2003Director: Jennifer Abbot, Mark Achbar
Cast: Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn, etc. etc.
o just who is this nasty "corporation" fellow and why does he keep putting pus in my milk, anyway? These questions and more are tackled by acclaimed lefty documentary The Corporation.
Told with a sense of humor as well as a sense of social responsibility, The Corporation takes a '50s filmstrip approach to illustrating the history and downfall of Western culture's definition of a corporation—loosely tracing the corporation's arc from a one-time charter entity to that of a bona fide make-believe person.
Whereas the Michael Moore school of corporate indictment tends more toward the corporation's damage to the individual person or town, Abbot and Achbar paint their anti-corporate (and, indeed, anti-capitalist) strokes more broadly while steering them largely towards an environmental argument. The film's cartoonish thesis is the notion that a corporation, which under law has many of the rights of an individual person, would, if analyzed as a person, skew as a psychopath. This is the jumping-off-point for a litany of vignettes illustrating the various bad doings of corporate monsters, from Monsanto (the most crucified in the film) to FOX (What! And we thought they were totally reputable!) to just about everyone else whose logo you'd recognize.
To illustrate and refute the film's accusations are scores of anti-corporate (and a handful of corporate) illuminati, from the predictable likes of Moore, Klein, and of course Chomsky, to such wildcards as Carlton Brown, a seemingly amoral commodities trader, and Ray Anderson, an earth-plundering CEO turned born-again tree-hugger. Howard Zinn and others argue repeatedly that the danger of corporations is their legal ability to retain the rights of the individual and yet act with "no moral conscience".
The counterarguments Achbar and Abbot choose are, of course, part of their sense of humor as well as their slant. A consultant from the Fraser Institute is given a great length of rope with which to hang himself on the premise that, in reality, big exploitative corporations who operate sweatshops are actually doing people favors and are viewed as heroes—"godsends" even. We are given a glimpse at the different ways corporations grasp for meaning. A representative of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer takes us on a jolly tour of a (completely insane) Pfizer-sponsored New York subway station, claiming his company has single-handedly lowered the crime rate and generally improved quality of life around Flushing Avenue simply through its corporate benevolence, while on the other side of the moral world, a southern carpet mogul seeks humbly to make his company environmentally sustainable.
Yet it is through interviews with the iconoclastic (and often distortive) Moore that the film's real unsolvable question comes to light: how can one leap the disconnect between theory and practice, between coping with a short-term need (say, that Flint needs jobs) and a long-term global crisis (say, that jobs making cars ultimately contribute to the destruction of the environment)? How can we get by—and not as consumers or slaves to manufactured need or convenience, but simply as people who need money to live—and not somehow contribute to the incredibly pervasive cycle of subsistence and destruction that, due to corporations' amoral reign, turns the wheels of our economic system? It's refreshing to see Moore admit his own role in the corporate cog-farm: his films and TV shows are financed and distributed by these corporations who he himself seeks to change, if not dismantle completely. Yet for them, their support of him is a mitigated risk that turns a profit—not unlike a nominal fine for polluting a stream, which many companies are financially better served to simply budget for, rather than change practices to avoid.
The two-and-a-half-hour movie tells a fast-paced story in an engaging (if subtly urgent) voice, never once dragging (though you'll catch them repeating those shots of polluted water and the Pope now and again). The interview gleanings are salient and in many cases stunning, while visual clips range from stock to staggering (A long shot of a Chris Woods painting depicting a would-be Burger King employee supplicating in prayer while about to receive the sacred Burger King uniform shirt and, yes, the cardboard crown! -- is particularly chilling). And, as any seasoned debater knows, any real argument ends with a reference to Hitler, and don't worry, he's there too. A fine bit of enlightening propaganda, The Corporation will make you second-guess our world and our motives.
By: Liz Clayton
Published on: 2004-02-04