film 6 of 7

The Corporation

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 21, 2015

This film isn’t quite being fair, but it’s a lot less unfair than the rapacious behemoth it’s being unfair to!

It is important to acknowledge that a few things fall flat here. All the product placements made in care of “the corporation,” for instance. It’s important to admit that writer Joel Bakan and directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott often overstate. And yet, again, they’re over-reaching and overstating in such an important, such a necessary cause! The central thesis of The Corporation is related to and rooted in the 14th amendment to the US Constitution. That foundation then shores up the film’s stunning conceptual leap, which is to compare the general conduct of corporations, including in relation to US and international law, to pathological psychology. (Cf. Bakan’s companion book, The Corporation: the Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.) Corporations behave like sociopaths, and they do so under the protection of the law.

It’s a fantastic conceit, and it’s a sobering, distressing one. The proliferation of proofs that follows is real, and tough to refute. In fact, it’s probably irrefutable.

On the other hand, there are are counter-proofs that Bakan, Achbar and Abbott don’t choose to proliferate. (Nothing wrong with that, by the way; they’re stating a thesis and making an argument. You don’t have to make your opponents’ case for them.) But come on now: business can be, businesses have been good! And they’ve done good too. Adam Smith (1776) didn’t say all there was to be said about the subject of commerce and self-interest, but there’s something bedrock in what he did say, and it can’t just be ignored.

Then again, we’re not talking about business here, are we? We’re talking about corporations, which is to say business rampant, in both the heraldic and runaway senses. And it may be that you have to overstate in the face of what so many corporations and multi-nationals say and do and are these days. After all, the bad apple rhetoric that drives Bakan/Achbar/Abbott to their outlandish thesis really is a villainous rationalization.

It goes even further than that. The subtext to this combined investigation/ provocation is that the West is mired in an illogical, harmful, nearly hysterical mass-genuflection before the altars of Market. This insistent posture is in deep conflict with so many of the basic values of democracy! Liberty yes, but what of its equally important twin, Equality? And what of the Fraternity that ought to bind them together, and conciliate their often opposing interests? In the face of all of that, this late-capitalistic genuflection actually constitutes a form of idolatry. Have world-shy adherents to various faith traditions thought this thing through? This strange allegiance, this untenable genuflection, this dread corruption is a lot worse than R-rated movies!

I’m a member of this choir, obviously. (As such, I would strongly and even urgently recommend Achbar/Peter Wintonick’s galvanizing 1992 provocation, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.) And I often wonder why members of other congregations with which I affiliate are so $-insistent. After all, compare the ratio of Biblical references that justify self-interested material increase—the parable of the talents, and, um…—to the overwhelming insistence that want and poverty be relieved. Still, surrounded as I am by capitalists that not only mean well, but very often do well, I feel to make a mild counter-point. By saying all this, and by saying it like this, The Corporation is probably only reinforcing this great divide, and the resolution of the factions arrayed on either side. They are correct, and the other side, broadly speaking, still won’t listen, and it all goes on, and on, and on…