Alternatives to 'R" Rated Movies For A Business Ethics Course?

A professor teaching a business ethics course assigns certain films (“Thank You For Not Smoking”, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”, “Wall Street”) but has had a request for alternate films from a student who doesn't watch 'R' rated movies. 

The professor posts a question on AskMetafilter looking for alternate selections but in addition to giving suggestions, people respond with proposals covering a range of ideas from assigning the print-version of the scripts, assigning a paper instead of allowing the student to view alternate films,  or simply requiring the student to watch the assigned films or suffer the stated consequences (lower grade or whatever.)

There's no explanation why the student won't watch R rated films – one poster speculates that they might be religious, another speculates they're just trying to get out of work.

There are a couple good quotes in the thread defending each point of view:

“Don't most ethical violations come from seeing oneself as an exception to a rule somehow?”


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…[plus] t
heir ability
to find a creative solution to the issue and pitch it to me
successfully was a teaching opportunity in itself.”

Unless I had more details, I'm not sure what I would do if I were the professor in this situation.  It's possibly a bit more work for the prof to come up with alternate suggestions but if they're willing to do so and can find films with themes along similar topics to the ones assigned, if it doesn't unfairly unbalance the class in terms of both workload and discussion, I don't see why something like this should be a problem. 

I had a similar situation in my “Collection Development in Academic Libraries” course – I wanted to focus on public library-related issues for my assignments and approached the professor about doing this.  After some discussion, we reached a compromise where I could do 1-2 of the five assignments on public library-related topics.  I ended up only doing one like this, (I think) it helped add a different dimension to the class when I presented it, and in retrospect, I'm glad I wasn't allowed to focus completely on public library topics because as much as I want to, there's no guarantee I'll end up working in a public library so the exposure to academic topics has been invaluable (I got a slightly panicked IM from a classmate – “tell me everything you know about collection development in academic libraries!” right before they went for a job interview.  I was able to send them the assignments I'd done for that class and hopefully it helped them out a bit.)

As for the issue at hand about respecting the sensitivities of people, I'm reminded of what a friend on the Writers Guild of Alberta mailing list wrote around the time of the Dutch “Mohammed” cartoons controversy. 

“Just because you can give offense, does it mean that you should?” 

I'm usually a “people should be able to see and do anything” and it's the other person's problem if they're offended. But this person was heavily involved in the Calgary Freedom to Read Committee and I respected them a great deal.  So that perceptive comment really stuck with me.

Here's a link to the full thread:
PG Alternatives for R-rated Business Ethics movies | Ask MetaFilter

Comments 6

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    This is an interesting debate, especially since it is in a university level class that the movies are an issue. I recall in highschool, I had to speak to a teacher and ask to be excused from watching a film in class. I didn't have religious or moral objections, but I'm sensitive to certain subject matter and did not think I could sit through the class.
    What the teacher asked of me at the time, was to do a little write up about the subject, providing evidence that I had an understanding of the issues, etc. (after having taught me for 3 years, he was fairly confident I had a grasp of things anyway). So, during the 2 classes when the film was screened I went to the library (of course) and completed the assignment.
    Granted, this was highschool and I was perhaps *slightly* more sensitive back then than I am now…Jason, I'm definitely with you on the “people should be able to see and do anything” mantra, I'm all about accessibility & freedom of speech, but as an extension of that, they should be able to opt out and not see something if they so choose.
    Ultimately, this is up to the professor and being in a professional program, it may come to the student losing marks for being unable to complete an assignment; however, since the prof is actively seeking solutions, he/she clearly wishes to accommodate the student's needs. I think many of the alternate suggestions are good including the inclusion of several documentary titles.
    Finally, being an ethics class, I think it might be instructive for the prof to explore these issues with the student and perhaps, generate an alternate assignment out of those discussions. Objecting to a movie rating does seem to strongly engage issues of ethics.
    Alright, that should do it. 😉

    Posted 23 Jan 2007 at 3:54 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Willing to share what film it was? I can't think of what they would show in high school that would bother someone but you never know. I think we may have watched Old Yeller in one class but might be mis-remembering that.
    There's definitely a line between high school (where there should be more flexibility) and University (where it becomes a matter of negotiation and compromise between two adults.)
    For the Freedom to Read event, somebody brought the Mohammed cartoons (this was just after it happened) and passed them around. A few people in the crowd refused to even look at them based on their personal principles. That's fine – I'm not going to force anyone to look at something they don't want to see.
    Another idea would be to generate a class-room discussion about the student's choice. Or would that be putting them on the spot too much? (Yet another ethical dilemma? But what isn't?)

    Posted 23 Jan 2007 at 4:10 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    If I recall correctly someone held up the cartoons during her time on stage, essentially if not very effectively, forcing us to look at them. I was rather angry that I had been made more, and more specifically, complicit in the offence.
    I agreed with your colleage on that issue. The right of free speech comes with the responsibility to use it judiciously. I found myself actually agreeing with Stephen Harper's public statement on the whole issue: We as a society uphold freedom of speech and the independence of the press, but we're really sorry nonetheless.
    On the issue of R Ratings, as a teacher I would really want to know the basis of the “boycotting” of R rated films. Not all R rated films contain all types of images/behaviors/situations that are classified under that rating. But I guess it's none of my business and I would just assign extra work that hopefully ensures that the student has been exposed to the issues and viewpoints that are in the films. I wouldn't want someone to be able to skirt opposing viewpoints by taking an anti-swearing stance any more than another person should be able to skirt opposing view points by taking an anti-religion stance. That would seem like it is counter to the spirit of higher education.

    Posted 23 Jan 2007 at 4:12 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    I said “I'm not going to force anyone to look at something they don't want to see.” But I can't speak for anyone else!
    Seriously though, in that person's defense, they did hold up the cartoons from the stage where they were all but impossible to see as I remember. And anyhow, if you can't hold up something like that at a Freedom of Expression event, where *can* you hold it up?
    I mean, it's your right to be offended by the person's actions as well but we have a certain personal responsibilty, especially based on context. In my opinion, that was a very appropriate forum to display those cartoons. Outside a mosque? Probably not so much.
    To be honest, I felt much worse for the people who happened to be enjoying a lovely pint at the Grad Club without realising what our event was about and suddenly, some guy is on stage reading the “Fuck” section of the Dictionary of Slang (although to be fair, we did have an MC who explained what we were doing before we got to the readings. And it *was* held in the Grad Student pub at a University and presented in the “spirit of higher education” to use your words, not in an elementary school classroom or church or something.) But still, they didn't make a choice to be exposed to this material – verbal and visual – in a way that you did by atttending so they're the ones I did feel kind of bad for.
    This is probably going to sound flippant (and apologies if it does) but another point is, if you felt that seeing the cartoons, even at a distance, made you complicit in the violence and uproar that they had caused, you could have closed your eyes or left the room when the person was showing them. I can't remember for sure but I think there was a little bit of warning before the person held them up.
    Leave the room/cover your eyes is the same trick my parents taught me when boobies or scary parts of a movie came on TV when I was young. I won't get into a discussion of whether children should be prevented from seeing nudity or violence although it's related to what we're talking about here.
    If it was offensive enough, you could also have chosen to walk out of the event completely. I went to see *Borat* the week it came out in London where it was playing to a packed house. An usher announced that there would be some scenes with nudity that people may might offensive. The movie started and when one of those scenes came on, three people (paying customers too, not just people attending a free event like you were) chose to get up and leave….which, again, is their right.
    Hope that all makes sense – thanks for your thoughts!

    Posted 24 Jan 2007 at 6:08 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    “And anyhow, if you can't hold up something like that at a Freedom of Expression event, where *can* you hold it up?”
    Which is why I didn't even consider complaining to organizers or management. Although, I was only there for a pint not for the event specifically. (It was sort of like going for a pint and being pleasantly surprised that there is a band playing.)
    Anyway, I still think that even outside of a mosque one has and should continue to have the right to hold up those cartoons. I would, however, question that individual's motives, goals and perhaps sense of decorum.

    Posted 24 Jan 2007 at 3:22 pm
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    That was early in my times at FIMS (plus I was a bit stressed out that night) so I didn't remember you being there (might not have even known you.)
    Did you join one of the FIMS tables when the event started? Or were you at the table with all of us at the end? I remember meeting a big group of people at the end, many for the first time, but who they all were is pretty much a blur.

    Posted 25 Jan 2007 at 9:25 am

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: