October 19, 2004 -- “The Corporation” is a film which compares corporate behavior to psychopathic behavior. The argument goes something like this, corporations, in their myopic pursuit of profit, have lost sight of society, people and the environment. They tend to run roughshod over everything and everybody that gets in their way. Corporations have gotten too big for their britches, the argument goes, and need to be taken down a peg or two.
The film goes methodically through psychopathic symptoms, showing examples of corporate behavior that fits the profile, from polluting the environment, child labor, sweatshops, SLAPP lawsuits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), corruption of governments, use of media domination to spin news in ways favorable to corporate interests, and the production of products which kill people. Bophal and other industrial disasters are also mentioned, of course.
The problem with this movie, and many other movies which try to illustrate a book, is that it tries to cover too much ground. As a result, you get a very long movie (about 2.5 hours, but it seems like four). As with most attempts to make a book into a movie, this one falls short. The result is a very provocative film which comes off as dull, repetitive and way too long. Citing a few examples of bad behavior to fit each of a number of psychopathic profiles proves nothing. It is not even reasoning. It is just a recitation of analogies.
Corporations are blamed for ruining the environment and exporting jobs to countries where workers earn only three or four cents an hour. This is no great revelation to those non-ditto-heads paying attention to environmental issues. The film also gets into the area of how big corporations own most of the media, and how they manufacture consent (a favorite theme of Noam Chomsky, who is featured in the film), so that ordinary people think it is a great idea to give corporations even more power over their lives. A good example of this is the famed “Harry and Louise” advertising campaign which persuaded people to put their health care future in the hands of corporations, rather than the government. After all, you can't vote to change corporations, so that gives you more control over your health care choices, right? Such is the power of corporations to spin the media. Interestingly, William Kristol was a Republican strategist who helped corporations defeat the Clinton health care plan targeted by the Harry and Louise campaign. He is now a regular on the Republican-dominated Fox News Channel.
The film includes a history lesson about how corporations started modestly and, through a series of unforseen developments, ended up with vast power over our lives. The effect of all this is to make the viewer pretty depressed. There is an upbeat chapter near the end of the film about how some countries and communities have successfully fought back against the power of corporations.
The fabric of this film is stretched very thin. It also relies too much on analogy and not enough on analysis and research. While it isn't entirely convincing in its “sky is falling” message, it should serve as a wakeup call for any conservative person who happens to see it. The film makes a pretty good argument for the proposition that big corporations are a far worse master than big government, and far more difficult to influence. This film rates a B.
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