Category: Business and Society

A very, very interesting piece in WSJ this week detailing a study by the Business and Media Institute that looks at how businesspeople are portrayed on television:

The study, titled “Bad Company,” looked at the top 12 TV dramas during May and November in 2005, ranging from crime shows like “CSI” to the goofy “Desperate Housewives.” Out of 39 episodes that featured business-related plots, the study found, 77% advanced a negative view of the world of commerce and its practitioners.

On the various “Law & Order” shows, for instance, almost 50% of felonies — mostly murders — were committed by businessmen. In almost all of the primetime programs, when private-sector protagonists showed up, they were usually doing something unethical, cruel or downright criminal.

All businessmen have greasy hair and wear suspenders. TV tells me so.

Of course, the question is which came first, the chicken or the egg, the negative stereotype of the entrepreneur in the general public, or the stories that largely portray entrepreneurs in a negative light? The study’s author, Dan Gainor:

Over time, he says, plots that ritually make entrepreneurs the bad guys have a pernicious effect: “This becomes part of our collective worldview. We think all businessmen are somehow scummy. We think you had to lie, cheat or murder to get ahead.”

Gainor attributes these portrayals as the result of “a shrinking roster of available villains, in a universe where capitalists, along with aliens and Nazis, are one of the few groups left that it is safe to demonize.”

Poor Jack. Does he ever have a GOOD day?

In other words, cliche. Bad art. Pulp. Uncreative writers. Formulaic problem solving. But ought we be surprised? There is not much on television that we could label the paragon of narrative art (although, there are a few very quality shows, 24 not being one of them…sorry folks, if your show depends on Kiefer Sutherland angrily shouting at least five lines per episode, you’ve hit a wall).

So first of all, I think we need to keep things in perspective: this is not a rash of negative portrayals in deeply profound pieces of art. Most of these portrayals (at least the ones I am familiar with) are strawmen, paper tigers; in a word, silliness.

But a dangerous silliness. For on the other hand, we have to understand that television is influential, and even if the chicken did come before the egg, the egg will create another chicken. There are not a whole lot of people who readily recognize how silly this sterotype is, especially since it shows up so often.

So how does one stem the tide? What resources exist to bring this silliness to light, to help right this stereotype of business? Click here for one (slightly self-promoting) answer. Tell your friends!

Every morning I make a point checking out euobserver.com for unintentionally hilarious news about the workings of the EU bureaucracy.

Yesterday there was this article about an internship program with a twist. Instead of students coming to Brussels, this one is designed for 350 EU senior officials to spend time with small- and medium-sized businesses in member states.

“We don’t need an ivory tower policy,” commented Mr Verheugen, suggesting that by acquiring such a “hands-on experience” in SMEs, the commission’s administrators will understand their problems better and become their “ambassadors.” [….]

Its secretary-general Hans-Werner Muller has welcomed the new initiative, arguing that visiting officials will be able to see for themselves “how the small size of micro-businesses makes them more vulnerable to excessive, unnecessary or over-complex legislation.”

“We hope they take this message back to Brussels,” added Mr Muller.

It may very well be a good idea but I’d suggest something more radical to help the business climate in Europe – cutting the number of senior officials in Brussels permanently. Less officials could mean less regulations and more economic growth for those trying to make an honest living on the Old Continent. Surely these apparatchiks must have some marketable skills….

Nipsey Russell (1918-2005)

I was flipping stations tonight and passed the Game Show Network, which was showing reruns of Match Game ’74. Nipsey Russell, the so-called “Poet Laureate of Television,” began the show with this poem for prosperity:

To slow down this recession,

and make this economy thrive,

give us our social security now,

we’ll go to work when we’re sixty-five.

Dr. Mart Laar, former prime minister of Estonia, discusses the relevance for the papal encyclical Centesimus Annus for Europe today. “The message of Centesimus Annus is not a message of left or right. It is a universal message of hope. We can see these same ideas in most groups working on the future of Europe. The only problem is in finding political leaders ready to implement them in reality,” he writes.

Read Dr. Mart Laar’s full commentary here.

Read about Racine, Wisconsin in the New York Times, “On Lake Michigan, a Global Village,” by Steve Lohr. Gary Becker is mayor of Racine, and according to the article, “Racine’s future, Mr. Becker believes, lies in forging stronger links with the regional economy and global markets. Reinvention can be unnerving, he acknowledges, but he says it is his hometown’s best shot at prosperity and progress.”

“In the past, Racine was a self-contained economy,” Becker said. “But that is not an option anymore.” A key observation is that “in a world where new technologies can quickly upend an industry and China and India loom large on the economic horizon, nobody knows exactly which businesses and skills will prove to be winners.” That’s one reason that government programs to promote specific types of research as the “next big thing” are ill-advised.

The current and previous administrations of the state of Michigan, for example, have decided that life sciences, alternative energy, advanced automotive, manufacturing and materials, and homeland security and defense are “the four competitive-edge technologies” that should receive government subsidy.

The NYT article highlights the work of Olatoye Baiyewu, a Nigerian immigrant who “runs a program to train young, inner-city men as apprentices to electricians, plumbers, carpenters and cement masons.”

A host of Christian and secular commentators have trumpeted the similarities between Superman and Jesus Christ in light of the forthcoming movie, Superman Returns.

Many Christians embraced the Superman hero when a trailer for the new movie was released using the words of Superman’s father Jor-El, voiced by Marlon Brando: “Even though you’ve been raised as a human being you’re not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I sent them you… my only son.”

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I point instead to the fundamental differences between the two. I am concerned that Christians are being unwittingly exploited by Hollywood spin doctors: “Christians risk undermining our own influence when we simply latch on to the pop icon of the moment in undiscerning and uncritical ways.”

In an interview with CT Movies this week, Superman Returns director Bryan Singer acknowledges the intentionality of the spiritual allegories for Superman, “Christ being a natural one, because Superman’s a savior. And even more so in my film, because he’s gone for a period of time, and then he returns. For me to say that those messianic images don’t exist in the movie would be absurd.”

Read the full commentary here (cross-posted to Blogcritics.org).

“I’m not in any way a violent person, but I enjoy getting out there and fighting when I can.”

–Blake Cater, 22, of Burlington, NC, who videotapes backyard fights with his friends and broadcasts them on the web.

More on Cater and the amateur fighting video phenomenon from today’s Washington Post, “On the Web, Punch and Click,” by Paul Farhi.

Also check out a related commentary of mine, “Our Slap-Happy Slide into Techno-Violence,” in which I argue, “The market must be supported and bounded by moral norms, guides for appropriate conduct and behavior. Where the market brings people into contact and relationship, it will also reflect the disruption of sin in the human community. So when the culture supports and promotes violence, it should be no surprise that the market efficiently distributes products that reflect this corruption. The two mutually reinforce one another, sending things into a degenerating spiral of violence.”

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
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“Be fruitful and multiply,” the Book of Genesis commands. Unfortunately, many modern nations are on the opposite track. Once worried about a phony “population bomb,” countries as diverse as Russia and South Korea are now wondering if they will shrink into irrelevance. Kevin Schmiesing looks at the cultural, religious and economic forces that produce healthy, hopeful societies.

Read Kevin’s commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
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Jack Black stars as the title character in this campy salute to Lucha Libre, or freestyle wrestling, a hallmark of popular Latin culture. In Nacho Libre, Black’s character begins as the lowly Ignacio, an orphan who grew up at a Catholic mission, and who has now become one of the mission brothers. Ever since his youth, Ignacio has dreamed of becoming a luchador, a flamboyant and famous wrestler.

Instead, Ignacio serves at the mission, caring for a new generation of needy orphans. When Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera) arrives to be the orphans’ new teacher, Ignacio has even more incentive to become successful and wealthy so that he can impress the attractive young nun. Thus, Ignacio’s motives are not entirely pure, and indeed, he must keep his burgeoning young wrestling career a secret, because Lucha Libre is condemned by the Catholic mission.

Lucha Libre, it seems, is seen as a form of idolatry, as the wrestlers seek only praise and wealth for themselves. Indeed, Ignacio’s interaction with the luchadores confirms this, as Ramses, who Ignacio acknowledges is “the best,” turns out to be a less than charitable figure.

But Ignacio will not be denied his destiny, and so he dons the persona of Nacho Libre once a week to wrestle with his tag team partner Esqueleto, well-played by Hຜtor Jiménez. The pair are rather inept wrestlers, but are such lovable losers that they become crowd favorites and are well-paid despite their incompetence. But this is not enough for Nacho, who has visions, perhaps delusions, of greatness. He wants to win.

Jack Black stars as Nacho Libre.


Ignacio’s desire to reach his own destiny can been seen as a response to his perceived calling in life, otherwise known as his vocation, an idea which has a rich tradition in Christian theology. Vocation is literally “a calling,” and it is clear that Ignacio’s desire to become a luchador has been deeply implanted with him since his youth.

The dramatic tension enters into the equation because of the Church’s disapproval of Ignacio’s dream profession. This speaks to the difficulty faced when a person is convinced of a calling that is in an industry that is wholly condemned by ecclesiastical authorities. To be sure, there are some professions in which it is impossible to be both a Christian and remain in that line of work. But perhaps, thinks Ignacio, wrestling is not one of them. He can see some clear good that luchadores might do, not the least of which is in providing hopeless orphans a positive role model.

Is Ignacio’s perceived calling merely his own vain self-seeking ambition or a legitimate vocation from God? In some ways, Ignacio’s efforts can be seen as done by one who seeks to reform the Church’s understanding of this worldly profession. In this way Ignacio/Nacho acts as a more mundane and contemporary analogue to the more famous reforms advocated by Martin Luther in the sixteenth-century. When Luther left the Augustinian monastery and the celibate priesthood, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it was a “return from the cloister to the world,” and “the worst blow the world had suffered since the early days of Christianity.” To be sure, Ignacio’s attempts at reform are far less dramatic and consequential, but we can see a parallel in the effort to carve out some validity for the Christian pursuit of a secular calling.

But it is only when Ignacio comes to the realization that his calling is not simply about his own edification but the service of others that he enjoys a measure of wrestling success. Ignacio’s epiphany seems to truly come home as he acts out a Jonah-like trek into the wilderness, constructing a makeshift shelter on the edge of the village after his wrestling exploits are exposed and he is ejected from the monastery (see Jonah 4:5).

This illustrates another truth about the Christian concept of vocation, in that this calling is in every case a calling to serve others rather than simply yourself. In this sense Bonhoeffer also writes, “Only in so far as the Christian’s secular calling is exercised in the following of Jesus does it receive from the gospel new sanction and justification.” At first Ignacio’s selfish ambitions overshadow his desire to do good for the orphans and the mission, but his calling to serve is finally affirmed by the Church when he makes it clear that he is intent on sacrificing and serving the best interests of the orphans.

Those viewers who are fans of Jack Black will not be disappointed, as the movie in large part serves as a vehicle for his brand of dynamic and madly physical comedic stylings. The film is directed by Jared Hess, made famous by his direction of the cult hit Napoleon Dynamite (2004). Nacho Libre shares some of the same quirkiness of dialogue as the previous film, although it is not quite so charming and entertaining the second time around. Some of the scenes do not noticeably advance the plot, and seem more like excuses for Jack Black to be entertaining than to fit seamlessly into the flow of the film.

Even so, Nacho Libre is an entertaining movie, although fans of Jack Black and those at least familiar with Lucha Libre will have much more to enjoy. In the end, Nacho Libre rates as not a quarter, nor a half, nor a full, but rather a three-quarter nelson (3 out of 4 arms).


This post has been crossposted to Blogcritics.org.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
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It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which seriously damaged the institution of property rights.

The Institute for Justice marks the occasion with a series of reports that contain bad news and good. The bad news is that Kelo does appear to have had a deleterious effect, emboldening local governments to seize private property at increasing rates. The good news is that Kelo backlash has resulted in a number of legislative attempts to curb eminent domain abuse.

HT: John J. Miller at The Corner on NRO