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The Corporation (Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003)


    The Corporation, a documentary that serves as an assault on the ďdominant institutionĒ of our times, spends plenty of time making its points, but its collection of facts and interpretations donít quite make it the withering damnation that it aspires to be. In one particularly crowd-pleasing segment, it rattles off a bullet-point list, comparing the behavior of a hypothetical corporation (incidentally, one that has all the faults of all corporations) to a psychopathic individual, but many of the points in the schizophrenic profile that it creates could be applied to its own argument. Though the movie is obviously well-intentioned, some of its messages are contradictory and muddled. For example, thereís much said about the ways that the public relations tactics used by corporations, such as charity work and advertising promoting environmental awareness, is actually a moneymaking tactic designed to create the appearance of compliance. Itís confusing then, when the documentarians hold up the very public ďvictoryĒ in the Kathie Lee Gifford sweatshop scandal as a sign that progress is being made. After all, itís clearly stated that the company still underpays its laborers to this day. Clearly, even activism has its limitations when confronting a problem so intricate that it canít be adequately summed up in a documentary that runs nearly two and a half hours.


    Thatís not to say that The Corporation is to be blamed for trying to get to the bottom of the problem. Itís a far-reaching film that tells us dozens of smaller, often gripping, stories, narrated by people on all sides of the argument, in hopes of getting at the larger one. What it lacks, however, is a centralized thesis that takes all sides of the argument into perspective. Throughout the movie, thereís constant tension between the corporation as an entity and the human interests that it sometimes jeopardizes. Largely, missing from the filmís perspective, however, is the obvious fact that human beings run corporations. There are a few scattered statements from CEOs that try to suggest the opposite by telling us they arenít able to make the decisions they would personally want in order to be effective in their jobs, but those snippets donít discount the fact that almost all of the detrimental effects that corporations have on the world come about from the poor decisions of people. Similarly, the film works overtime comparing capitalism to fascism, but it doesnít seem to understand the fundamental differences between the two systems. The corporate structure being attacked couldnít exist under a truly fascist regime, and the filmís seeming ignorance of that seems to suggest that it is willfully simplifying matters to capture a larger audience share. Sometimes The Corporationís grim outlook and eagerness to paint a very vague villain obscures the amount of good journalism thatís present here.




Jeremy Heilman