies. Students shouldn't have the right to expect bowdlerized texts. If you're going to do it, I like the script idea mentioned above, as it sticks to the same material, but you should put it on the student to find and obtain the scripts. Otherwise, you're making more work for yourself and that time comes at the expense of students who--being students, after all--came there to learn and assume what you've selected might have value even though it contains "dirty" words.
posted by wheat at 11:46 AM on January 23, 2007

First of all, Hudsucker Proxy might work. It's been a while since I've seen the film, but it seems like there were some nice ethicsy issues at play.

And the issue isn't about student rights, but rather about decency. If the student for whatever reason chooses to avoid certain media on moral grounds, who are you (speaking collectively) to tell her she's wrong? Sheesh. You're like the reverse Taliban: you must watch! You must be exposed!

You wouldn't (at least I hope you wouldn't) force a jewish student to "taste" a little pork, nor a muslim student to just "try" a little alcohol, because, of course, they'll encounter wine and bacon in the business world. This student's moral decision to avoid certain language, levels of violence, and themes shows more backbone than you all put together. It's scary to ask for special treatment.

As a teacher (speaking individually to ontic), you may still require the film and allow the student to take another section, or to take the course another term from another teacher. That's not inappropriate. I think your move to work together with her is laudable.
posted by terceiro at 2:15 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You have written that you want to accomodate the student, so following incessant's suggestion, assign her to read the book version of "The Corporation" by Joel Bakan. Or you could ask her to write a paper on the MPAA's methods and its influence on her viewing habits.

I'd ask you to consider not accomodating the student. What would happen if each student had a different request of this type? What decision rule would you follow? Also, what decision rule is the student following? How does she decide which books to read? What does she hope to achieve by only watching "all-ages" or "parental guidance suggested" movies?

A couple of comments above seem to conflate "decency", "morality", and the murky selection criteria of the MPAA. There is no moral or religious stance at stake in choosing to follow the recommendations of a self-regulating non-profit trade association. At the most, the MPAA's decisions exist to mark a division between films appropriate for adults and those appropriate for children. "Decency" doesn't enter into it.

Does this student also insist on ordering Happy Meals? Her age-inappropriate tastes are not the basis for rights and privileges. She can take the hit to her grade if she insists on staying registered for the class.

You and your university are under no obligation to accomodate this student, any more than you would be to protect a student in a creative writing class from hearing profanity in a classmate's work; or the university to disable all programming on campus televisions that is not suitable for kids under 13.
posted by Phred182 at 2:59 PM on January 23, 2007

I note that others have made the same or better points above and that you have addressed the issue of not accomodating the student.

One more point, though: your obligation is to the university's mission as an educational institution--in that light. maybe it isn't so hot an idea to cater too much to student preferences.
posted by Phred182 at 3:16 PM on January 23, 2007

BTW your business ethics class sounds deeply awesome. Care to post a reading list?
posted by Phred182 at 4:35 PM on January 23, 2007

terceiro: You wouldn't (at least I hope you wouldn't) force a jewish student to "taste" a little pork, nor a muslim student to just "try" a little alcohol, because, of course, they'll encounter wine and bacon in the business world.

Agreed. But if an orthodox Jewish student signed up for an elective culinary arts class called "cooking with pork," or if an orthodox Muslim student took a class in mixology, I would expect the student in question to participate fully in the class, not to ask for special treatment or exclusions to planned, educational activities. If the student anticipated a problem, then the time to discuss it would have been with her or her adviser or the professor before enrolling in the class.

No one is saying that ontic should disrespect the student. But he should respectfully refuse to give in to the student on this issue for reasons that have already been aptly outlined. And, if it were me, I'd take it to the department head or the dean. This goes beyond ontic. This student will expect special treatment in other classes, too. The school needs to be consistent on this one.
posted by wheat at 4:25 PM on January 24, 2007

And again, let's all remember that there is no religious law or tradition that prohibits Christians from watching rated R movies-- it is NOT to be compared with Jewish or Muslim dietary traditions. I know it's heavily discouraged among Mormons, but most will relent in circumstances in which a film is understood to have some sort of great human relevance. Just because Christianity happens to be infected with good old-fashioned American do-what-Iwant-on-my-terms-ism doesn't mean that anyone has to kowtow to their demands.

Seriously. Show me in the Bible where it says anything about this. And if it comes down to "impure thoughts" and the like, then honestly how does this student navigate any modern public situation?
posted by hermitosis at 5:20 PM on January 24, 2007

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