You don't expect a film called "The Corporation" to celebrate the incredible evolutionary success of this modern capitalist tool. Especially when it's a Canadian documentary. Especially when it's based on a book subtitled The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. And especially when Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore are slated to appear on camera.
That's too bad. I almost wish the filmmakers would have enlisted their own nefarious scheme to misrepresent themselves to the public. That way, perhaps, the documentary might have created a worthy dialogue. Instead it will likely preach to a choir that is all-too-thrilled to have any voice in today's corporate-allied media.
Based on the book by Joel Bakan, the documentary hangs its hat on an intriguing fact from the birth of the modern corporation. In order to obtain more favorable treatment, fledgling corporations in the mid-1800s lobbied to have their business entity declared a legal person, and thus protected in the pursuit of self-interest. Taking this at face value, Bakan and filmmakers Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot decided to find out what kind of person the modern corporation is. Using a checklist from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, they find the corporation's operating principals to be inherently amoral, callous and deceitful, willing to breach social and legal standards to get its way, immune to feelings of guilt yet able to mimic human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. In short, if today's corporation were really a person, he or she would be diagnosed as a psychopath.
But while the filmmakers are unapologetic about their agenda, they are less interested in rote demonizing. The king of lassiez-faire capitalism, Milton Friedman, is allowed his say. So is the former CEO of Goodyear Tire, the vice-president of Pfizer, and the head of Burson-Marsteller, the world's largest PR firm. Most compellingly there is Ray Anderson, the CEO of the world's largest commercial carpet manufacturer, a man who had the rare epiphany and position to actually reinvent his corporation to reduce its negative impact on the world. Then there's the charming scene in which Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, then Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell serves tea to the Earth First! activists who have encamped on the lawn of his English country home to protest Shell's human rights violations. Moody-Stuart is no doubt aware of the cameras rolling, but you can't help but smile at his sincere effort to understand his rabid detractors, particularly as they become less rabid in the face of his hospitality. The people who run corporations are very much human. But even their conscience can't always stop the larger entity from lumbering Godzilla-like in pursuit of profits.
The political left, like their adversaries on the right, find it quick and easy to trade in fear. There's plenty to be legitimately disturbed about in "The Corporation," along with a bit of hyperbolic padding. And then there's the unexpected element of hope, for which people like Chomsky aren't exactly famous. Yet here even Chomsky suggests change is possible and quite possibly inevitable. If corporations run the world, they still ultimately answer to us very average consumers. And that gives this briskly entertaining documentary an extra burst of power.
The Corporation will probably not be screening at a large multiplex theater near you.
© 2004 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 6/2/04
Canda - 2003