As someone too broke to own a stock portfolio, I’ve often been puzzled as to how the greediest 2 percent of the population managed to seize control of the nation’s economy. Pork belly traders in New York get antsy, and the next thing you know, a carpenter in Alabama — some poor schlep who only thinks about “futures” when he stops by to have his palm read on the way to the track — is pawning his hammer to buy shoes for his kids.
Like everyone who lives in our land of milk and honey, I say: God bless capitalism. But at the same time, I’m pretty sure that if the Founding Fathers could have foreseen how much power modern corporations have over our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the First Amendment would have been “All those seeking the Master of Business Arts degree shall be smothered. And shot. And hanged. And dismembered.”
Given how mysterious this slow corporate coup has been, a documentary like “The Corporation” is more than welcome. Here, directors Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achber trace the evolution of the modern corporation, specifically focusing on how big business went from being a helpful provider of goods and services to a polluting, lying, deceitful, greedy, money-hungry monster, with loyalty only to the bottom line.
The documentary starts slow, playing on pop culture and historic images to illustrate the moment of conception of the modern corporation: the 1886 decision by the Supreme Court that declared corporations were to be regarded in the same light as individual Americans, with the right to pursue profits. From there, Achber and Abbott are off on a ride through the often strange world of corporations; how they look at money, employees, customers, advertising, and the world in general.
However, it is only around the time that we hear a Wall Street trader talk about, with near glee, the excitement he and other stockbrokers felt on hearing about the 9/11 attacks (because they knew “gold was going to go through the roof”) that the viewer realizes that the ride has taken a turn into the darkest reaches of the economic spookhouse.
From there, it only gets more bleak and sinister, showing how the money-driven corporate structure uses normal, morally sound people to commit outright evil: Monsanto Corp. injecting cancer-causing hormones into milk cows and Fox News Corp. strong-arming and firing reporters to cover it up. Liz Claiborne selling jackets for $130 that cost 8 cents to make in Central America. Bechtel Corp. gaining control over the Bolivian water supply, jacking up prices to around a quarter of the average family’s income, then getting legislation pushed through to make gathering rainwater illegal. IBM helping the Nazis solve their concentration camp information problems. The list goes on and on (to the point where the directors might be accused of overdriving this particular nail).
While it lacks the humor and attitude of Michael Moore’s corporate-hating rants, “The Corporation” is still a heck of a film, intricately researched, with some of the most damning statements coming from the mouths of CEOs themselves. While you might want to rush home and take a shower (courtesy of Entergy Corp.?), it is worth a look, and a lot of long thought afterward.
— By David Koon