The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Sunday, September 05, 2004

THE CORPORATION

I finally got out to see The Corporation last night. Saw it at the great theater on Park in Oakland, south of Lake Merritt. It's one of those great couch-centric theaters, complete with full dinners, beer, and so on.

My thoughts on the film? It was long, which didn't bother me, but for all its talkiness, it wasn't really all that academic a documentary. It struck me as the equivalent of a decent freshman seminar on corporations from a negative viewpoint.

Its length was justified by the breadth of information presented; it covered just about every implication the existence (and current dominance) of the corporate entity could have on the world. From a factual standpoint, the way the history of the corporation's origins in America was covered (talking about the 14th Amendment, for instance) was quite enlightening and maddening at the same time. Everything was covered, from the environment to cheap labor to child labor to media control to cooperating with despots and dictators (i.e. the IBM/Hitler connection) to just plain greed. The use of a human metaphor for a corporation (i.e. a person with a severe psychological disorder) was presented effectively.

The Corporation's folly is similar to that of Michael Moore's in Bowling for Columbine: Its subject matter casts such a wide net that it dwarfs the possible solutions the movie prescribes. That, or it inhibits the makers from prescribing any specific solution to the excesses and dangers of corporate dominance of the world. The answer offered by the filmmakers is an old one: More regulation and more accountability.

The United States, in its history, has gone through ebbs and flows of deregulation and reregulation. The laissez-faire tendencies of the Gilded Age were followed with the rabid reregulation of Sherman and the trust-busters. The good-time exuberance of the 20's, which yielded the crash and the Great Depression, was followed by FDR's expansion of the federal government to right the ship. Right now, with Reagan, then Newt and finally Dubya, America's deregulative tendencies may be reaching a high point yet again. The difference now is that more than in the past, the swings of America's corporate pendulum have a much more direct impact on the rest of the world, particularly the places were our corporate honchos look for cheap labor. (but don't actually, you know, go to those places)

In all of these cases, the floodwaters receded after it was clear that deregulative tendencies, on a national level, were increasing the divide between the affluent and everyone else. Some people got really fuckin rich on 10/29/1929, and now we're living in the era of Bushian tax cuts where 40% of the money... oh just go get Al Gore to read you the statistics. (: Or go read Kevin Phillips' previous book.

The movie cites a number of small victories as examples of the solution at work, such as Bolivian citizens successfully resisting an American corporation's attempts to keep their water unaffordably expensive. Still, increasing means of accountability, given the comprehensive reach of major corporations in the modern world, will be a new and daunting task.

Other tidbits, scary and otherwise, worth mentioning:

--The interview segments with Moore, Chomsky and Zinn were all either informative or entertaining, but the most interesting bits came from a man who was a CEO of a carpet manufacturing company, who read a book about the current ecological crisis and had an epiphany. I forget his name at the moment.

--There was recycled footage from The Big One on multiple occasions, notably the "Deck the Halls" scene. Thank you for that.

--The scariest stuff, I thought, was with the rush by corporations to isolate, and patent, portions of the human genome, as well as the recent precedent set whereby corporations can patent living organisms.

--No bashing of Enron, as the goal of the movie was to examine the general traits of corporations on the whole, and steer the issue away from any idea that the problem is just a few "bad apples".

--Milton Friedman makes a brief appearance or two, though only making a couple of unprovocative statements about corporations and their moral implications.

In the end, The Corporation is effective as a conversation starter. Given the time constraints and its insistence not to become completely dry and academic, that's about what we could hope for.

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