East Building, 5th Floor
MW, 11:00am to 12:15pm
Class will not meet on:
Class will meet on:
This course will explore representations of American business in literature, film, art and architecture. These artistic texts, placed in various business milieus, will act as resources for you to develop writing and critical thinking skills. Three major writing assignments will ask you to consider the role of commerce and institutions in three aspects of modern life: individual identity and destiny; expressions of culture; and as sites for social and individual transformation.
SCHEDULE OF TOPICS, READINGS & WRITING ASSIGNMENTS:
CYCLE ONE (September 8 - October 11)
This first cycle revolves around the themes of identity and destiny. We will look at books and film where the main protagonist(s) explore issues of who they really are, what has shaped them, and their destiny. Using these materials, students will write about their own experiences.
Week of Sept. 8:
Terms of the Debate: The Construction of Knowledge
Week of Sept. 13-15
Identity and Experience
Readings: George Saunders, “Jon” from In Persuasion Nation (pp. 23-64)
George Saunders, “Brad Kerrigan, American” from In Persuasion Nation (pp. 119-154)
1. Each of the protagonists in these stories struggles to find or assert their own identity. Who, or what, controls and constrains their identity, and why? Why does the author present this conflict? (due Sunday night, Sept. 12th)
2. Consider these identity struggles against your own experience. What defines who you are? In what ways do you find your own identity constrained by outside forces and factors? (250 words, due in class, Wed., Sept. 15th)
Student-Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Sept. 13)
Discuss the forces that affect individual identity. What is the author saying about how much control a person has over his/her social identity?
Week of Sept. 20-22
Identity and Experience
Readings: View Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane
John Berger Ways of Seeing, Chapters 1-3.
1. How do Kane’s identity and experiences shape the decisions and choices he makes during his life? (due Sunday night, Sept. 19th)
2. Consider how your own personal history and experiences affect the paths you choose. Give an example of how your life experiences affected a significant decision or choice that you have made in the last year. (250 words, due in class, Wed., Sept. 22nd)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Sept. 20)
Who is Charles Foster Kane? Is his identity constant throughout his life? (Is anyone's?) Why is it so difficult for the other characters in the film to understand who he is, and why is it so important for them? Why is it so difficult for Kane to understand himself?
Week of Sept. 27 - 29
The Great Gatsby: Formation of Paradigms
Readings: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (ALL)
1. Each individual character in this story has a unique perspective on the course of events. How would the novel be different were it narrated by someone other than Nick, such as Tom Buchanan, Daisy, Jordan Baker, or Jay Gatsby himself (choose one)? (due Sunday night, Sept. 26th)
2. Discuss when you have encountered someone who turned out to be different from your expectations, based on your perceptions and experiences of the person. (250 words, due in class, Wed., Sept. 29th)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Sept. 27)
John Berger claims that the way we view things is filtered through many layers of culture and personal experiences. Use examples from the novel you read as well as your own lives to discuss how perceptions are affected by perspectives and personal paradigms.
Week of Oct. 4-6
Final Cycle One Essay:
How have you become the person you are today? Compare and contrast your life-shaping experiences with those of a character from texts. Discuss how your identity was formed, the experiences that shaped you, and the outside factors that have defined who you are.
Due October 10
CYCLE TWO (Oct. 13 — Nov. 12)
This cycle’s theme is the notion of “culture”. We will examine creative works that depict the expressions and tensions of culture in the world of commerce. Using these materials, students will write about their own understanding of cultural messages.
Week of Oct. 13 (NO CLASSES MONDAY, OCTOBER 11)
Melville's Bartleby and Saunder's green triangle: The individual vs. corporate culture
Readings: Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener
George Saunders’ “In Persuasion Nation” from In Persuasion Nation (pp. 155-182)
Individual Journaling Prompts:
1. What does the character Bartleby have in common with the "green triangular symbol" in George Saunders' story? How, and why, are their fates different? (due Sunday night, Oct. 10th)
2. Discuss a situation in your life where the pressures of cultural conformity affected your choice (positively or negatively) to take a particular action or participate in an event or activity. (250 words, due in class, Wed., Oct. 13th)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Wednesday, Oct. 13)
The setting for Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener is New York City in 1853; the world that Saunder's describes is imaginary and unreal. What aspects of these stories' settings are similar to contemporary culture? Consider the roles and relationships of workers, businesses, consumers, and .
Week of Oct. 18-20
Mad Men: Formation of Consumer Culture
Readings: View selected episodes of AMC’s Mad Men (Season 1)
John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Chapter 7
1. How is the business of advertising represented in the show? How do the advertising messages depicted in the show influence culture and society? (due Sunday night, Oct. 17th)
2. Today we are inundated with messages from multiple media sources. What representations of individuals do you find yourself identifying with? What assumptions about individuals are made in those representations? How accurately do they represent you and people you know? (250 words, due in class, Wed., Oct. 20th)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Oct. 18)
Compare the depiction of 1960’s consumerism in Mad Men to your understanding of consumerism in contemporary culture. Does advertising depict existing needs and desires or does it create new desires? How do consumer desires shape culture, then and now?
Week of Oct. 25-27
Boiler Room: Aspiration, Exploitation, Consumption
Readings: View Ben Younger’s Boiler Room
1. Which social classes are depicted in Boiler Room? How do class tensions emerge during the course of the film and what accounts for the exclusivity of male culture as the story is told? (due Sunday night, Oct. 24th)
2. Consider the concept of work and how it plays out in the film. Compare the motives of the characters working in “the boiler room” with your own personal and professional objectives. (250 words, due in class, Wed., Oct. 27th)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Oct. 25th)
The boiler room brokers believe money is the means to acquire higher social class and status. Are they right? What barriers and obstacles between classes are shown in the film? Catalog the different aspirations of characters in the film, what paths various characters believe will help them accomplish their goals, and what it will cost them.
Week of Nov. 1-5
Cultural Articulations: Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air
Readings: View Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air
1. In the film, the main character, Bingham, is depicted as a traveling "hired gun" who terminates employees. How does he respond when the new Skype-like technology threatens to change how he lives and works? What ironies and conflicts arise as he helps train the young woman behind the new technology? (due Sunday night, Oct. 31st)
2. Characters in the film encounter and attempt to address the dissonance between their authentic selves and the roles demanded of them by their professional lives. How would you handle yourself in similar situations? Have you ever felt that way, in school, at NYU, at a job? How would you handle yourself in a similar situation? (250 words, due in class, Wed., Nov. 3rd)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Nov. 1st)
How does the film portray the tensions between the interests of the individual versus those of the corporation? Consider how motifs of homogenization and expendability play out in the film's depictions of places and workers. What values prevail in the film?
Week of Nov 8-10
Final Cycle Two Essay:
Select one or compare two texts and discuss its specific cultural messages about the role of commerce in society. Identify tensions and conflicts that appear within the text as well as those that derive from its larger social context.
Due November 14
CYCLE THREE (Nov. 15 — Dec. 14)
The last cycle looks at the social impact of commerce—its aims versus its effects. The books and film are about individuals struggling to achieve individual fulfillment by using the levers of commerce but who encounter structural obstacles that work against their intentions.
Week of Nov. 15-17
Tucker: The Man and His Dream: Structure and Human Agency
Readings: View Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream
1. What are the differences between the ideal world of the automobile visionary and reality, and what stands in the way of achieving that ideal? (due Sunday night, Nov. 14th)
2. Fighting against powerful institutions to chase dreams can seem futile. How hard would you push if your dream was similarly blocked? What strategies would you employ (or have you tried before) to overcome strong institutional opposition? (250 words, due in class, Wed, Nov. 17th)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Nov. 15th)
Describe the forces in the film that conflict and hinder innovation and change in the automobile industry. Compare the industry as it is portrayed in Tucker with the current state of the American automobile industry today.
Week of Nov. 22-24
Fast Food Nation: Making Choices
Readings: View Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation
1. The eco-activists in the film try to set doomed cattle free, but the contented cows stay put. Is the filmmaker suggesting that it's futile to resist the corporate processes that produce our consumer-driven sustenance? (due Sunday night, Nov. 21st)
2. Immigration is often presented in the news media as an individual choice, on the one hand, and also as a threat to “American” jobs. Does the film affirm or contradict these sentiments, and if so, through what representations? How do the characters of Fast Food Nation affirm (or deny) the choices they’ve made? How is their presence received by other characters in the film, and to whom are they invisible? (250 words, due in class, Wed., Nov. 24)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Nov. 22nd)
The film represents several issues for social justice -- immigration, industrially produced food, workplace safety, and environmental degradation. Choose one of these social issues, and discuss the ways in which the film attempts to reconcile the obstacles, contradictions, and intentions of individual characters. Try to articulate the tension between individual choice and the institutional structures.
Week of Nov. 29- Dec. 1
Martin Dressler: Opportunities and Limits
Readings: Read Steven Millhauser’s Martin Dressler (ALL)
1. What are Dressler’s insights that allow him to tap into the desires of his customers? How does he apply those insights into making his businesses successful? (due Sunday night, Nov. 28)
2. Dressler attains success from the start but constantly discards his achievements in the search for something bigger…he assumes that there are no limits. How limitless are your needs, wants and desires? (250 words, due in class, Wed., Dec. 1st)
Student Led Discussion Topic: (for Monday, Nov. 29)
Dressler’s businesses move from the ordinary to the phantasmagorical. What impulses are pushing him and why does the edifice of his creations collapse? Consider the dichotomy between his private self and his public commercial extravagances.
Week of Dec. 6-8
Final Cycle Three Essay:
Choose one of the texts from this cycle and examine how an individual character's aspirations and actions can be elevated into a quest for something that could serve the public interest. Consider what type of situations and social conditions are necessary for this transformation to occur: what political powers and commercial institutions come into play. And once the quest is on, how does the protagonist perceive and challenge the forces that work against them? Whether the character succeeds or fails, what are the consequences for the greater social good? Was the quest worth pursuing?
Week of Dec. 13
Student presentations. Class wrap-up.
Final Essay Paper Due Dec. 14
Jane Aaron, The Little Brown Essential Handbook.
John Berger, Ways of Seeing. Penguin.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Scribner.
George Saunders, In Persuasion Nation. Riverhead Books.
Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener. Dover.
Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler. Vintage.
Required Film Viewing: (all are available at Avery Fisher Center, Bobst Library, 2nd Floor)
Citizen Kane (Welles, 1942)
Mad Men (AMC, 2008)
Up in the Air (Reitman, 2009)
Boiler Room (Younger, 2000)
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (Coppola, 1988)
Fast Food Nation (Linklater, 2006)
Your final grade will be determined according to the following percentage breakdown:
Three essays 75% (each worth 25%)
Participation 25% includes class participation, journal entries and class discussion facilitation.
At NYU Stern we seek to teach challenging courses that allow students to demonstrate their mastery of the subject matter. In general, students in undergraduate core courses can expect a grading distribution where:
Note that while the School uses these ranges as a guide, the actual distribution for this course and your own grade will depend upon how well you actually perform in this course.
In-class contribution is a significant part of your grade and an important part of our shared learning experience. Your active participation helps me to evaluate your overall performance.
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If you have a qualified disability and will require academic accommodation of any kind during this course, you must notify me at the beginning of the course and provide a letter from the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD, 998-4980, www.nyu.edu/csd) verifying your registration and outlining the accommodations they recommend. If you will need to take an exam at the CSD, you must submit a completed Exam Accommodations Form to them at least one week prior to the scheduled exam time to be guaranteed accommodation.