Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 127 minutes
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The corporation as we know it has only been an institution of note for the last century or so. The 14th Amendment, which (among other things) instigated the concept of the corporation as “person,” and the Industrial Revolution led directly to the growth of the huge multinationals so prevalent today. In “The Corporation,” based on Joel Bakan’s book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, seeks to examine the way in which corporations function, their impact on the world of today, and what may be in store for the future.
Billed as a “critical inquiry” into the workings of modern corporations, it is nevertheless pretty easy to see where the filmmakers’ sympathies lie. After some basic history, intercut with occasionally too-cute pop culture imagery, “The Corporation” settles into a groove by examining past and present abuses by the likes of Liz Claiborne, Wal-Mart, and Nike. Even more effective is their tactic of applying the psychiatric DSM IV diagnostic tool to corporations, detailing their inherent psychopathy. Corporations, we are reminded repeatedly, have no responsibility other than profit, and are therefore their categorization as “persons” may not be entirely accurate. Specifically, their reckless disregard for the safety of others would be considered criminal behavior by actual human beings.
Directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott effectively disarm the viewer with their relatively humorous prologue, which makes the later segments concerning damage to the biosphere, the alarming trend in genetic patents, and the increasing subversion of government authority all the more disconcerting. The film also makes potent use of interview footage, including such figures as economist Milton Friedman, Noam Chomsky, Ray Anderson – CEO of Interface, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer, who aims to make his company entirely sustainable by the year 2020. On the other side, executives from Goodyear and Shell are given ample opportunity to hang themselves. I thought at first that more viewpoints from the corporate side should have been offered, though most likely any other executive types would’ve stuck to the party line.
There’s also an eye-opening account of the efforts made by Fox to kill an investigative report by local Florida journalists about Monsanto’s use of dangerous bovine growth hormones to stimulate milk production. The reporters sued after being fired for refusing to alter their report once Monsanto threatened “dire consequences” for the network should the story run unaltered.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of “The Corporation” concerns manipulative marketing tactics used by companies to target children and the use of undercover marketing. The latter seems less outrageous when held against the use of such concepts as “the nag factor” to encourage kids to pester their parents for toys and trips to Chuck E. Cheese.
“The Corporation” attempts to end on an up note, discussing the occasional success of grass roots efforts like those of a small town in Bolivia, whose population stood up to Bechtel’s efforts to privatize their water supply. Given the weight of what has come before, however, it’s difficult to feel much optimism. “The Corporation” is powerful, infuriating, and ultimately sobering. Make an effort to see it.
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Posted on October 27, 2004 in Reviews by Pete Vonder Haar
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