‘The good news is you’re fired. The bad news is you’ve got, all of you’ve got a week to regain your jobs starting tonight.’

Set in and around a seedy real estate office, David Mamet’s take on the capitalist system is a powerful demonstration of how unfairness and inequity produces unethical behavior.  I’ve shown the whole film (it’s an hour and 40 minutes long) or just clips.  A very good clip that is often available on youtube is the speech by Alec Baldwin that sets up the film’s action.  Baldwin gathers the salesmen, abuses them, and announces a sales contest in which the winner gets a new car, the runner up a set of steak knives and everyone else is fired.  One of the first things that Baldwin does in this speech is to aggressively diminish the salesmen’s view of themselves and their skills, calling them losers, weak, informing them he advised the company owners to fire them all because ‘a loser is a loser’, etc.  Surprisingly, a number of students will see this abuse as motivating, because they will want to prove the speaker wrong.

The film has lots of entertaining star power – David Mamet wrote the original stage and screenplays, and the ensemble cast includes Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris and an unforgettable cameo by Alec Baldwin.

This film, like much of Mamet’s work, has a bit of a fascination with swearing, so much so that the cast apparently nicknamed it ‘Death of a f***ing salesman’. However, my students typically find that the aggressive and sometimes desperate language is appropriate given the context and story.

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