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Where once we used to shop at our local shop and have bread and milk
delivered by the local milkman from the local farms, now we shop in a
supermarket that is multinational, eat at fast food restaurants that
are everywhere and wear clothes made in the third world by those living
in sweatshops. This documentary looks at the Corporation as if it was a
person (something that US law says it basically is), charting its
development, its character and the effects the concept of profit driven
corporations has had on the world we live in.
First of all let me just say that I am fairly liberal in some regards but not to the degree as many of the audience I saw this with, many of whom could not signposted themselves anti-capitalist students if they'd actually carried signs. I should also own up and say that I currently work for an American corporation; in fact one of those who's logo flashes up in the section on the top 50 criminal companies (although I did work for an environmental charity prior to this so that gives you some idea of my muddled politics!). Having read No Logo, Fast Food Nation, seen Michael Moore films and, hey, actually used my own eyes and brain, it came as no surprise to me that the idea of a business that considers no growth to equal failing and must constantly earn more and more to be a bad thing. Nor was I surprised by the sweatshops or pollution that occurs. Neither would any of this be a surprise to the majority of the already tuned-in audience and wisely the film doesn't just rant at us about how terrible things are; instead it takes a fairly compelling look at the wider problems associated with this model. It is consistently interesting, compelling and, sadly, all a bit depressing.
The film's strength is that it never gets personal or preachy. The film allows the CEOs to get a fair chance to present their opinions and it never demonises any of them, the vast majority of them actually come off as very nice guys who seem to genuinely want to be ethical, environmental etc. Not only does this give the film a balanced feel (a refreshing change from Moore's axe-grinding and sermonising) but it also makes the subject more scary it would be better if the system could be down to careless, evil men but it isn't; it is the system that is the problem and no one person is to blame. The structure of the film jumps around a lot and I'm not sure it entirely works because it is pretty overwhelming although I suppose it was always going to be hard to frame such a large, complex topic just look at the anti-capitalist protests to get an idea of the multi-issue argument.
The film is not perfect of course and, looking around the audience after the film, it is evident that this film has mostly played to converted rather than winning new converts in the main. Part of this is how overwhelming it is but also the fact that it does run pretty long as well not a problem once you're into it but perhaps a bit of a turnoff for those not seeking it out. Secondly the lack of answers is also a bit of a problem. I guess I preferred the ending to the alternative of being told to eat mung beans and make our own clothes but it is easy to feel that we just have to accept what we are being told is bad. For me personally this wasn't a massive problem because I do hold a position where I have to work to improve the sustainability of a small part of a big corporation so I left rather hopeful and looking forward to work the next day but for many viewers I can understand why it feels like a dead end.
Overall though, this is a very good film that allows everyone a fairly balanced crack at the whip even if its agenda and politics are obvious from the start. It avoids demonising, simplifying and making it personal and it is stronger and more engaging as a result. It provides no easy answers but it does provide challenges and plenty to think about with all the talking heads making valid points for all sides and perhaps showing that the answers do lie in the middle not the extremes of money chasing shareholders or the noisy and brightly dressed street protesters. Regardless of your politics it is worth seeing this film and it deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as lesser documentaries have been (and yes Michael Moore, I'm talking about you).
Good documentaries have both a viewpoint and an agenda. They reflect
the vision, politics, values and angst of the director(s). "The
Corporation" meets those standard criteria and in an overlong movie
it's Prosecution Exhibit A for an indictment of a) modern corporations,
b) consumerism, c) disdain for the Earth and its bounty, d)
globalization, e)sleek marketing and f) dishonest, money-grubbing
media, the current Whores of Babylon. There's probably more but I was
saturated long before the film ended.
In terms of style, directors Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar have made a visually engrossing film with excellent interweaving of archival film with sound bites by noted academics as well as business executives. We get Noam Chomsky and Milton Friedman and many lesser lights. Michael Moore appears enough to seem more a director than an interviewee but some of his remarks, particularly at the end, are more insightful than much of what he opines on in his own films.
Using story boards to announce different themes, "The Corporation" tells - very quickly and, indeed superficially - the history of the legal entity, what we in the law call the "Juridical Person," the modern huge, business creature. Its early history is quickly sketched, the complexities of the Anglo-American societies that spawned this economic model barely hinted at much less explained.
For better or for worse, documentaries best make their argument through striking anecdotes and this movie is no exception. We see corporations engaged in behavior that wreaks havoc on health, deprives poverty-stricken citizens of poor countries of even minimal control of their lives and, of course directs our spending and leisure habits.
But some scenes show corporate strategies as just plain silly as with a couple ambulating down an urban street, one telling the other how great a CD he's listening to happens to be. The idea is that passersby will become curious enough to buy the disc. I doubt this happens much but the use of shills goes back hundreds of years (ample evidence of their employment can be gleaned from Elizabethan literature) and it pales as a menace when juxtaposed to the true evils depicted in the documentary.
Some very complex issues which few viewers are likely to know anything about are presented as proof that corporations are inherently driven solely by profit motives with no regard for other values. Particularly disturbing is the incarnation of the writings of an independent scholar named Black who claims that IBM was in sympathetic and knowing collusion with Nazi Germany to sell them embryonic computers (not mentioned by name but they were the Hollerith punch card machines) which then made expediting millions to their concentration camp murder feasible. This account has been discredited by most historians but the more serious and unmentioned reality is that the U.S. government knowingly permitted some American corporations to prepare to profit from a postwar world by maintaining ties with subsidiaries in Germany (the Bank for International Settlements is never mentioned: now THAT's a subject for a film).
"The Corporation" returns often to the theme that this business entity is a "person" with constitutional rights ( declared a number of times as a sad fact of American law). In fact that's true but what is never explained is that investing corporations with an identity that is juridically recognized means that the entities - AND their assets - are amenable to every form of lawsuit from civil rights violations to environmental law accountability to - you name it. And corporations can be criminally charged and convicted. Yes, obviously they can't be jailed but the entity can be sentenced to remedial action, something that would be impossible if liability was limited to individuals who lack assets sufficient to cure major violations and, in any event, who surely could do nothing from jail or forced retirement.
Where could Ralph Nader's crusade for safer cars have gone if General Motors and other corporations were not amenable to suit as legal persons? How much benefit derived for anti-smoking advocates from being able to arraign Big Tobacco in court (even if losses exceeded wins)? Why are women and minorities working for Big Business (or just trying to get in the door) less likely to be targeted for discrimination these days? You'd never know from this film.
So we have a very mixed bag here - a well constructed polemic that is too one-sided if educating the audience rather than satisfying the converted was the goal. It was fun to sit in a packed theater in an epicenter of affluence - New York's Pleasantville in Westchester County - and note the righteous reaction of an audience of which I'd bet 95% own stock in major corporations.
So we're getting used to antibiotics because of Corporate America's dairies
pumping their sick cattle full of the stuff. I knew it intellectually but
never realized it so viscerally as I did while watching these cows with
their udders painfully distended and the pus coming out of them. Like a
little pus with your milk? You're getting it.
so it's onto soy milk or organic milk for me, from now on. That is but one of the life-changing experiences I had watching this movie. Of course, I already knew what tentacles Corporate America has around every area of our government including the media, but this movie just punched it up.
It should make you angry. If not, your conscience has long been stilled by your big screen TV, your gas-guzzling SUV or your stock options. Probably won't show in most of your towns....too much of a threat to the corporations that are shown up in this show. Monsanto? Won't be buying any of their products anytime soon, and I already boycott Walmark, Penney's and the ubiquitous Barbie Doll. Pretty soon, I'll be eating nothing buy my own garden's products....a good idea, no? See the movie: find out how you're being shilled. You might even decide to take back your government from the corporations writing policy for Cheney and other Congressional prostitutes.
The first time in a long time that I've seen a movie audience launch into
applause at the end -- and I was as enthusiastic as everyone
While quite long (2 hours, 45 minutes)this film piles detailed examples on top of interviews on top of documentary film clips. Liberally laced with interviews with folks like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and Michael Moore, it also includes insightful commentary from a (small) handful of liberated corporate executives.
The sum total is a compelling story of the evil that can be and is done by and in the name of corporations. I say this as one who has worked in a corporate environment my entire career, and who for a very long time has had difficulty getting past the 'but these are almost all nice people -- I don't know any ogres out to intentionally rape & pillage' perspective.
What I'm gradually wakening to is the realization that yes, the corporate structure is very efficient at doing what it's designed to do -- which unfortunately does not include taking social responsibility or the greater good into account. Instead it's ruthlessly focused on the bottom line, come hell (literally) or high water -- or polluted water.
I highly recommend this film. I know I'll be going back for a second viewing -- there's that much content, that I know I didn't absorb it all the first time around.
most people who have an interest in progressive causes will be somewhat
familiar with the outline of the film - corporate personhood has
essentially led to corporations having an insane amount of control over
what we see, eat, drink, breathe and consume in general. corporations
have become part of our consciousness at an unshakable and unwashable
level. they are ubiquitous, single-minded (profit), subversive
parasites that erode our society from within. with this in mind you'd
think the film was a marxist commercial out to bring capitalism to its
knees. you'd be wrong. the film is remarkably even-handed in its
governmental as well as market fixes are proposed by different interviewees. i'm very much into the work of noam chomsky and michael moore (both are interviewed), i've read fast food nation, i'm a big fan of adbusters, i own naomi klein's "no logo" and korten's "when corporations rule the world" so a lot of this stuff wasn't all that new to me, but some of it was and the film is a perfect amalgamation of all this information. archive footage is used extremely well, like a hip-hop artist melding together samples in ways that create an entirely different tapestry of sound. interviews, archival footage, and good old investigative journalism are used to present a solid case about the role corporations have in our global society; as well as how we've gotten to this point and where we may be going. despite the heavy nature and brutal pacing of much of the film, there are a few moments of ironic comedy.
i do think the film would have done well with a few momentary pauses early in the film to allow things to soak in. in feature films a director might cut to an exterior for a beat or two to allow a bit of a cushion from one scene to the next, something similar may have aided the pacing of this film. it's actually remarkable that i wished it had taken a little more time considering its 2 hour and 25 minute runtime. i think it's testament to the film's strength. i also want to note that the long runtime and heavy nature of the film never came off as dry or overly-academic. in other words, it's not a boring film to watch - quite the contrary, it's a rather engaging and almost fun film to watch. i say "fun" reluctantly because learning about the ways in which a corporation is bilking America and the world out of our natural resources and hard-earned money isn't fun, but if you're interested in learning then it is an exciting film. a quick side note - the narrator had a perfect voice for the material and she reminded me a lot of the narrator in the "second renaissance" portions of the animatrix. generally i don't give films i've only seen once anything better than a B+, but this film blew me away from start to finish on so many different levels...A.
Our daily lives have come to be so dominated by corporations that we can
easily fail to notice it. Most goods, services, information and
entertainment now flow from huge multinationals. But what if this
player in our existence is certifiably insane?
The Corporation explores this disturbing possibility with mix of wit, opinion and hard facts. It takes us through the visible "personality traits" of these business entities and shows us that, for all intents and purposes, corporations are psychopathic. The film points out that this is not an aberrant state for corporations, but rather an inherent part of their nature. It even portrays high-ranking business executives as people so caught-up in the madness of the corporate world they must act not from their own conscience, but rather from a bottom-line mentality of what is most profitable.
Despite its length and the fact that it features some forty different talking heads (ranging from the former CEO of Goodyear to Noam Chomsky), The Corporation keeps you engaged both visually and intellectually. It is by turns informative, amusing and thought provoking. It does not attempt to present remedies (which would be beyond the scope of a single documentary) but rather challenges its audience to view their world from a different perspective and seek out their own solutions. In this way, it reminds me of Michael Moore's excellent documentary Bowling for Columbine.
I saw this film at the True/False Film Festival and was fortunate enough to hear a Q&A with co-director Mark Achbar after. Many questions seemed to be "Well, what can we do about it." The website for the film has many links available to explore further and learn about actions that individuals can take. Mr. Achbar said half-joking that he may have to bring a handout to future screenings with a list of websites.
Whether you are a longtime activist, or someone who has never thought much about issues of corporate dominance, this film is definitely worth a look.
"The Corporation" is a fun look at how corporations are destroying the world. I had avoiding seeing it at first, because I thought it would be kind of depressing... I was right, but it's depressing AND entertaining. Basically it shows how corporations run most of the known world. The movie starts out with the history of corporations, and how their power grows substantially after World War Two. According to the film, most of the world's governments and job markets are run or at least affected by corporate power. Corporations have the power to poison and despoil the environments and the people around them, and the larger these "corporate citizens" are, the more immune they are from prosecution. Basically, if corporate power remains unchecked, we are all screwed, except for the fat cats at the top. A fun, depressing look at our future.
When I sat down last night to watch "The Corporation" after a long day off working for one, I was thinking I was about to see a documentary that gave me all of the answers. Why are corporations so powerful? Why do we allow them to take so much from us and return so little? Who is the face behind them? These questions were answered, but not in the way I thought they would be. The Corporation is brilliant in that way. As a documentary, the filmmakers take care to use credible information that can be checked, and an edgy style of editing that keeps the viewer enthralled. The film chronicles the history and rise to power of the modern day corporation with surprising honesty. I never felt that corporations were being represented unfairly (often, those who spoke of the most striking aspects of corporations were CEOs and other business leaders.) What moved me most about this film was actually how simple these mega corporations all seem when broken down to their essentials. Quite a feat considering how complex these entities actually are. The filmmakers often use the type of fast-paced editing that commercials use to further execute their point. I had to watch this movie again after I finished it the first time because it was so unbelievable. This is an exemplary film that challenges us to think about the kind of "people" we are allowing to run our lives, and is an example of what all great documentaries should look like. Both a thinking film and one that clearly explains things, I would highly recommend this movie to both future filmmakers/majors and business people alike.
This extraordinary documentary is based on the book The Corporation:
The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004) by law professor
Joel Bakan (see my review at Amazon). Bakan's thesis is that the
corporation is a psychopathic entity.
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 Noam 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.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
After a relatively straightforward start exploring the definition of
incorporation, this documentary made some fairly meaty punches on its
With the exception of a few sentimental and outdated "the poor people fight back" strands, most of the attacks were well constructed. Beyond simply saying that to a corporation profit is everything, the more difficult case was made: that everything can be turned into a profit. And that includes life, death, and the truth.
The depiction of the Corporation as a psychopath was used to link most of the material. The talking heads were usually on the money, including both Michael "9/11" Moore and Noam "Manafacturing Consent" Chomsky.
But what the film does well was report specific cases that certainly included a few gems. An attempt to privatize water, IBM servicing Nazi accounting, an attempted coup in the US, Fox burying news and of course Monsanto being Monsanto. You couldn't make those guys up.
The attempt to look at alternatives to the worst forms of Capitalism were not so successful. Right wing defenders of profit-at-all-cost use short sentences with single syllable words. The poor want to be rich. We make things you like. We don't care. Much of the left wing however, cannot counter this clarity.
And the last frame had the ebullient Mr Moore telling us to get off the sofa and do something. Yeah, like vote for Bush again?
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