In this new series for Research group Change Management, I am watching and talking about movie clips with colleagues and students. The film fragment is first of all framed by the movie maker, and afterwards viewers makes sense of it with their own framing perspective. The aim of this blog is to look at the selected scene from an International Business (IB) education context: in my case framing it as an IB lecturer/researcher of critical thinking education connecting it to film. For this second episode I am framing a fragment from the movie Nightcrawler (2014) with Professor Jacco van Uden, who opened the world of connecting business to art for me. First by organizing the film festival Corporate Bodies, where films were shown to reflect on organizations. Later by having me join research group Change Management at THUAS, which he is heading. Jacco is great at connecting people and ideas, and making unusual combinations. He has quite a bit to say about this scene:

Jacco: This scene is kind of representative for what I find most interesting about this movie Nightcrawler. It’s a good movie. It’s sick, it’s scary, but there’s a layer to it that I find very interesting, being a professor of Change Management, interested in the field of Organization Studies.  So the main character, Louis “Lou” Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), he’s this weirdo: a person trying to trying to make a buck and he’s willing to do it at any cost, and that becomes impossible.

But what is interesting about it is that he isn’t this bold, unsophisticated kind of person. He has adapted a business language and that is also what this scene is about.

On a very explicit level he applies the language of business to the stuff that he’s doing. And it’s pretty gruesome stuff because he’s this reporter that wants to be at a crime scene first, because then you get the goriest most bloodiest images that you can find. You will sell it off to any news station that is interested, to the highest bidder. Lou goes as far as to create his own crime scenes, because then obviously for sure he knows he’s going to be there first. What I like about it is that he uses this language to basically legitimize everything that he does.

Wypkje: This scene goes straight away into this type of business language.  It’s s very long shot of a conversation between Lou and the morning news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) – they’re walking through the news room and he’s complimenting her on how she handled a negotiation, but Nina doesn’t really seem to listen. At a certain point she even starts checking her phone, but she turns around when Lou actually says he has had no formal education, but that you can find almost anything on the internet if you look hard enough. Why does she turn around at that moment?

Jacco: And the music also starts playing. It’s almost romantic Disney like –  showing that this is an important moment. What he says is that: ‘Well, hey, I didn’t have a formal education but I just love what I’m doing and I happen to be very good at what I’m doing. So I’m the guy for you.’ I think this is also what the movie wants to emphasize is that there is a great deal of attractiveness going on in the business language because of that framing – the talking about strength and weaknesses and that everything is  a decision.  You can focus on strengthening your strength or strengthening your weaknesses – everything is possible. So it aligns really well with the dark side of the American dream that you can achieve almost everything. It also comes together in this shot because Lou really tells Nina what she wants to hear – I will do anything to become really good and you as my future boss will benefit from this.

Wypkje: Normally I would be happy if students were able to use all this language in my classes because he’s very good at using the correct words in the correct phrasing. For most of my students it’s a second language, so you want them to become very good at this business speak and be able to express themselves and be able to know their own strengths well. When they do this we would feel that we succeeded as teachers. But it’s very spooky in this film. You can also see it in this scene, especially the nonverbal clues. He is impersonating a coyote especially with his eyes.

Jacco: As a thought experiment we asked students before:  ‘So what if you limit yourself to the transcript of this scene and you didn’t see this guy and you didn’t know what he was up to and you haven’t already seen him at work. What would you then think?’ Well, it would be just a business meeting and it makes perfect sense. This is how things go. Nice clean language.

This idea of being able to speak proper business speak is something that we train our students to do because we offer them a frame, a language discourse. And we say, if you look at the world in these terms, here is a problem or a situation. Now go out and make a SWOT analysis. And it is a way of trying to make sense of a situation that would otherwise remain ambiguous in terms of analysis. But if you say, well, it has strength, but it also has weaknesses. There are opportunities, and there are threats to this situation. Suddenly it becomes something which you can act upon because you can strengthen the strength. Or you can try to get away, get rid of the weaknesses and there’s opportunities that you can see. And there’s threats that you want to avoid, so it creates this zone of action if you like, that we in the future business studies are so fond of because this is what we do, we are very much future oriented. So we equip our students with a language that facilitates that.

The very fact that Lou is such a creepy guy is also helpful because his plans are actually absolutely hideous.  But when the main character wears nice suits and it is all presented in a language as a win-win situation, and there are no people literally dying in the streets, as is the case in this film, but they’re dying behind the scenes because they work as cheap labor under very difficult, if not dangerous circumstances in a factory in Bangladesh. That’s all being sort of kept out of the picture, well-hidden. And here this is not the case.

It could be easy for students to say: ‘well, this is such an extreme example. This doesn’t say anything about the business language.’ But you as a teacher can use it as a conversation starter.

Wypkje: So you feel that this really helps – this type of movie and clip helps students to think about what business speak is actually saying?

Jacco: You need to familiarize yourself as a student with the language first before you will be able to act on it in this way, I realize. I think you need to be trained into seeing that the business language is indeed a language and that it enables you to say certain things, but it also hides away or takes your eyes away from other stuff. Business language doesn’t even have words like victims, right? Yeah, you have winners and losers, but you don’t have people dying from starvation because of the poor working conditions in this kind of language.

What Lou does in Nightcrawler seems like a reasonable business model until you realize that it’s sick.

Researcher for Change Management, investigating film, education & critical thinking. Continuing Corporate Bodies with Filmhuis Den Haag. Also lecturer for IBMS, all at THUAS.

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