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THIS CHARTS THE SPECTACULAR RISE OF THE CORPORATION AS A DRAMATIC, PERVASIVE PRESENCE IN OUR EVERYDAY LIVES. FEATURES ILLUMINATING INTERVIEWS WITH NOAM CHOMSKY, MICHAEL MOORE, HISTORIAN HOWARD ZINN ... AS WELL AS CORPORATE HONCHOS, WHISTLEBLOWERS & BIG BUSINESS SPIES.
An epic in length and breadth, this documentary aims at nothing less than a full-scale portrait of the most dominant institution on the planet Earth in our lifetime--a phenomenon all the more remarkable, if not downright frightening, when you consider that the corporation as we know it has been around for only about 150 years. It used to be that corporations were, by definition, short-lived and finite in agenda. If a town needed a bridge built, a corporation was set up to finance and complete the project; when the bridge was an accomplished fact, the corporation ceased to be. Then came the 19th-century robber barons, and the courts were prevailed upon to define corporations not as get-the-job-done mechanisms but as persons under the 14th Amendment with full civil rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e., power and profit)--ad infinitum.
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. JamesonSee all Editorial Reviews
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The film presents much of its content very superficially. It has to, because the arguments don't hold up to examination. For example, they talk to a Latin American factory worker who has a hard time supporting her family of seven on her single paycheck. First, it's a problem the world over that a family of seven with only a single worker will struggle - does anyone seriously think the standard of pay at a factory should be based on the standard that a single worker will support six other people? Second, suppose she didn't have the factory job - what would she do then to support her family? Beg? Resort to prostitution? If there were better jobs available, presumably she would have taken one.
In the same vein, the film shows a white American, who would not be the one devastated if people were to heed his words, complaining that foreign workers don't realize they're being abused. He says, "People are starving, then a factory comes in and gives them jobs. And they say, 'Yeah, great! Now we're not starving any more!'" Well, if he would drop the superiority complex for a moment, and stop assuming the foreigners are somehow idiots, he might consider that maybe they're making a rational decision to work rather than starve. How can this guy sit there and calmly argue that these foreigners would be better off starving?
Since the film depends on viewers not critically analyzing the evidence presented, Bakan goes to great length to use visual imagery to set the mood. For example, the film discusses the 14th Amendment, intended to ensure the equal rights of African American citizens but also often invoked in corporate legal proceedings. During the discussion, the film shows Depression-era footage of impoverished African Americans, as if to suggest that corporations' use of the 14th Amendment was somehow responsible. Of course, such a link is absurd, which is why it's never actually mentioned, only visually implied.
The film presents as solid fact historical items that are open to a great deal of debate, such as the Business Plot against Roosevelt (called a hoax by the New York Times), or the Nazis' use of IBM's German subsidiary (control of the subsidiary was seized by the Nazis and IBM headquarters lost control of it). It attempts to compare corporations to psychopaths. Needless to say, it ignores any of the economic or technological advances made possible by corporations.
I'm still unclear whether Bakan is advocating for anarchy or communism. The movie certainly advocates a Marxist-style economy in which there is public ownership of business. Of course, one could make a whole other movie about the much greater evils done by state-owned businesses in places such as the USSR, China, and, yes, Nazi Germany. Freed from the accountability of shareholder-ownership and government regulation (since they are, in effect, part of the government), state-owned enterprises have a record dramatically worse than their capitalist counterparts on everything from workers rights, to environmental impact, to product quality.
Certainly, there has been plenty of bad business behavior in history. One could just as easily make a movie condemning all religion, showing pedophile priests and poor people fleeced by televangelists. Or a movie condemning the medical establishment, showing tragic medical errors and thalidomide-induced birth defects. In pretty much any area, you can find enough dirt to make an emotionally gripping movie that demonizes its subject. The question is, should you? By presenting a superficial one-sided view, "enhanced" with irrelevant but stirring imagery, and providing recommendations that have proven in practice to be much worse, The Corporation does far more harm than good.
The film's political perspective seems to be something like anarcho-syndicalism: the view that a society should be free of all compulsory rules, where all individuals will voluntarily work towards the common goals of the community, unconstrained by the imposed hierarchy of government or capitalism.
Well, it's an idea that has its merits, and some obvious difficulties too, to the point that while the film makers are prepared to raise accusing fingers at their capitalist adversaries, they're notably short of ideas on what to do instead. The best they can come up with is some Froot-Looped Californian backwater which decides, municipally, to discuss whether "whether democracy is even possible when large corporations wield so much wealth and power under law." The collective gripe, it seems, is with Chain Restaurants which are opening unchecked in the town (and, presumably, doing steady business with the very same locals). A town meeting is called where these well-intentioned but basically stupid people are confronted with some fairly obvious truths:
Quotes one local businessman: "if you don't like Pepsi-Cola, Bank of America, well, if you don't like what they do, don't use 'em. That's the way I see the people's power is."
That's it, in a nutshell. That answers the question absolutely, and pretty much every substantial point this documentary has to make. A subsequent participant, who still hasn't understood it, intones (to loud cheering): "People that say that they fear their government. I really hope that they understand that they're allowed to participate in their government; they're not allowed to participate in anything the corporations do."
Well, nothing could be further from the truth: every transaction with a corporation is a direct, financial, participation in what it does, and represents a benefit that it wants and needs, just as a conscious refusal to transact with a corporation represents a lost opportunity. You can participate as often or as rarely as you like, but most people participate many times every day. In the political system, by enormous contrast, the vast majority get a solitary "participation" every fours years, a single tick supposed to represent the complicated system of political views held by that single voter; a vote for a candidate who doesn't win is ignored altogether, and even a vote for the winner, does not guarantee its mandate will be carried out. Some participation in the system *that* is.
In any case, in their assault on "The Corporation", the filmmakers engage in some fundamental discombobulations. Consider this: "Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, The Corporation is today's dominant institution".
Stop the tape right there, 0 minutes, 25 seconds on the counter. In these "other times and places" there was only *one* Church. There was *one* Monarchy, there was *one* Communist Party. They had each was indeed a dominant institution in the community, able to exact compliance by compulsion.
There are *millions* of corporations, big and small, good and bad, high-minded and scurrilous, and they're all competing against each other for your dollars. If you don't like what one does, another will be in like Flynn. That is a colossal difference. Unless you accept Chomsky's view (and given the amount of airtime he gets, it's reasonable to assume the producers do) that all capitalists are secretly acting in collusion with each other to systematically oppress the masses - you will note there *is* no "The Corporation".
The irony is that, if you use your imagination, individual Corporations aren't un-reminiscent of anarcho-syndicalist communes: each is a voluntary assembly of individuals, all of whom share a common purpose, and who are voluntarily acting in accordance with agreed rules with to the betterment of all in the collective.
I'm sure the filmmakers would rebut this by pointing to the sweatshops in El Salvador, and the anecdote might well implicate a particular corporation - but it doesn't implicate *The Corporation*. And let it not be forgotten that corporations - such as those publishing and distributing this film, and Chomsky's and Naomi Klein's books, were instrumental in identifying and, through the power of the market, discouraging unconscionable practices, in a way that Governments (let alone anarcho-syndicalist communes!) manifestly have not been able to do. In the end it was the market, not the Government, that found Enron out; and the market which bore the losses.
Corporations, like guns, are no more and no less than a reflection of the people who use them. And here is the big point missed, or ignored, by the makers of this film: "the people who use them" means, predominantly, the people who consume their products. That is, US. The great, downtrodden masses. If you don't understand that, you have no hope of getting any purchase on the political debate this film attempts to engage in. Apparently, the makers of this film don't understand that. If it is true that all Corporations are bad apples, then we need to be looking at ourselves, as owners, shareholders, customers and counterparties of corporations. Blaming the form itself won't do any good whatsoever.
Finally, to sum up with a populist punch, Michael Moore is wheeled out to congratulate himself, which he does in fine style. But in identifying what he sees as an irony, Moore misses the much larger one in what he is saying:
"it's very ironic that I'm able to do all this and yet ... I'm on networks, I'm distributed by studios that are owned by large corporate entities. Now, why would they put me out there when I am opposed to everything that they stand for? ... It's because they don't believe in anything. They put me on there because they know that there are millions of people that want to see my film or watch the TV show and so they're going to make money ... I'm driving my truck through this incredible flaw in capitalism ..."
No, Michael, that's not ironic, and that's not a flaw in capitalism. It's the very point of capitalism. That's all the evidence you should need of its democracy, it's willingness to admit of participation, of its agnosticism, of its openness to any perspective that "the masses" will be interested in. If it will sell, the market will sell it.
The real irony is that Michael Moore - and the makers of this silly documentary - don't appreciate that very point.