Changing the narrative: business on film

Business creates and sustains jobs, provides families with financial security, and helps fund essential public services such as the NHS.  So why does it get such a bad reception? From politics and the media to the arts and culture, business is often a dirty word, best not spoken.  This is as true globally as it is in the UK.

There’s recently been much discussion on how role models in advertising shape the way people see the world and behave in it.  Clearly popular culture is central to our view of the world, so let’s look at one dominant area of popular culture.  Film.

In Hollywood or Pinewood, business films are often about the wrongs someone has done to another – and frequently many.  Just think about recent successes – The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short, the second instalment of Wall Street, even the Social Network – all of them have a strong narrative of wrongdoing at the core of the movie.  Add in earlier films such as Rogue Trader, American Psycho and the original Wall Street and a whole generation have been fed a diet that business is bad.

It’s easy to say that these are just the stories that get made into big budget films.  After all, we enjoy watching David versus Goliath stories.  We also have a penchant for conflict, wrongdoing and excess on the big screen – whether that’s someone in business or a comic book superhero.

But there are a dearth of films where business is the David to another Goliath that help redress the balance. This vacuum, where business is only perceived as a vehicle for people to do wrong, creates its own momentum. In such an environment, added to a heady cocktail of negative media and a lack of political engagement, is it such a surprise that waves of anti-business sentiment has permeated across the globe?

But it doesn’t need to be like this.

Take sport.  You could argue that sport exhibits many of the same excesses that business does. Extremely high pay, sometimes cheating, a lack of consideration for the fans.  However, think about successful sporting films – in these the central character is the David triumphing over adversity’s Goliath. Moneyball, Chariots of Fire, Rocky or even my favourite, ahem, Mighty Ducks, all display this central premise.

There’s no reason that the same narrative of business overcoming adversity for the benefit of all can’t go for businessmen and women who have done the same thing. What about life-saving drugs developed by passionate scientists in big pharma? Consumer goods companies that are drastically reducing carbon emissions? What about tech firms that are democratising education?

Business has a bad reputation.  We need to change the narrative and make the case for business.  Yes, we also need to expose and root out those that exploit workers or customers and have immoral practices.  But that should be in the context that we support those that provide jobs and fund our much-needed public services.

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