Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2005)

 What makes Muslims (and Hindus) laugh? The quest for the answer to this question is the theme of the movie “Looking for Comedy in The Muslim World” (2005). The movie starring Albert Brooks, who played himself, is a low-key, simple story describing the US Government’s attempt to better understand the Muslim world by understanding what constitutes humor in the muslim world.

In the movie, Abert Brooks plays an out-of-work comedian who is sent to India by the US government to look for humor in the Muslim world. He is asked to spend four weeks in India and turn in a 500-page report on this topic. He eventually spends two weeks in India, trying to interview people on roads, doing a stand-up comedy show, and crossing illegally into Pakistan to meet with some ‘comedians’.  His efforts don’t help him learn much, but his naive remarks and actions do lead to an escalation of situation between India and Pakistan, two countries that have been at war since the British divided India into two countries.

I have to admit that the movie is not my favorite. It does not have a tight storyline and the humor was somewhat subtle. I do find it interesting, however, that I didn’t get many of the jokes in the movie till my American students or colleagues explained them to me. As the movie highlights, humor definitely is cultural-specific. The one cool thing about the movie is that we will be visiting several of the places shown in the movie- The Red Fort, India Gate, Taj Mahal (which Albert missed seeing because he was engaged in a heated conversation), Rajiv Chowk (where his Indian office was), and Old Delhi. (In fact, students who noticed a building called ‘Ambadeep’ near Albert’s office, will see the same building in Delhi when we visit Rajiv Chowk, the heart of Delhi’s tourist circuit).

Outsourced (2007)

outsourced1Outsourced (2007) is a comedy about Todd Anderson, VP of customer relations at a phone-order company in Seattle. One day Todd learns that the work of his entire department is being outsourced to India where salaries are much lower. Todd is expected to go to India, train the workers there, and find a replacement for himself. When he reaches India, Todd finds himself in a country that is vastly different from where he grew up, a culture that he can not connect to, and a language he can not understand. Todd soon learns that the only way to be comfortable in his new life in India is to not resist the Indian culture, but assimilate with it. Todd’s funny (and sometimes aburd!) adventures in India are the story of this movie.

You would have to be living on another planet not to have heard about some poor worker in the US (or another western country) who was asked to find and train his or her (usually his!) replacement in India or China. One such story becomes the starting point of the movie Outsourced. Though the movie relies heavily on stereotypes about U.S. and India, it does present a hilarious (though fictionalized) account of an American’s first visit to small-town India.

The movie is certainly worth watching for a first-time visitor to India, a westerner who wants to join an Indian company for job or internship, and people interested in cross-cultural issues.

Smoking Room (2002)

 Smoking Room is a spanish-language, english-subtitled movie about a middle-level executive Ramirez (Eduard Fernandez) who is outraged when the U.S.-based top management of his company decides to ban smoking in the whole office building. Ramirez believes that this mandate is being imposed on his office without regard to the acceptability and pervasiveness of smoking in the Spanish culture. He sets out on a signature campaign against the smoking-ban rule. At first he finds a few colleagues who support his petition, but he soon becomes embroiled in office politics where every body has their own agenda and loyalties are changed with convenience.

Anyone who spends some time thinking about smoking will realize that it has gone from being completely accepted in many countries (including in the United States) to becoming a socially unacceptable practice. most public places now ban smoking, movies and TV shows are encouraged (or required) to not associate glamor with smoking, and smokers are expected to step out of the office (or go 20 feet away from the office) if they want to light up. The glamor associated with smoking has almost gone, and now smoking is associated with diseases like cancer and bad health. In such an environment, are companies discriminating against smokers when they are required to go out if they want to smoke (sometimes in freezing cold and sometimes in burning heat)? And, if smokers do take smoking breaks during work hours, should companies allow non-smokers to take equivalent breaks too? (Click here for a pro-smoking blog and here for an anti-smoking blog). Smoking in the workplace raises a number of questions. Smoking Room doesn’t answer any/all of them, but it does make them more salient. (Interestingly, it seems like employers are now testing for nicotine smoking like they test for drugs and alcohol).

The movie is really slow and not very engaging. Plus, it’s in a spanish, with English subtitles. If you can use non-English language movies with your audience, this may be a good movie to consider.

Swimming with Sharks (1994)

 Swimming with Sharks (1994) is the story of a young, ambitious Hollywood executive Guy (Frank Whaley) who gets a job as a personal assistant to a Hollywood movie mogul Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey). Guy is fresh out of school and looks forward to working with Buddy to learn the movie business. Unfortunately, Buddy turns out to be an abusive boss who treats his employees like slaves, abuses them verbally, physically, and emotionally, and publicly humiliates them. Buddy’s behavior is so abusive that it not only affects Guy psychologically and emotionally, it also has a tremendous impact on his relationship with Dawn (Michelle Forbes0, a young movie producer. Finally, when Guy has had enough, he takes matters in his own hands and decides to show Buddy how it feels to be abused and humiliated.

This movie is about abusive workplace behavior. The fact that it is set in Hollywood, the dream destination of many young people, makes it an interesting watch! It shows many behaviors that abusive supervisors use against their employees. The scene where Guy needs to go to the bathroom but Buddy does not let him go certainly takes abusive supervision to a whole different level. When Guy complains about the way he is treated, Buddy is dismissive of him. Buddy’s attitude towards Guy’s complaints is that he just has to learn how to be tough and take it like a man, if he wants to succeed. (Click here if you want to read about abusive supervision at United States Postal Service, a high-visibility employer in the United States!). Just as in the movie, it is not uncommon for abusive supervision to lead to workplace violence. Click here if you want to read the No-Axxhxxe-Rule some recommend for employees who feel they may be in an abusive workplace.

The movie is somewhat slow, but it is a good movie is for courses or classes discussing abusive supervision, deviant work place behavior, human resource management, and organizational behavior.

The Last Castle (2001)

 A renowned military tactician and highly decorated officer General Irwin (Robert Redford) is court martialed and sent to a top-security military prison. The warden of the prison Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini) is a big admirer of General Irwin, but the relationship between the two soon turns frosty and then ugly as General Irwin publicly disagrees with the Irwin’s management style. The confrontation between the legendary general and the iron-fisted warden soon becomes a full-fledged war and the only outcome the general and the prison inmates are willing to accept is a change in the prison management. In the end, Irwin loses his life, but Winter is removed from his position and imprisoned.

The Last Castle (2001) is a story about leadership. The military has historically provided great examples of effective leadership around countries worldiwde. Many of America’s great leaders (e.g. Washington, Eisenhower) have come from the military. The same is true for many other countries of the world (e.g. Kemal Pasha Ataturk in Turkey). But there is no one leadership style that all military leaders have. There is General George Patton and there is General Dweight Eisenhower. The movie does an effective job of showing two distinctive leadership styles and how both men-Irwin and Winter- thought what they were doing was right. Their leadership had tremendous consequences for the people who followed them, and that is what makes it difficult for a leader to understand what to do in any situation.

A good movie for a leadership class!

Disclosure (1994)

Disclosure (1994) is a movie about a computer scientist Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas) who is sexually harrased by his new boss Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore). Meredith offers him a secure career and a corporate fast track if he satisfies her secual fantasies and has sex with her. Sanders is happily married with two kids and rejects Meredith’s advances. The next day he learns that Meredith has complained to the management that he tried to rape her. He decides to press charges related to sexual harrasment against Meredith. Management wants him to settle the case and move to another division, so the proposed merger of the company with a bigger company can go off peacefully. Sanders fights back and pursues the case to get Meredith punished for her behavior.

The movie about sexual harrasment of a man by a woman boss challenges the audience to think. As one of Sanders’ colleagues tells him “Who has ever heard of a women sexually harrasing a man!” (my paraphrasing). Sexual harrasment was once considered a problem that involved a male boss asking his female subordinate for sexual favors. However, as an increasing number of women move up in the corporate hierarchy the nature of sexual harrasment is changing. If sexual harrasment is about power and control as many believe, anybody (regardless of sex) may perpetuate it and victimize another person. However, as the movie demonstrates so well, social beliefs about a ‘man-on-woman’ model of sexual harrasment are so pervasive that a man who complains about being sexually harrased by a female boss is likely to have a difficult time proving his innocence and the other person’s guilt!

The movie is recommended for human resource management, organizational behavior, and business law classes. It is entertaining and thought-provoking!

Other People’s Money (1991)

 “What is a business worth?” For Larry the liquidator (played by Danny DeVito) a business is worth the price of its stock, for Jorgy, the entrepreneur who inherited the New England Wire and Cable Company from his father, a business is about the people associated with it. The tension between these two perspectives- The shareholder view of financial economics and the stakeholder view of management- provides the basic story for the movie Other People’s Money (1991). Larry the liquidator is always on the lookout for good companies that he can buy and sell to make a profit. One day he comes across a small firm New England Wire and Cable Company that was ably managed by the second-generation of the founding family and was completely debt-free. When Larry’s offer to buy the company is refused by the owners, he pursues a hostile take-over. Larry’s attempts for the hostile takeover are repeatedly stalled by Kate, the step-daughter of Jorgy. Finally, the shareholders are asked to vote on whether they want to keep the company private and retain the existing management, or are willing to let Larry acquire the company so he could sell it and make a good profit for the shareholders. (You can check out a more detailed summary of the movie here.)

The movie is a romantic-comedy. It does a good job of presenting hostile takeovers and corporate acquisitions in a fun way. Companies, big and small, can be attractive targets for takeover and acquisition for a variety of reasons. The movie effectively portrays how a company which is apparently being run well (i.e. the management is honest and caring and the company is completely debt free) may be attractive to corporate raiders who can help shareholders get a better return for their money. The management of the company, like Jorgy in the movie, try their best to defend against these attacks using a number of tactics. The recent Microsoft-Yahoo story relates well to the movie. Microsoft made an offer to acquire Yahoo, but Jerry Yang the founder CEO of yahoo did not want to sell his company. He was able to stall the offer for a while, force Microsoft to make a better offer, and convince his board to finally reject the offer. However, as is well known, Yahoo’s problems are far from over. If the management of Yahoo is not able to come up with a plan to strategically redefine and reposition Yahoo soon (as Jorgy’s step-daughter was able to do in the movie), the days of Yahoo as an independent company may very well be numbered.

The movie is certainly worth watching, especially for students and instructors interested in topics related to corporate strategy, acquisition, diversification, takeovers, and entrepreneurship.