Corporation, The (2004)Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 10/07/03 04:26:25
A lot of documentaries get a rise out of their audience. Some even invoke social change, or at the least some serious reflection upon our place in the world. But I can safely say I've never seen an audience so moved, en masse, to explore actual social activism on a grand scale as the audience who watched this three hour masterwork. The first standing ovation I've seen delivered at the Vancouver Film Festival was not only deserved, but also very long, and what followed the screening overshadowed even that outpouring of emotion.The Corporation could never have been made in the USA. It took a Canadian team to put this work together, and it'll take far more than legal threats and intimidation to kill it. An almost three hour look at the past, present and future of corporations as a business entity, you'd be forgiven for rolling your eyes and giving the thing a miss if you only had a loose synopsis to go on.
But where this documentary matters is in the details - the nasty, disgusting, gory details of what the corporation has done to this world, what it's doing today, and what we can expect it to do tomorrow if we don't get our freaking act together.
The extreme right 'love it or leave it' crowd are no doubt already starting to yell "Lefty propaganda," but this isn't an Anti-Bush attack on all things capitalist. This isn't hippy rhetoric or new age spin or a call to the communes. It isn't hoity toity technospeak or boring talking-head PBS filler. What The Corporation is, is a healthy dose of well-researched, deeply explored, stunning information that can not possibly leave you, as an audience member, in any condition but stunned, dismayed, and outraged.
Maybe you know it all already. If you're like me, you read the papers, you know who's buying who and that the unstoppable bulldozer of globalization is hurting a lot of people. If you're like me, you're disgusted that TV news has become a wrestling match to decide which party has the best 'spin', and you might have even learned enough about global politics to be sick to death of what you're seeing in the world today.
But The Corporation will teach you things you never dreamed of. it will change you. It will ruin your day, but give you reason to get up in the morning - determined to make change.
Imagine, if you will, that France had started injecting their cows with a chemical hormone agent that increased milk productivity, but had side effects that would cause massive damage and pain to the cows, and would then be passed into the milk in large quantities. Imagine that the UK and Canada had banned that chemical from use because it is absorbed by the human body and has a real danger of causing cancer and other health issues in humans. And imagine that France had approved it anyway, after testing it on only 30 rats.
Got that? Now imagine that a French investigative journalist had found proof of all this but had a big news report quashed by his network because it might harm advertising revenue from the chemical company.
And imagine that the journalist had documented proof that his network had tried to alter his story to tell lies about the chemical for their advertisers, and that the journalist had been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep quiet about it and just "go away."
Would you be outraged? Would you be disgusted that the French could poison their children and that their media would cover it up? How outraged would you be if that French milk ended up in YOUR child's school?
Well, get ready to be outraged, but not at the French, because the wouldn't touch Monsanto's RPGH chemical with a forty foot cattle prod. No, instead Monsanto sells it to American diary farmers. The FDA approved it despite no human testing having been done. And Fox TV ordered the journalists who were ready to break the story nationally to rewrite their report *83 times*, before finally sacking the journalists, offering them a huge payout to shut up, and eventually appealing an almost half million dollar award given to the journalists for retaliatory dismissal.
Of course, Fox appealed the award, and won their case when a judge deemed that it might not actually be against the law to give the public 'false news'.
And what of the chemical? Well, suffice to say that a large amount of the milk American children will drink tomorrow morning has a cow hormone in it, and that hormone will be ingested by those children. If your daughter begins to grow udders, try orange juice.
But the state of America's milk is small potatoes when you consider what else is going on.
How outraged would you be if a major US computer manunfacturer had been doing secret business with Saddam Hussein, setting up a system that would allow Saddam to categorize what torture would be given to which prisoner, and which execution method would be doled out after that? Imagine that Hewlett Packard had sent engineers to Iraq to program all this for Saddam and they'd kept it all on the hush hush. Would you be ready to have the company broken up?
Well, don't get all angry at Hewlett Packard - save your ire for IBM. Not only did that company do secret business with the Nazis during World War II, but they actually had engineers work with the Germans to set up a punch card system that could categorize the imprisonment, transportation and method of death of Jewish prisoners. To be sure, killing six million Jews is no easy task, but IBM made it a whole lot easier for Herr Hitler to do his work by building a punchcard system that had settings for 'execution', 'death by labor' and 'special treatments'.
Along similar lines, what it Pepsi had decided that, rather than do business with Iraq openly, they'd simply start a new brand of soft drink, call it something like "Alla Cola", and rake in big dollars keeping the enemy from getting thirsty while allied GI's were dying in large numbers fighting them on a battlefield.
You'd be a little shocked, right? Well, Pepsi did no such thing, but Coke did. When Coca Cola decided they couldn't sell Coke to th Germans openly, they instead opted to set up a new brand - Fanta - and sell it secretly to the enemy. Remember the gas chambers next time you sip into that cool orange flavor...
But it goes on. If Microsoft, AOL Time Warner and Lockheed Martin got together and decided to finance a private army of 500,000 people to overthrow the US Government, you'd not only be outraged, you'd call for their directors to be hung by the ankles and beaten with lead pipes - yet JP Morgan, Firestone and Dupont did exactly that in the 1930's, and were only stopped in their plot when one of the main architects of the scheme experienced pangs of guilt and 'fessed up. That man was a General of the US Army.
Disney wants you to be born, bred and die loving their products, to the point where they built their own city - Celebration, Florida. Now you can do more than simply buy a $35 Mickey Mouse T-shirt when you next go to Disneyland, now you can buy an apartment there.
And in perhaps the most vile demonstration that nothing is sacred anymore - AOL Time Warner owns the song, Happy Birthday to You. You can show it in a film for the low, low price of $10,000.
What's the point of all this? Well, it's really pretty simple. As The Corporation points out, when the term 'corporation' was created, it was intended to denote a company that would be 'granted' the right to limited liability in return for serving the greater public good. For example, if the government needed a railway built from the west coast to the east coast, they'd allow a corporation to form to get the job done. If they needed a power station, likewise. But the catch would be that the corporation was subservient to the general public. It would charge a set price, serve a set service, it couldn't buy property, sue someone in court, or receive political favors, and if it failed in its mission it could be dissolved, fined, closed, whatever the government thought proper.
That was until a court case was lodged claiming a corporation has the same rights as a person. Surprisingly, the corporation won. Nowadays, corporations control the political process, the information we get in the media, the very genetics of the food we eat, the morals we pass on to our children, our ability to communicate, and they even topple governments when it suits them.
And that's the basis of this documentary. All too often we take the standpoint that if al we do is follow the rules, we'll live long fruitful lives and nobody will ever do us wrong in government or in big business. But the truth is far different, and seemingly always has been. American companies sell seed to third world countries that has a 'suicide gene' added, so that the seed will never reproduce. Rather than help these countries and farmers become self-sufficient, the corporation prefers to make them dependent for the rest of their lives.
In Bolivia, a dire financial situation saw the government told that they could only get World Bank loans if they privatized everything - from railways to oil companies to hospitals to water. But privatization brought new problems. Bechtel, a US company, claimed that since the water supply came from rain in the mountains, that even rainwater was now their private property. Can you even believe that - the act of collecting rainwater was seen as theft of Bechtel's property!
The company duly increased the price of the national water supply to 1/4 of the average monthly wage, leading thousands to be unable to afford to drink tap water, and legally obliged not to collect rainwater. Needless to say, this kind of corporate disgrace resulted in the topple of a government and the reclamation of the country's water supply from the company in question, but how far down have we sunk when it takes a national revolution for a corporate criminal to get lost?
With interviews from the usual gang of lefties - Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, et all - The Corporation could easily have been a yelling, screaming, chanting case of shaking your fist at the wind, but it must be said that the people constructing this film have done so with academic impartiality and impeccable depth. Michael Moore rightly points out that, though the company that will distribute this film will undoubtedly not agree with its contents, or Moore's words, it will still sell the film because it doesn't actually believe in anything but pure profit. Moore is pretty clear, and undeniably right - a CEO will sell you the rope with which to hang him, as long as there's a profit in it.
But not every CEO it seems. Interface Carpet CEO Ray Anderson had an epiphany a few years ago that not a single corporation on the planet was a sustainable one. Every large company takes more out of the earth than it gives back, and when you come to grips with that point, it's no great leap to realize there has to be a limit placed on that kind of imbalance if we're to avoid killing ourselves. Pump crap into the oceans for long enough and you have an ocean of crap - so where do you pump that?
Anderson has become an advocate for responsible corporate life, managing to keep his company's raw material and pollution intake from rising at all over the last few years, while still managing to increase profits by $200m and maintain his company's place as the biggest carept manufacturer in the world. As Anderson describes the way he used to run his business, he's almost in tears. If only a few other CEOs had a tenth of his humanity.
The Corporation does look at the other side of the coin, giving pro-globalization and pro-privatization types plenty of air-time with which to air their views. Strangely though, most of them seem to make absolutely zero sense with a view to defending their cause. A marketing expert tells the camera with beaming pride who she performed a study that showed how valuable the 'nag factor' is with marketing to children. There she is boasting that 40% of things parents buy are bought only because she has convinced a child to nag for it. A honcho from the Fraser Institute does a similar shit-eating grin routine as he claims we'd all be better off if every stream, every rock, every piece of air was privatized and owned. You honestly want to punch him in his fat, bald, white head when he does so.
The Corporation is comprehensive, damning, brilliant and insane, all at once. The producers have put their money where their mouth is, dared the big boys to find fault in their arguments, and laid themselves bare to be sued if legal action is warranted. To this point they're clear, but the directors did make note that Fox lawyers were in attendance at the Toronto Film Festival, sending electronic messages back to homebase as the film played on the screen. For their part, Fox claims they're simply considering buying the film for distribution... right.
Look, you have a place on the planet right now that isn't necessarily going to be there forever. It's great that you've been born and bred in a country that allows people to vote and talk and discuss and criticize, but you also have a responsibility to protect those rights, that country, and your place on the planet. How long can we go on exploiting before the exploited rise up? How many times can we mess with a seed before that seed stops being functional and we lose a staple food source?
And before you answer, take into account that the world's banana supply will be extinct within the next ten years, due to every commercial banana on the market having the exact same DNA as every other banana. That shared DNA means bananas are unable to adapt to defend themselves against new diseases. In 2012, we lose our most popular fruit source, yet we're still toying with nature tryin to squeeze an extra unit of productivity out of everything we grow.
Set aside three hours of your life and watch The Corporation. Hunt it down, find it, any way you can. I just watched 750 people sit down as capitalists and stand up yelling for change. I witnessed people throwing brand name products into garbage cans afterwards in disgust. I witnessed hundreds signing on to email lists for more information about how they can help change the world. I saw an audience moved to exact change on the world around them, to take back what was once theirs and maybe one day can be again.
Normal documentaries don't have that kind of an effect on an audience. Normal documentaries don't give you enough to get truly fucked off at what is being done to us. The Corporation, to be sure, is far from a 'normal' documentary. This is the kind fo filmmaking that could, if seen on a large scale, change the society we live in.Remember, it's not unAmerican to require a company to not hurt the people who keep it in business. It's not unpatriotic to require business people to take responsibility for their actions. It isn't wrong to put people before profit. And most importantly, it isn't too late. You still can do something. Heck, if Bolivians can overthrow a government because their water is too expensive, just imagine what we could do if we got off the corporate nipple and started taking the world back. For more information on The Corporation, go to http://www.thecorporation.tv
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