• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:January 29, 2021

The Corporation: Birth of a “Person”

2004 was the year when documentary filmmakers declared war on conservatives. It was the year when Michael Moore won the Palme d’Or for bitch-slapping the Bush administration in Fahrenheit 9/11. It was the year when the entire Fox News Channel was taken to task in Robert Greenwald’s Outfoxed. And it was the year when a Canadian movie demanded accountability in the world of big business. It was called The Corporation.

Political firebrands posing a problem
I can see why only liberals would hail this film. It has the same challenge as the other two previously named films – why would anyone who disagrees with the left-wing message sit through a film that features Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky telling the world that every corporation is evil? These two people are what Anne Coulter is to the left; political firebrands whose opinions will only satisfy the fans. To the right-wingers of the world, they’re liars and extremists. It doesn’t matter that a person like the famous economist Milton Friedman, an icon to the right, also appears, because what he says is less memorable than what the Chomsky-Moore team is saying.

This is a problem because the filmmakers and most of their interview subjects have important things to tell the world and they shouldn’t set themselves up as easy targets. How do they do that? Well, it’s obvious that the people who made this film agree with Chomsky’s theory about corporations being tyrants, and they can’t help but throw in at least one outrageous claim. The Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was murdered because he opposed the imbalance of Shell making billions of dollars on Nigerian oil while the poor people of the country were making considerably less… but the movie tries to make it look like Shell is responsible for his murder and not the military rulers, which is dishonest.

Empowering corporations
The purpose of the film is to examine what the corporation as a concept is all about. It begins with explaining how corporations came to be as powerful as they are today. In the 1800s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a corporation is a “person”, giving the corporations of the day the same rights as individuals. The filmmakers argue that if a corporation is a person, then that person should be held accountable for his crimes to a much larger extent than today. And the crimes are plentiful. Corporations all over the world are guilty of polluting the air and the water and of plundering our natural resources. Perhaps, they are also guilty of treason; the movie shows how IBM manufactured the punching cards that detailed how the Nazis treated their concentration camp prisoners.

And why do corporations commit these crimes? Because, in the words of Noam Chomsky, they have no conscience; their only purpose in life is to make money no matter the cost. There are those who openly agree with this, including Friedman. That may seem scary to some, but  there are at least companies that take social responsibility in various ways. The filmmakers would have been wise not to invariably view these actions with contempt.

The film is a depressing yet educational experience and a powerful entry in the debate about the role of corporations in our daily life. But its message would have had greater global impact without the far left.

The Corporation 2004-Canada. 145 min. Color. Produced by Mark Achbar, Bart Simpson. Directed by Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar. Screenplay: Joel Bakan, Mark Achbar. Book: Joel Bakan.

Last word: “Ultimately it ends on a somewhat hopeful note, but not a naively hopeful note. That hope I don’t believe is disingenuous. There are so many people and organisations working tirelessly to reclaim our democracy and to stop corporations and governing bodies. […] Our promotional material for the film […] the first line of it is ‘a call to action’. If you want to inspire film to create change then obviously you can’t just heap despair on their shoulders and expect them to walk out of the theatres and do anything!” (Abbott, Three Monkeys Online)



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