on April 9, 2005
Even if I hadn't been one of the filmmakers, I'm sure I would have highly recommended this film, but what Amazon.ca doesn't specify in detail are all the extras, which I put a lot of time (and money!) into creating for your viewing pleasure.
* * Two feature audio commentaries: One with co-directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, and one with writer Joel Bakan
* * Janeane Garofolo interviews Joel Bakan on Air America's Majority Report
* * "Q's and A's": A selection of television, radio and festival interview segments with the filmmakers, including segments from CNN Financial, WNYC, WBAI, and Air America
* * Theatrical trailers for The Corporation and Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media
* * Selection of deleted scenes, including additional clips from Michael Moore's The Awful Truth
* * Grassroots marketing video segment
* * "Topical Paradise" and "Tell Me More": Over 5.5 hours of additional footage of The Corporation's 40 interviewees (and then some), searchable by topic or interview subject
* * Plus: Additional trailers, a very cool short film ("What Barry Says"), web links, subject updates, and more! Yes, even more. Like an incredible keynote presentation that Thomas Alan Linzey gave at the Bioneers conference last year (it's the last item in the list of "Strategies For Change".)
I sat down one day and figured out that if you were to watch the film and all the extras, and listened to all the audio commentaries, it would total a 16 hour media experience... I'm not suggesting anyone actually put themselves through that, but the way it's laid out, whatever your area of interest, there's something there for you that will enhance your experience of the film. So enjoy! Well, maybe that's not the right word, but I'm sure you'll get SOMETHING out of this 2-disc set.
And check out [...] to find out all kinds of ways you can get involved and make a difference.
I believe this is a documentary of the first rank that literally everyone should see. But I also don't entirely disagree with what the reviewers who gave it only one star had to say either.
If you're wondering how that's even possible, let's begin at the beginning...
The first thing you need to know is that although "The Corporation" is a documentary of sorts, it is a long, long way from the standard fare you'll find on the History or Discovery Channels. What we get here is an original thesis put forward by people who have thought very carefully about the corporation as a social institution, and who have something that they want to say about it. This documentary sets forth their views in exactly the same way that we were all taught to write our essays: that is, as a logical argument in support of a particular position.
The position taken is that if we look carefully at how the corporation works, it becomes apparent that this institution is set up to operate in a way that would be considered psychopathic were the same behavior to be observed in a real, flesh and blood human being.
Incidentally, since sharing an earlier version of this review with a friend, I have been reminded that most people do not fully understand what the term "psychopath" actually means in a clinical sense. Very, very few psychopaths are the slavering killers of fiction. Psychopaths are quite simply people without the capacity to truly care about other people. They also often have problems with impulse control. As a result, they tend to wreck considerable damage on those around them. However, they are not necessarily - or even usually - criminals, and can lead superficially normal, even highly successful lives. At the time of writing, the Wikipedia page provides a good introduction to this field for those who are interested.
Getting back to the documentary at hand, the core of the argument presented is that since management has a legal, fiduciary duty to maximize monetary returns to stockholders, and to in fact do whatever it takes to fulfill that duty, this creates an institution that is hard-wired to operate in an absolutely and totally selfish manner. Given this grounding, the film then spends a great deal of time looking at how this absolute selfishness impacts upon the broader world, resulting in effects ranging from animal cruelty and environmental destruction to the exploitation of third-world workers on below subsistence level wages. And yes, the film also shows just how closely these impacts mirror the trail of misery typically left behind by human psychopaths.
Despite all this, the makers of this film do give leading proponents of more conservative viewpoints a reasonable chance to set forth their own ideas. It's important to stress that this film does acknowledge that corporations can be, and indeed are, enormously effective wealth-creating institutions in many ways. It's just that it argues that corporations can be enormously destructive as well.
On this note, I'd like to add that the special edition (The Corporation (2-Disc Special Edition)) is very much worth getting. The extra disk is used to supply extended interviews with many of those who appear in the documentary: on all sides of the discussion. This does not fundamentally alter the direction of the underlying thesis, but it does substantially deepen it.
On the plus side, this is a film that really does encourage us to think more deeply and critically about one of the most dominant social institutions of our era. And the evils that it points out in the present system are most certainly real enough. However, on the negative side, I believe that this film is also by turns evasive, coy, and even simply naïve about what alternatives are possible. As you may have guessed, this is where I reveal that I do share some sympathies with the reviewers who gave "The Corporation" just one star.
In fact, for the most part this film is simply silent on exactly what alternatives are possible. To the extent that it proffers positive suggestions at all, the film takes the line that since corporations are no more than creations of law, we could just change the law and give them obligations other than the maximization of returns to stockholders. This is quite obviously naïve. Corporations work in the way that they do not merely because of legal obligations, but because of complex combinations of economic and social forces.
If you want a good example of just how impotent a purely legalistic solution would be, look at Enron. With Enron, as with any company, the legal obligation of the auditors was to report on the veracity of the company's accounts. But Enron's auditors not only failed to report any accounting fraud: they also destroyed documents relating to Enron on a truly vast scale. Why? Well, it might have had something to do with the fact that in our system, company auditors are hired, paid, and fired by the very people they're theoretically supposed to audit.
How well do you think that system's going to work out?
Effecting real change requires not just shifts in the legal obligations of the players, but in the underlying economic relationships as well. And while I personally think that it would be a relatively straightforward matter to change our system so that auditors are hired and fired by a government authority instead of the very people they're supposed to audit (see my review of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), changing society on the level that the makers of "The Corporation" seem to want is a MUCH harder task.
I can't help but think of how the evils of nineteenth century capitalism gave rise to the ideology of communism, which in turn gave rise to the oppressive tyrannies of Soviet-style socialism. It's important not to lose sight of the fact that the evils the communists were rebelling against were always entirely real. I'd also unhesitatingly accept that the communists themselves were entirely sincere in their vision of a worker's utopia. But it just so happens that what their activities actually produced was a nightmare at least as great as the one they got rid of. So it turns out that creating a better society is hard. Not just hard in the way that running a marathon is hard; but hard in the way that solving advanced problems in quantum mechanics is hard.
Whoever would've guessed?
Whether the makers of this film really have the anarcho-syndicalist beliefs that some reviewers have claimed, I don't know. Which would be precisely my point. Having watched the film in its entirely not just once but multiple times, I still don't really know exactly what it is that they're advocating. At least, not in any positive sense.
As for myself, I'm certainly not arguing that our present system is the best one possible, or that its evils cannot be addressed. But before we all join hands and march forwards towards a brighter tomorrow, I would like to see a roadmap a little more definite than anything to be found in this film.
That said, I still believe that this is a documentary of the absolute first rank, and have no hesitation whatsoever in giving it five stars. I likewise still believe that it's a documentary that everyone, EVERYONE, should see; and really think about, too. Because maybe if that happened, we really would begin moving forwards towards a better tomorrow.
Regardless of whether it'd be the one the makers of this film hope for or not.
on April 8, 2007
A great testament to the way the corprate world has influenced and shaped our societies and, perhaps, ourselves. We are all bombarded with advertisments from big corportations everyday and we would like to think we can easily give and take from any company that which we will. But is that the case? Do we really have free will when pummelled with advertisments 100 times a day? Wear this brand or drink this drink we are told. What about all the hidden effects corporations have on our world and society that's hidden to most of us behind pretty faces and frosted glass? Why has the modern corporation been able to garner such an enormous clout of power and influence in our economics, politics, and international affairs? This dvd answers all those questions and many many more. Filled with experts from all different fields we get a history lesson into the corporation and the realites of it's effect on our lives and the lives of the rest of the world, both enviromentally, economically, and politically. A must see dvd.