Media Ethics Goes to the Movies is a study of moral and professional conduct within various communications contexts through the frame of Hollywood's camera. This course will look at how the motion picture industry has portrayed the people and the profession involved with newspapers and television. The goals of Media Ethics Goes to the Movies are to provide you with the ability to recognize and analyze ethical issues. Through successful completion of course readings and assignmentsand through active participation in the discussionsyou will be able to identify and analyze ethical issues in motion pictures and in your own life.
Unique Meeting Time and Location:
It is always best to watch a motion picture in as original a context as possible. Through a special arrangement with the New Crystal Theater, this course will take place in a movie theater.
Additional Resources, Journals and Web Sites:
Attend & Participation
Choose any five movies to write a three-page paper articulating the ethical issues at stake and your position based on a motion picture seen in the class. Each of your commentaries should address these questions:
1. Who are the moral agents?
2. What are the ethical issues at stake?
3. What would you do and why?
Write a 5-page paper (graduate students must write a 15-page paper) that analyzes an ethical dilemma and its resolution as portrayed within a motion picture seen in the class. In your paper you should identify and briefly describe what appear to be the major issues, select and detail the one you feel is the most important of these issues, and develop appropriate guidelines that will caution other media professionals about this ethical challenge.
Other Media Ethics-Related Motion Pictures:
Since the invention of the motion picture medium, there have been over 2,000 movies that either featured the mass media or contained characters that worked in mass communications. For a partial (and yet fairly complete) list of movies, see Kristie Alley Swain's list at journalism.tamu.edu/web1/Undergrad/Course/JOUR440/films.htm.
Every student taking the course for credit is required to complete a mid-term exam. The examination is of the take-home type and will consist of not more than five short answer questions. You will use a standard blue book to write your answers for the exam. The mid-term is due June 26.
Attendance and Participation:
Your attendance is mandatory. Before every motion picture showing, an attendance sheet will be distributed for you to sign. An absence that is not excused before the class (through voice mail, e-mail, personal visit, and so on) will result in five points subtracted from your attendance grade. Participation is a qualitative judgment by the instructor as to the quality of your opinions during the discussion periods. Attendance and participation grades will count five percent each toward your final grade.
Special Needs and Requirements:
If you require some accommodation for any reason in order for you to participate fully with this course, I encourage you to discuss the matter with me.
Ethical issues are sometimes touchy matters. It is quite possible that the discussions after each motion picture may involve subject areas that are highly controversial and upsetting to you on a personal level. The instructor will endeavor at all times to respect heart-felt and thoughtful opinion. It is expected that you will do the same. Name calling or outrageously intolerant speech will not be tolerated.
Week of May 29--Introduction: Ethics and Movie Making
Movie: His Girl Friday (1940). 92 minutes. Directed by Howard Hawks and stars Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. Hildy Johnson is tired of his newspaper job and is determined to quit to get married. Her scheming editor, Walter Burns, has other plans.
Read: "Hacks on Film," by Chip Rowe, (on reserve).
"Sisters," by Howard Good, (on reserve).
Film review by Tim Dirks, available at www.filmsite.org/hisg.html.
Week of June 4--Media Ethics in the 1940s
Movie: Citizen Kane (1941). 119 minutes. Directed by Orson Welles and stars Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. Multimillionaire newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies alone in his extravagant mansion, Xanadu, speaking a single word, "Rosebud." In an attempt to figure out the meaning of this word, a reporter tracks down the people who worked and lived with Kane.Read: "Chapter 13," by Paul Lester, (on reserve).
Week of June 11-- Media Ethics in the 1950s
Movie: Sweet Smell of Success (1957). 96 minutes. Directed by Alexander MacKendrick and stars Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. J.J. Hunsecker, a powerful New York columnist in the style of Walter Winchell, elicits the aid of a press agent to ruin the career of a jazz musician who is dating his sister.Film synopsis available at this link.
Week of June 18-- Media Ethics in the 1960s
Movie: Medium Cool (1969). 110 minutes. Directed by Haskell Wexler and stars Robert Forster and Peter Boyle. John Cassellis is the toughest TV-news-reporter around. He becomes an expert in reporting about violence in the ghetto and racial tensions. But he discovers that his network helps the FBI by letting them look at his tapes to find suspects. When he protests he is fired and goes to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Read: Film review by Steve Leggett, available at: lcweb.loc.gov/film/nfrser1.html.
Week of June 25-- Media Ethics in the 1970s
NOTE: The mid-term exam is due this week.
Movie: Network (1976). 116 minutes. Directed by Sidney Lumet and stars Faye Dunaway and William Holden. Howard Beale, an aging UBS news anchor, has lost his once strong ratings share and so the network fires him. Beale reacts in an unexpected way.
Read: "The Ethical Dimensions of Art and Entertainment," by Patterson, (on reserve).
Film review by Tim Dirks, available at: www.filmsite.org/netw.html.
Week of July 2-- Media Ethics in the 1970s
Movie: All the President's Men (1976). 138 minutes. Directed by Alan J, Pakula and stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. In the run-up to the 1972 elections, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward covers what seems to be a minor break-in at the Democratic Party National headquarters. The editor of the Post is prepared to run with the story and assigns Woodward and Carl Bernstein to it. They find the trail leading higher and higher in the Republican Party, and eventually into the White House itself.Film review by Brian Koller, available at: briankoller.epinions.com/mvie-review-6C8-5EECFB1-37E548E5-bd4.
Week of July 9-- Media Ethics in the 1980s
Movie: Absence of Malice (1981). 116 minutes. Directed by Sidney Pollack and stars Sally Field and Paul Newman. Paul Newman plays the son of a long dead Mafia boss who is a simple liquor warehouse owner. Frustrated in his attempt to solve a murder of a union head, a prosecutor leaks a false story that Newman is a target of the investigation.
Read: "Absence of Malice," by Howard Good, (on reserve).
"Code of Ethics," Society of Professional Journalists, (on reserve).
Film review by Walter Frith, available at: us.imdb.com/Reviews/96/9684.
Week of July 16-- Media Ethics in the 1980s
Movie: Under Fire (1983). 128 minutes. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode and stars Nick Nolte and Ed Harris. Star photographer Russell Price covers the civil war against President Somoza. Facing the cruel fightingpeople versus armyit's often hard for him to stay neutral.
Read: Film review by Brian Koller, available at: briankoller.epinions.com/mvie-review-146A-AB3E0B9-38ACB3A0-prod7.
Week of July 23-- Media Ethics in the 1990s
Movie: Up Close and Personal (1996). 124 minutes. Directed by Jon Avnet and stars Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. This is a telling of the Jessica Savitch story, the newswoman who, in the 1970's, became the "First Woman Anchor."
Read: "Up Close and Personal," by Howard Good, (on reserve).
"Jessica Savitch," by Ross Griffiths, available at: www.findadeath.com/Decesed/s/Jessica%20Savitch/jessica_savitch.htm.
Film review by Roger Ebert, available at: www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1996/03/1023031.html.
Week of July 30-- Media Ethics in the 1990s
Movie: edTV (1999). 122 minutes. Directed by Ron Howard and stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. A comedy about a video store clerk Ed whose life is thrown into chaos when he agrees to let an executive of a television studio film him for 24 hours.
Read: Film review by Paul Wunder, available at: www.pwunder.com/reviews/rev/edtv.html.
Friday, August 3: Final Paper Due at the Practical Ethics Center by 5:00pm.