April 23, 2005

The Corporation: It Doesn't Have to be That Way

The movie The Corporation is out on DVD with eight hours of additional material on top of the two-and-a-half hour movie. This is a six-star movie, one of the best films around in a time when cinema has become more important as a real information medium than TV or radio.

Based on a book of the same name by Joel Bakan, the film looks at the modern corporation, the institution that dominates our age just as the church and the state dominated human life in previous ages. Examining The Corporation from the point of view of the bizarre legal logic that gives corporations the legal status of "persons" in our society, the filmmakers ask, "What kind of person is this?"

The answer is that the "personality" characteristics of the kind of "person" represented in the behavior of the most powerful multinational corporations are those of a psychopath.

Case studies are presented of horrifying corporate behavior that demonstrate undeniably that corporations exhibit all the main components of psychopathological behavior. As Anew NZ, puts it, the typical multinational corporation is "self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism."

Primary filmmaker Mark Achbar was also the co-director (with Peter Wintonick) of the film Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, a fine piece of documentary filmmaking apart from the importance of its subject matter.

The Corporation should be required of all subjects of the modern corporate world, which means everyone. It is a gem, with many priceless pieces.

Maintaining an edge of humor, the film manages to trudge through some terribly depressing realities without totally destroying one's sense of hope for survival of life on the planet, though the question is certainly raised and presented as a serious one.

In fact, the movie actually manages to end up with a sense of hope in portraying instances in which the working people of different parts of the world rose up against absurd and harsh realities imposed on them by entities like the World Trade Organization, realities like citizens of a third world country being told that all their water, including water that fell from the sky, is privatized: owned by a U.S. corporation.

Corporations now claim to own life forms, as "intellectual property." The ultimate privatizers/free market ideologues believe that everything on earth should be privately owned, preferably by them, of course. The whole concept of the commons seems to have gotten lost entirely. This strange mutation of a culture seems to have gone off the deep end into Wonderland.

One of the most inspiring personalities in the documentary is Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface, the world's largest carpet manufacturer, according to the film. This "captain of industry" had an epiphany, as he relates it, a change of paradigm through which he realized that the Industrial Revolution was a failure: it is not working, and if we want to survive, we need a second revolution and this time we need to get it right.

He likened our industrial society to the primitive flying machines that couldn't fly. When the pilot first test flew the contraption by running it over the edge of a cliff, it felt like it was flying, but really it was only falling. Most people don't realize we are falling, he said, because the ground is still a long way away, seemingly. Some visionaries realize the grim fact before others. The depth of the cliff, he said, represents the enormous endowment of resources with which we started. But as we begin to run out of unrenewable fossil fuels, and suddenly realize how much of our standard of living is based on just burning that endowment, we realize that our way of life is not sustainable.

The website for The Corporation has links for getting involved and taking action toward regulating corporations. As Noam Chomsky points out in an interview in the film (and in this interview) corporations are not a law of nature. They are creations of people and can be changed or destroyed by people. Though the corporate leaders would want us to believe their ascendance to power over all life on the planet is an inevitable result of evolution, human beings and governments do still have the power to regulate them or dismantle them.

Noam Chomsky is interviewed in the film, along with many others, including Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, Jeremy Rifkin and Michael Moore (who closes the show).

More on The Corporation:
Interview with Mark Achbar by ABC

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