Review from Socialist View, No.14, Spring 2005
The Corporation, Directed by Mark Achbar & Jennifer Abbot
Reviewed by Aideen McMullen
THE CORPORATION, BASED on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan, is a film which shows some shocking realities to viewers, examining both pro and anti-corporation attitudes through interviews and features. Among the 40 people interviewed are CEOs and top-level executives from a range of industries, including oil, pharmaceutical and computers.
Directors, Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot, successfully expose corporations for what they are, money-making machines that don't care about the general public. Noam Chomsky describes it as "a wake-up call for all those who hope that there may be a decent future for their grandchildren".
Shockingly, using the USA's 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was originally intended to protect the rights of newly freed slaves, corporations became legal "persons" and obtained the same legal and financial protection that an individual is entitled to. Unusually, but very effectively, the filmmakers examined a corporation's personality, using the American Psychiatric Associations textbook Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders. The conclusion showed that if a corporation was examined in the same way as a human, that that "person" was most certainly a psychopath. The corporation, the embodiment of capitalism qualified for every category; self-absorbed, amoral, callous, manipulative, two-faced, concerned with the gratification of its own needs, does not suffer from guilt, it breaches social and legal standards to get its way and it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.
With its new status as a legal "person", the corporation rose to dominance, creating unprecedented wealth for its owners. But the consequences were countless cases of illness, death, poverty, pollution, exploitation and lies.
Unlike films such as Super-Size Me, The Corporation focused on numerous corporations showing them up as equally psychotic. The long list included IBM, Nike, Liz Claiborne, Gap, Bechtel and Shell. Each of these had at least one shocking story lurking in the background and The Corporation did its very best to illuminate it for the viewers. One of the most shocking was when Edwin Black recalled IBM's alliance with Nazi Germany which began in the first weeks that Hitler came to power and continued well into World War II. Liz Claiborne suits were made in sweat shops in which young children were working and yet they had the nerve to label that a proportion of the profit went to children's charities.
The media is shown up for exactly what it is - a tool which can be used and manipulated by any corporation which doesn't want bad publicity. Two investigative journalists for Fox News, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, found this out when they uncovered a story about BST, a Monsanto drug which increases cows' milk production. The drug was causing mastitis in the cows which was very painful and made their udders swell. The infection from the udders was ending up in milk and so were the antibiotics that were being used to treat the infection. They were told to make changes and eventually told to lie to the public. After they refused, saying that people had a right to hear the news, they were told, "We just paid $3 billion for these television stations. We'll tell you what the news is. The news is what we say it is." They tried to sue Fox under whistleblower status, which protects people who are trying to prevent others from breaking the law, but they weren't allowed to sue as it was stated that false news isn't actually against the law.
The film argued that in the corporate world of global capitalism, morality came a poor second to doing what was needed to make profit. Carlton Brown, a commodities broker said that when the twin towers were burning he thought, "How much is gold up?" and stated that he "couldn't wait for the bombs to rain down on Saddam Hussein." Michael Walker, president of Fraser Institute actually said, "Sweatshops like Nike's factories help the world's poor get plump and healthy." Sir Mark Moody-Stuart and his wife, confronted by a group of activists at their home, who accused them of being murderers didn't call the police, but had a conversation and served them tea on their front lawn. While Moody-Stuart served tea and cakes, activists were executed in Nigeria for their opposition to Shell's plundering of the country's oil.
The film makers did not stop at showing viewers the problems with corporations. They showed ways in which people can fight back against the injustices that come hand-in-hand with the success of corporations. One such example was that of the Bolivian struggle against privatisation of their water system. It showed footage of a massive protest of people who simply can't afford to pay and are refusing to do so. After this, I expected a pointer in the direction of socialism, but unfortunately this did not come and it is the film's biggest shortcoming.