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The Corporation defines this endlessly mutating life-form in exhaustive detail, measuring the many ways it has not only come to dominate but to deform our reality. The movie performs a running psychoanalysis of this entity with the characteristics of a prototypical psychopath: a callous unconcern for the feelings and safety of others, an incapacity to experience guilt, an ingrained habit of lying for profit, etc. We are swept away on a demented odyssey through an altered cosmos, in which artificial chemicals are created for profit and incidentally contribute to a cancer epidemic; in which the folks who brought us Agent Orange devise a milk-increasing drug for a world in which there is already a glut of milk; in which an American computer company leased its systems to the Nazis--and serviced them on a monthly basis--so that the Holocaust could go forward as an orderly process.
The movie goes on too long, circles too many points obsessively and redundantly, and risks preaching-to-the-choir reductiveness by calling on the usual talking-head suspects--Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Michael Moore. And except for an endlessly receding tracking shot in an infinite patents archive, there's scarcely an image worth recalling. Still, it maps the new reality. This is our world--welcome to it. --Richard T. Jameson
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The Corporation was spawned from Joel Balkan's in depth book, "The Corporation: A Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power". (Due to be released in March this year) The film and book begins in the 18th century, in the establishment of the 14th Amendment. Initially the 14th Amendment was designed after the Civil War to give ex slaves' legal rights, like any other citizen of the United States, but through a maze of legal precedents, the business corporation organization model was now deemed a "legal person" with all the civil rights accorded to a citizen. This highly absurd precedent has paved the way for corporations to literarily get away with murder, because a "corporation" is not an individual that you can put in jail. In effect, a corporation has no moral or social obligations; their only obligation is the pursuit of profit. This film offers numerous examples of unethical practices resulting in death for many people, and because of their status under the 14th Amendment, and endless legal loopholes, have gotten away with terrible crimes against humanity and the environment with no more than a fine, a mere slap on the wrist.
As the law treats corporations as "persons", Balkan thought it appropriate to put the various behaviours of these companies under psychological examination. What this psychological study illustrated is that corporations, as "persons" behave and display the symptoms of the clinical psychopath. A psychopath typically does not have a social conscience, is guilt free after committing heinous acts, and will destroy anything or anybody that prevents them from attaining the object of their particular obsession - in this case, the relentless pursuit of profit.
This documentary took several years to produce with over 650 hours of footage, director(s), Jennifer Abbot and Mark Achbar, had to chisel down this amazing amount of material into a comprehensible film. What is most astounding is the range of people interviewed for this film, that argue from all sides of the "corporation issue": Ira Jackson, Ray Anderson - CEO of Interface, the world's largest carpet manufacturer; Noam Chomsky, Richard Grossman, Howard Zinn, Michael Moore, Milton Freidman - Noble Prize winning economist; Jeremy Rifkin - President, Foundation of Economic Trends; Dr. Robert Hare - Consultant to the FBI on psychopaths, and many more individuals from all sides of the debate.
When Balkan wrote his book and then collaborated with Mark Achbar to produce this film, what they did not want was the film to appear as just some left-wing diatribe, attacking the corporations, but to illustrate to people how the corporation began, how they have evolved and what they could well turn into if the people do not become involved in the democratic process, ensuring our governments take back the reigns of power.
After viewing this film, it becomes all too evident that these large corporations have too much power, whose mandate is not the common good of the people, and who will go to any lengths, legally and otherwise, in the pursuit of profit and the bottom line.
I believe this is one of the best and most important documentary films to be made in many years.
In his book he notes that the modern corporation is "singularly self-interested and unable to feel genuine concern for others in any context." (p. 56) He adds that the corporation's sole reason for being is to enhance the profits and power of the corporation. He shows by citing court cases that it is the duty of management to make money and that any compromise with that duty is dereliction of duty.
Directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott bring these points and a slew of others to cinematic life through interviews, archival footage, and a fine narrative written by Achbar and Harold Crooks. The interviews cover a wide spectrum of opinion, from Michael Moore and Norm Chomsky on the left, to Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman on the right. Friedman is heard to agree with Bakan that the corporation's duty is to its stockholders and that anything that deviates from that duty is irresponsible.
What emerges is a view of the corporation as an entity working both for and against human welfare. Designed to turn labor and raw materials efficiently into goods and services and to thereby raise our standard of living, it has been a very effective tool for humans to use. On the other hand, because it is blind to anything but its own welfare, the corporation uses humans and the resources of the planet in ways that can be and often are detrimental to people and the environment. Corporations, to put it bluntly, foul the environment with their wastes and will not clean up unless forced to.
An interesting technique that Achbar and Abbott use is to go down the list of behaviors cited in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that identify the psychopathic personality and show how the corporation has all of those behaviors including a criminal disregard for the welfare and feelings of others and a complete absence of guilt. Indeed corporations feel no compunction when they break the law. Their only concern is whether breaking the law is cost-effective. The result is a nearly constant bending and breaking of the law. They pay the fine and then break the law again. The corporation, after all, has no conscience and feels no remorse.
Bakan notes that "corporations are designed to externalize their costs." The corporation is "deliberately programmed, indeed legally compelled, to externalize costs without regard for the harm it may cause to people, communities, and the natural environment. Every cost it can unload onto someone else is a benefit to itself, a direct route to profit." (pp. 72-73) We are shown how rivers are polluted, environments destroyed and people placed into something close to servitude by the corporation's insatiable lust to profit.
The answer to this, as presented in the film, is to make corporations pay for their pollution. What many people are proposing is the creation of bills or certificates that would allow the barer "the right to pollute." The cost of these bills would reflect the societal and environmental costs of the pollution. This sounds scary, but what it would do is make those who pollute pay for their pollution instead of having the costs be externalized as they are now. Consequently, to protect their bottom line, corporations would pollute less.
Another problem with the corporation as emphasized in the film is that the corporate structure is essentially despotic. It is not a democracy or anything close. The owners hire officers to exercise control over everyone who works for the corporation. This is in direct contrast to democratic governments whose officers are elected and who are subject to the checks and balances of a constitutional government with shared powers. It is true that if you are a shareholder of a corporation you may be able to indirectly vote for the CEO. However, such a "democracy" is a democracy of capital in which the electoral power is inequitably distributed. Some people have hundreds of millions of votes. How many does the average shareholder have?
Bakan, Achbar and Abbott play fair, and give both sides of the case--although that is not to say that the weight of evidence or sentiment is equally distributed. After all, who's in favor of pollution or the destruction of the environment? The pathological corporation doesn't care about such things, but its officers should. Some do, but feel constrained by their fiduciary duty to their stockholders. Consequently it is our responsibility as the electorate to get our government to make the corporation socially and morally responsible. The way to do that is make the fines for breaking the law large enough to change corporate behavior. Furthermore--and this is essential--make management responsible--criminally if necessary--for the actions of the corporation.
This is absolutely one of the most interesting, most compelling, and, yes, entertaining documentaries that I have ever seen. But beware of some graphic footage.