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Corporation, The (2004)
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by Mel Valentin

"A call to enlightened, impassioned, progressive activism."
4 stars

"The Corporation," an ambitious, sweeping, 145-minute left-leaning documentary (a longer, 225-minute version will be likely available on DVD) directed by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott & Joel Bakan (who provided the source material), examines the 150-year history, growth, and consequences of the modern corporation (a “legal person” under corporate law). The documentary filmmakers, however, don’t take the typically dry, humorless approach favored by public broadcasting documentarians. They aren’t above satirizing and skewering both the nature of corporations and the businessmen (CEOs and consultants) who owe their continuing financial success to them.

Corporations are ubiquitous in modern industrial and post-industrial life, their effects on public opinion, ideology, and the environment equally pernicious (while, to be fair, offering certain economic standards for its employees working in Western countries). As The Corporation reaffirms, corporations are created and sustained by a single, overriding goal, the pursuit of profit (with the related pursuit of power to guarantee and increase short-term and long-term profits).

The Corporation begins with a focus on history, with a late-nineteenth century decision by the United States Supreme Court. The Court decisively accepted the legal argument that corporations were entitled to the status of “legal person.” With that Supreme Court decision, corporations could enter into contracts, enforce those contracts in courts of law, and otherwise enjoy the privileges and rights of “actual” persons. That decision led to the unprecedented growth of the modern corporation, without regard to the public good, or to what Milton Friedman, an economist interviewed for the documentary, calls “externalities,” the unintended effects of a transaction between two parties on a third party. In short, with economic growth and success, with the massive concentration of wealth, corporations were under no legal obligation to control “externalities” (i.e., pollution, toxic and hazardous waste dumping, etc.), many of which have led to disease, poverty, exploitation of natural and human resources, and the use of economic power and wealth to influence government decision making.

Achbar, Abbott, and Bakan cleverly analogize the modern corporation to a psychologically disturbed individual (actually a “psychopath”). Citing the Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and a Personality Diagnostic Checklist, the filmmakers denote six characteristics shared by most psychopaths, (1) callous unconcern for the feelings of others, (2) incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, (3) reckless disregard for the safety of others, (4) deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning others for profit, (5) incapacity to experience guilt, and (6) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors. By these standards, corporations pose a serious, long-term danger to the environmental health of our world, and to Western-style democracies, where the financial power and heft of corporations negatively influence local, state, and federal lawmakers and the laws they craft into favoring corporations, without concomitant consideration of the public interest or the public good.

Relying on case studies and interviews (with, according to the film’s marketing campaign, seven CEOs, three VPs, two whistleblowers, etc.), Achbar, Abbott, and Bakan build a case for the prosecution. Their interviews with CEOs lead to several conclusions, the most important of which is the recognition (by interviewer and interviewee) that the recent attempt to humanize and liberalize corporations by focusing on social responsibility and corporate accountability is more public relations than actual change in the fundamental nature of corporations. When corporations trump their labor standards, racial and gender diversity, their newfound social vision and involvement in local communities, those decisions are carefully aimed at maximum media exposure, through marketing, interviews, and other initiatives. A fundamental change in the structure and goals of corporations, if it does happen (and here I have to admit to more skepticism than the filmmakers), can only come through changes in corporate law (which, in effect, would balance the profit motive and the public good), and increased government oversight and regulation (untainted by corporate lobbyists, a still unlikely possibility).

The examination of corporations doesn’t stop there, however. In probably its strongest segment, the documentary examines whistleblowers and the unsurprising effects that years of corporate-funded litigation can have to stifle dissent and muzzle the mainstream media. Case in point: Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, investigative reporters fired by a Florida affiliate of the Fox News Network after they refused to rewrite and dilute a story on rBGH, a synthetic hormone created and distributed by Monsanto in the United States (but banned in Europe and Canada). RBGH enhances cow metabolism and increases milk production. As a result of increased milk production, cows tend to suffer from something called mastitis, a painful udder infection. Unsurprisingly, antibiotics are employed to combat the infection, antibiotics that eventually enter the milk supply. Milk consumers, then, can suffer from an increased tolerance or immunity to antibiotics, and eventually an increased susceptibility to antibiotic-resistant diseases.

After Fox News fired them, Akre and Wilson sued Fox under a Florida whistleblower’s statute. In a local civil court, they won a judgment against Fox News. The jury had found that the story Fox News would have aired would have been false, misleading, and distorting. On appeal, the judgment for the Akre and Wilson was overturned (the appellate court found that there was no violation of the whistleblower statue, since Akre and Wilson did not allege that Fox News had violated any criminal statutes). Fox News didn’t stop there, however. In an unprecedented move, the litigators for Fox News have instituted a new lawsuit against Akre and Wilson for legal and court fees (which are generally not awarded under American civil law). As of this writing, that case is still pending. Fox News, of course, has made it abundantly clear to its employees that dissent will be met with lengthy and costly litigation (Akre and Wilson, who are married, had to take a second mortgage on their home, and with the new litigation, are likely to go bankrupt). Akre has been unable to find work, and Wilson commutes from Detroit to Florida on weekends to spend time with Akre and their daughter.

Having made the case against corporations, however, the filmmakers falter in describing approaches to corporate power. Certainly, legal changes can and should be made, and current environmental laws should be strengthened or, in some cases, rewritten (e.g., corporations in compliance with federal environmental law can generate “pollution credits,” essentially the difference between maximum allowable pollution emissions and what they actually produce, and sell those credits to other corporations who would otherwise violate federal environmental laws). The filmmakers also point to anti-corporate activism as a necessary response to irresponsible corporations, but they don’t attempt to answer the very real problem of awakening the majority of Americans (and world citizens) into activism and participation in nascent global movements. As such, the mainstream media presents activists as a step away from conspiracy theorists, well meaning but ill-informed, with equally misguided tactics. For example, the documentarians proudly point to the anti-globalization protests at the Seattle WTO meetings. The effects on the WTO and its policies, however, have turned out to be negligible (WTO meetings are now held in “safer” cities, and with better security measures).

Regardless of its shortcomings, however, "The Corporation" is a must-see for the concerned citizen interested in a brief, if left-leaning, introduction into the nature and impact of the modern-day corporation. "The Corporation" may ask more questions than it answers, but those answers can only come through increased dialogue between activists and non-activists and counter-balancing lobbying efforts at the local, state, and federal levels. The need for involvement at all levels is there, but that need has to be met by a measured, well-informed response by a no longer passive citizenry.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8248&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/24/05 15:19:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.
This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Minneapolis/St.Paul Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/24/07 Ida Ansharyani It teach me how to see myself, and the reality of life in my country into a wider scheme 5 stars
7/31/07 fools♫gold So pretty it leaves me with these ineloquent sentences. Can't give it a high enough score. 5 stars
6/19/07 johnnyfog smartest guys in the room 4 stars
6/15/07 dnnxkz The professionals of Full Tilt Poker include the best and most famous poker players in the 1 stars
5/30/06 Kevin Very informative. Definitely intended for the "average" audience, though 5 stars
5/23/06 sean g GREAT! SHOULD BE required viewing for business ethics 101 courses 5 stars
5/07/06 Simon Very engaging, worthy of praise, but please do not enslave yourself to its activism... 5 stars
2/15/06 carole fuenzalida a real eye opener!! some of it i was already aware of..great movie 5 stars
1/04/06 Andrew Coomber Absolutely Thriving. The horror of globalization lies in here. 5 stars
10/26/05 Scott Extreme Left bashing of the freedom we fight for. 1 stars
6/04/05 Mike Jozic A little 'simple' in its execution but an otherwise well done doc. 3 stars
4/23/05 shirley kelley a life changing experience! 5 stars
11/06/04 Katie Heath Quite a few people got up and left when I was there but I was rivetted! 5 stars
10/27/04 David Delucchi extraordinary film 5 stars
9/27/04 Elendil ..but simplistic. Read Powers' Gain by if u want entertainment + history of corporations. 4 stars
9/27/04 Helen Bradley Brilliant. Fast paced documentary well researched 5 stars
9/19/04 David Löfgren I've been dreaming for so long... It's time to wake up! 5 stars
9/13/04 Johnna Laurel great concept,and also casting 5 stars
9/09/04 joe smith true,accurate countervailing statement 5 stars
9/06/04 Gene Beed Shallow, sophomoric, manipulative. Should appeal to most neoilbs. 1 stars
9/04/04 BC I feel I need to look more closely at my life and institute changes wherever possible 5 stars
9/02/04 sunny Great film, makes you think and want to make things better 5 stars
8/28/04 capitalbliss Great movie but now that we know, what next? I think we need a sequel Micheal. 5 stars
8/20/04 Mark Ridiculous anti-capitalist tirade obviously popular with brainwashed lefties 2 stars
7/31/04 Nikolai Corporations will buy the Vatican and gain a soul. War creates jobs and democracy. 5 stars
7/18/04 Cassandra Farrar makes you think! 4 stars
7/17/04 Michael Kwiatkowski I have not yet seen this film, but I want to. In fact, I most likely will. 4 stars
6/15/04 Thomas Hickey Great! A must see film for everyone! 5 stars
6/07/04 Anthony Pereira One of the most important movies I have seen in 37 yeares on our planet, or is it theirs. 5 stars
5/21/04 Rich Pretty damn important. 5 stars
5/15/04 Jean lacks objectivity and focus, still very interresting and enjoyable 4 stars
5/04/04 thejames go see it fucker! 5 stars
5/03/04 beatrice quite freaky....facing reality ...really good documentary..those docs are needed 5 stars
4/22/04 Ed Maher Required viewing for all Americans. 5 stars
4/13/04 Cameron Slick Totally awesome! 5 stars
4/12/04 Rob Bond Very thorough and informative! A film's GOT to be interesting to 4me2 want more after 3hrs! 5 stars
4/10/04 Tim Powerful, Incisive, Important documentary, Works VERY well as a commercial-release movie! 5 stars
4/07/04 filmguy fantastic! clear-headed, well-researched and tremendously engaging. Not to be missed. 5 stars
4/06/04 Jessie I had to watch The Corporation as a class assignment. It was a great film, makes you think 5 stars
4/04/04 The Kind Anarchy Organization founder people in the theatre were laughing...i was crying 5 stars
4/03/04 G Spafford Best movie I've seen in a long time. 5 stars
4/02/04 Hilarium It'll be in the US in June. Can't wait to see it again. 5 stars
4/02/04 Ken Shepard Take your family and friends 5 stars
2/25/04 Nicholas Engelking Looks good, hot topic, good facts, bad process, see it anyway. 3 stars
2/24/04 KC Grant Will it play in the US 5 stars
2/16/04 rgpratt Must-see 5 stars
2/14/04 ben backward logic, retarded 1 stars
2/07/04 Ten EVERYONE needs to see this movie 5 stars
2/06/04 Jason Andrew A must see! 5 stars
2/03/04 Larry McDonald Very interesting! 4 stars
2/02/04 Rosie R Riveting, shocking, HUGE wake-up call 5 stars
2/02/04 Isabelle This movie should be seen by all high school students & parents all over the world. 5 stars
1/29/04 Graham Doll enlightening 5 stars
1/28/04 sophie Brilliant!!!!!! 5 stars
1/28/04 theo the usual cast of (left) wing nuts 1 stars
1/24/04 sunil kumar see review 5 stars
1/24/04 mel amazing and eye opening. 5 stars
1/23/04 Immaculate If you have a place on this planet right now wake up and do some change 5 stars
1/22/04 Zamir A clairvoyant look at our corporate society 5 stars
1/21/04 Rosco Act on this!!! 5 stars
1/20/04 Tim Unbelievable - changed my life! 5 stars
1/19/04 L. Lapage Eye-Opener 4 stars
1/17/04 Nick I can't help but look at everything in a diffrent way 5 stars
12/02/03 Rita FANTASTIC 5 stars
10/19/03 Josiane Absolutly fantastic MUST see 5 stars
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  04-Jun-2004 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Apr-2005


  02-Sep-2004 (PG)

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