NYU Stern School of Business

Undergraduate College


Fall 2011

Instructor Details

Robert Wosnitzer


By Appointment

20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor


Course Meetings

MW, 11:00am to 12:15pm

Tisch T-UC05


Course Description and Learning Goals


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.


Course Outline


CYCLE ONE (September 6 - 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. 5:

Course Introduction

Terms of the Debate: The Construction of Knowledge


Week of Sept. 12-14

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)

Journaling Prompts

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. 11th)

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. 14th)

Student-Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Sept. 12)

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. 19-21

Identity and Experience

Readings: View Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane

John Berger Ways of Seeing, Chapters 1-3.

Journaling Prompts:

1.  How do Kane’s identity and experiences shape the decisions and choices he makes during his life? (due Sunday night, Sept. 18th)

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. 21nd)

Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Sept. 19)

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. 26 - 28

The Great Gatsby: Formation of Paradigms

Readings: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (ALL)

Journaling Prompts:

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. 25th)

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. 28th)

Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Sept. 26)

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. 3-5

Writing Workshops


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 09


CYCLE TWO (Oct. 12 — 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. 12 (No Class Oct 10th)

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. 9th)

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. 12th)

Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Wednesday, Oct. 12th)

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. 17-19

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

Journaling Prompts:

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. 16th)

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. 19th)

Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Oct. 17)

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. 24-26

Boiler Room: Aspiration, Exploitation, Consumption

Readings: View Ben Younger’s Boiler Room

Journaling Prompts:

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. 23rd)

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. 26th)

Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Oct. 24th)

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 Oct. 31 - Nov. 2

Cultural Articulations: Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air

Readings: View Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air

Journaling Prompts

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. 30th)

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. 2nd)

Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Oct 30th)

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 7-9

Writing Workshops


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 13




CYCLE THREE (Nov. 14 — Dec. 15)

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. 14-16

Tucker: The Man and His Dream vs. The Social Network - Structure and Human Agency

Readings: View Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream AND 

David Fincher’s The Social Network

Journaling Prompts:

1.  How do Tucker and Zuckerberg each respond to the issues or problems that emerge from the discrepancy between their respective visions and the realities of the power structures they encounter? (due Sunday night, Nov. 13th)

2.  Fighting against powerful institutions to chase one’s dream can seem daunting.  How would your pursue your dream in the face of similar opposition?? What strategies would you employ (or have you tried before) to overcome strong institutional opposition? (250 words, due in class, Wed, Nov. 16th)

Student Led Discussion Topic: (For Monday, Nov. 14th)

Compare and identify the struggles that each protagonist encounters in both Tucker and The Social Network.  What are (or who represents) the institutional structures encountered by Tucker and Zuckerberg, respectively.  How do the characters confront these ‘obstacles’ and to what ends?


Week of Nov. 21-23

Fast Food Nation: Making Choices

Readings: View Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation 

Journaling Prompts:

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. 20th)

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. 23)

Student Led Discussion Topic:  (For Monday, Nov. 21st)

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. 28-30

Martin Dressler: Opportunities and Limits

Readings: Read Steven Millhauser’s Martin Dressler (ALL)

Journaling Prompts:

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. 27th)

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., Nov. 30th)

Student Led Discussion Topic: (for Monday, Nov. 28th)

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. 5-7

Writing Workshops


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?

 Final Essay Paper Due Dec. 15


Week of Dec. 12

Student presentations. Class wrap-up.



Required Course Materials

Required Texts: (all are available in the NYU Bookstore)

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)

The Social Network (Fincher, 2011)

Fast Food Nation (Linklater, 2006)


Assessment Components

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

 Journal Entries

Each week, you will be given two (2) prompts with which to engage the assigned texts.  For the first prompt, you will respond via Blackboard to a Group Discussion Forum.  Your responses will be viewed by the entire class, and you are encouraged to respond to other student’s postings.  All group discussion postings are due on the Sunday before the class session, by 10 pm.

For the second prompt, you will write a 250-300 word response, to be turned in at the start of Thursday’s class.  This response should be typed, double-spaced, but no bibliography is required.

Class Discussion Facilitation

For each text, two or three class members will be randomly assigned to lead a class discussion on a specific prompt. Detailed explanation can be found starting on page 8 of this course outline.



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.


Professional Responsibilities For 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.
You can excel in this area if you come to class on time and contribute to the course by:



1.  Most assignments will be “turned in” by posting to Blackboard. All assignments must be in a font size of at least 12 points with margins of 1 inch. 

2.  For this course, standard academic style (double spaced with indented paragraphs.) will be expected. 

3.  When you submit an assignment, always include your name as part of the filename (For example, Ortiz_memo2.doc)


Classroom Norms


Stern Policies

General Behavior
The School expects that students will conduct themselves with respect and professionalism toward faculty, students, and others present in class and will follow the rules laid down by the instructor for classroom behavior.  Students who fail to do so may be asked to leave the classroom. 


Collaboration on Graded Assignments
Students may not work together on graded assignment unless the instructor gives express permission. 


Course Evaluations
Course evaluations are important to us and to students who come after you.  Please complete them thoughtfully.


Academic Integrity

Integrity is critical to the learning process and to all that we do here at NYU Stern. As members of our community, all students agree to abide by the NYU Stern Student Code of Conduct, which includes a commitment to:

The entire Stern Student Code of Conduct applies to all students enrolled in Stern courses and can be found here:

Undergraduate College: http://www.stern.nyu.edu/uc/codeofconduct
Graduate Programs: http://w4.stern.nyu.edu/studentactivities/involved.cfm?doc_id=102505

To help ensure the integrity of our learning community, prose assignments you submit to Blackboard will be submitted to Turnitin.  Turnitin will compare your submission to a database of prior submissions to Turnitin, current and archived Web pages, periodicals, journals, and publications.  Additionally, your document will become part of the Turnitin database.


Recording of Classes

Your class may be recorded for educational purposes


Students with Disabilities

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.


Film Assignments

 All films for this class are placed on reserve at The Avery Fisher Center for Music and Media, located on the 2nd Floor of Bobst Library (http://library.nyu.edu/afc/).  Avery Fisher keeps different hours than Bobst Library, so be sure to check their website for hours of operation.  Reserved films have restrictive borrowing policies: you may borrow only one video at a time, for up to four hours (or until closing time), to be viewed only in the library (may not leave the building). DVDs must be returned and checked in at the Avery Fisher Center service counter, and the late fee is $5 per hour, up to a maximum of $20.

Since there are many students who will need to see the same video, we encourage you to see the films at one of two group viewing times we offer. The viewings will be proctored by a Teaching Fellow, giving you an opportunity to discuss the film with your colleagues and be better prepared for class.  If you can not make any of the group viewings, it is your responsibility to make the appropriate arrangements and block the time to see the work assigned (either individually at Avery Fisher, or obtaining the film on your own).


All course films/videos will be shown in Tisch UC-25 and will occur on Fridays, 3:30-5:30 pm, and Saturdays, 1:30-3:30 pm on the dates below:

1. Citizen Kane:  Friday, September 9 Saturday, September 10

2. Mad Men: Friday, October 14 Saturday, October 15 

3. Boiler Room: Friday, October 21 Saturday, October 22

4. Up In The Air: Friday, October 28 Saturday, October 29

5. Tucker/Social Network Friday, November 11 Saturday, November 12 

6. Fast Food Nation: Friday, November 18 Saturday, November 19


Group Prompt Guidelines

 Asking Analytical Questions and Leading Class Discussions

During the semester you will be required to lead one or more class discussions for approximately thirty minutes, with one or two classmates. You will be randomly selected on the first day of class discussion of any text. Even after you have led a class discussion once, you may be selected again, so you should come prepared each week. 

This assignment has two components:  first, you will need to formulate discussion questions that address the issue or topic you have chosen, and second, you will need to organize your questions into a discussion plan that analytically leads the class through the course texts.  

Bring your discussion plan to class each week. Even if you are not chosen, you will be expected to turn in a written plan.

Below are guidelines to help you successfully fulfill both parts of this assignment.

I.  Formulating Analytical Questions:

The function of these questions is to stimulate class analysis.  Here are some guidelines to help you complete the first part of the assignment.

Sound analytical discussion questions should do the following:

1.  Demonstrate a careful reading of the text and require the class to base its responses on the text.

2.  Engage the entire class in examining strategies of argument, proof, logic, and persuasion.

3.  Ask your classmates to look at particular relationships established between reader/viewer unique to the text.

4.  Raise specific questions about how the text (through its author/creator) establishes its own contexts, underlying values, and limits.

5.  Engage the class in a re-examination of the text for what it ignores, what it reveals, how it distorts, how it produces “truths” or realities, and how it establishes the relationship between author/creator and subject matter, audience, and historical context.

6.  Examine strategies by which the text (through its author/creator) establishes its authority.

7.  Encourage the class to focus on analyzing the text, not on exchanging opinions, generalizations or feelings.

8.  Highlight problems, contradictions, patterns, connections or dilemmas contained in the texts.

9.  Encourage your classmates to explore implications and consequences of the analytical perspectives discussed in class.

Your analytical discussion questions should not:

•  Impose your own subjectivity on the rest of the class.

•  Ask for information instead of analysis.  For example, your questions should not :

–   Ask for information that only the professor or another expert can answer (although you can raise such questions in class, they do not invite the rest of the class to contribute to the difficult work of collective analysis).

–   Ask questions about the author/creator’s biography (unless they are part of the work).

–   Ask questions about any authorial intentions not contained in the work itself.

–   Ask opinion questions that divert the class away from textual analysis, such as “did anyone really believe this?”

II. Planning Class Discussions:

You should prepare for the discussion by developing a clear and organized analytical framework or plan that you will use to lead the class through an analysis of the topic. Your plan should define the subtopics you wish to address during the discussion and establish a logical organizational flow between and among subtopics and questions. The primary objective of the discussion is to stimulate dialogue among other students and to increase class perception and insight into the texts.

Your facilitation of a class discussion is not a presentation of your own viewpoints, but rather an effort to advance the abilities of the entire class to analyze the texts and to promote the exchange of differing perspectives among your classmates. 

III. Evaluation:

The evaluation of this assignment will be based on the following criteria:

•  The clarity and depth of the conceptualization of the questions that you pose to the class about the texts.

•  The organization and methodology of your discussion plan.

•  Your adherence to assignment deadlines and guidelines.


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