My thoughts on the video named "The Corporation."
Do Something; Do Anything
The “first industrial revolution is flawed. It is not working. It is unsustainable. It is the mistake. And, we must move on to other and better … industrial revolution, get it right this time.” (Abbott, 2003; Ray Anderson quote). This sentiment was the most pertinent premise of the entire film.
With this assignment, I had to ask myself why a documentary was picked? What exactly is a documentary? What is meant by the word ‘corporation’? I had heard of both words before. As Dictionary.com states, a documentary is “based on or re-creating (an event or story) that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements.” Then, a corporation is defined as “an association of individuals, created by law or under the authority of law, having a continuous existence independent of the existences of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its members. … any group of persons united or regarded as united in one body” (Dictionary.com, 2017). I understand both definitions; but as this documentary pointed out, the latter explanation does not adequately provide the complete characterization of history’s concept of the term corporation.
The driving questions, as stated by co-producer/director Mark Achbar, were, “What is the nature of the institution? What are the problems that have arisen from it? And what are people doing in response? The pool of questions for the interviews was created by co-director Jennifer Abbott, author Joel Bakan, associate producer Dawn Brett, and Achbar. (Hart, 2005). Those interviewed included Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, retired Chairman and CEO of Goodyear Sam Gibara, and (since diseased) Interface, Inc.’s Ray Anderson. The latter, Anderson, is one interviewee I wish more corporations would emulate.
In the film, Anderson spoke of how he woke up to see the environmental ruin his carpet company was doing. Before his death in 2011, he makes note in his 2009 book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, that “since 1994 Interface has: cut greenhouse gas emissions by 82 percent, cut fossil fuel consumption by 60 percent, cut waste by 66 percent, cut water use by 75 percent, invented and patented new machines, materials, and manufacturing processes, as well as increased sales by 66 percent, (doubling) earnings, and (raising) profit margins.” (Gies, 2011). Our government should add into law that all corporations be demanded to do the same.
The footage, of this 2003 Canadian documentary, presents its context with the current United States 14th Amendment which initially had been “made to protect newly freed slaves.” (Abbott, 2003; Mary Zepernick within documentary). Then corporate lawyers manipulated our 14th Amendment by successfully persuading the Supreme Court to rule that a corporation is an individual. So now, constitutional law sees, and treats, corporations as individuals. This change has created a problematic focal point which has already affected thousands of people and created problems for our environment. The relevance of the individual interviews and opinions, along with the legal information and public stance, will bear significance for many years to come.
The social-historical context within this production is far more relevant than I would wish it was because of its reality in today’s existence. “The premise of ‘The Corporation’ is simple: if a corporation legally has the same rights as a human being, then it should be treated as one.” (Hart, 2005). How our judicial system can ‘justifiably’ view any corporation as such was shocking and disheartening. The viewing of this documentary should be mandated for all workers in business, including VIPs. It should also be required for all those studying business. After viewing, all should then be required to partake in a discussion with those less fortunate such as the children workers mentioned in the film. Not that this would happen, but it should be done if corporations are to be considered individuals then they should have responsibilities as an “individual.”
Jennifer Abbott, one of the directors for the documentary, commented, “… anybody who believes that so-called objectivity in media is possible is naive. (The)… point of view, (is not) obvious because it’s so submerged in mainstream values, which frequently are corporate values. We (clearly) have a point of view.” (Hart, 2005). The other director of this piece, Mark Achbar, states, “The corporation is a legal construct (allowing) people to concentrate capital, do business, and be irresponsible for the actions the corporation takes in their name. It’s an irresponsibility machine. It’s a license to amplify the worst aspects of human nature, to exploit, to harm — even kill — in the name of shareholders.” (Hart, 2005). These powerful quotes tell the point of their mission of the film’s production.
What was our government thinking when they permitted corporations to be identified as an individual? What was our judicial system thinking when they allowed patents to be submitted and accepted for living organisms? The legal eagles must be well versed in the use of allegory definitions because of the current ruling which allows such should realistically be viewed as a ‘figure of speech’ not law and hence not allowed.
Having interviews from past and present CEOs of major corporations, and hearing their views on morality, was thought-provoking. While interviews are an auditory factor in this documentary, visual meanings were also crucial in relaying messages for the “social-historical context of the film’s production.” One, which I shall not forget, was the image of a young woman with a UPC symbol tied in front of her face during a protest where a sign saying, “What corporation are you from?” is displayed. (Abbott, 2003). While watching the news, or witnessing protests, I have seen banners and signs, images and gestures, but this singular use of a UPC was very expressive and original.
While not ideal, there is much to learn from our history and the development of corporations. We can, and should, benefit from our past. Zepernick, Program on Corporations – Law and Democracy, states, “There were very few chartered corporations … shareholders were liable … could not own another (corporation).” (Abbott, 2003). This point of not owning another corporation could have possibly been a good point to study and possibly revert to in addressing the ‘what if’ factor. Such as, what if we had a law which said not more than one corporation could be owned by one entity. Would we be better off without so much power deriving from so few big conglomerates being a ruling body within society?
Even after viewing a multitude of World War II documentaries, this video was able to educate me in another aspect of the Nazi Regime. I had never heard the crisscrossing of International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) and the Holocaust. During this production, Irving Wladawski-Berger, VP – IBM Technology and Strategy Group, stated IBM was falsely accused by historians and the work of the author, Edwin Black. Berger commented, “I believe that that particular accusation has been fairly discredited as a serious accusation. The fact that they have used equipment, you know, that is a fact. But, how they go about it, how many corporations they got and any kind of collusion trying to connect dots that are not connected. I think that’s the part that is discredited.” (Abbott, 2003). Since this interview, the United States Holocaust Museum, the Jewish Virtual Library project, as well as other historical groups, have gathered enough facts to discredit the denials IBM has stated all along. Taken from the Jewish Virtual Library site, “Some of it IBM knew about it daily throughout the 12-year Reich. … IBM NY officials, and frequently Watson's personal representatives, Harrison Chauncey and Werner Lier, were almost constantly in Berlin or Geneva, monitoring activities, ensuring that the parent company in New York was not cut out of any of the profits or business opportunities Nazism presented. When U.S. law made such direct contact illegal, IBM's Swiss office became the nexus, providing the New York office continuous information and credible deniability.” (Black, 2017).
Interviewee points and statements which continue to swirl in my head include:
Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman’s words “social responsibility… dismantled … who can be held accountable?” A social worker in Arcata, CA, Amy Field thoughts that “corporations are not accountable to the democratic process.” (Abbott, 2003).
The repeated verbiage of “productivity per man hour” and “no moral conscious… nobody to incarcerate… bottom line” does not seem to be thoughts of an individual. Does it? Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former Chairman Royal Dutch – Shell, condenses the legal stance within a corporation as being “Legally bound to put its bottom line above everything else including the public good.” If this is the case, then why does our government stand up and change the ruling about “our” government. (Abbott, 2003).
Is it true that our government is a shell for all the corporate bodies? Will the passing of privatizing what is rightfully Mother Nature’s become a global reality?
In finalizing this film analysis, stratification within this documentary is vastly separated. There are those of society without being a ‘cell in the corporation’s body,’ and then there are the masses. You would think that if the corporation was an individual, as the law categorizes it, it would be easier to cooperate. Instead, it is a David and Goliath situation with society being David. Functionalism is not very prevalent, which is frustrating. Although most of society does try to work together, the inhuman and interdependency of corporations have created a world where it is difficult to be held together by a social consensus. If we look at both a mechanical and organic solidarity, there are strong allegiances to fight for our (the non-corporate) rights. The Marxist perspective about conflict perspective might be a better way to explain this film, but my problem with this is that although there were many negative thoughts and facts presented, I do not feel this was to be the gest of the movie. I think it was to help us as a society to move and be part of our government, research what can be done, act on the possibilities, look for plausibilities. The sociological perspectives within the Corporation were across the board. It reached to the micro and macro levels of analysis. It focused on face-to-face interaction, relationships between the parts of society, along with resources and control.
This documentary encompasses such a vast quantity of information by such a variety of people that by touching on history, current affairs, corporate ‘higher-ups,’ the poor, the activists, rural and urban dwellers, authors’ writings, and educators’ theories, this film is all inclusive and should be watched several times by all.
Abbott, J., Achbar, M., Bakan, J., (2003). The Corporation: a documentary. (Full length). Big Picture Media Corporation & Filmwest Associates. YouTube. TulsaLiberty posted 2011, October 20. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHrhqtY2khc&t=3s
Dictionary.com, (2017) Web on 2017, November 09. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/
Hart, A. (2005, April 4). Greed is Good?; Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar Talk About “The Corporation.” Retrieved November 9, 2017, from http://www.indiewire.com/2005/04/dvd-re-run-interview-greed-is-good-jennifer-abb...
Gies, E. (2011, August 10). Interface Founder Ray Anderson Leaves Legacy of Sustainability Success. Retrieved November 9, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericagies/2011/08/10/interface-founder-ray-anderson...