Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Corporation

Finals week has arrived. I had a final last night, a final tonight, and just had to finish an extra credit essay on a ridiculous movie called "The Corporation" that one of my teachers forced us to watch. For your snarky pleasure, that essay is below.

In The Corporation, several communication strategies can be highlighted. The film comes in at approximately 2 and-a-half hours and is broken into several segments, each highlighting what is presented as an objective evil perpetrated by corporations. But because of its overwhelming theme, in which no dissenting opinion can get through without being marginalized, ridiculed, or dismissed, I’m concentrating on the hegemonic groupthink present in the presentation of the material, as well as the discursive closure strategies used to accomplish these goals.

In the film, the modern corporation represents the low point of human history; this was apparent by the time the 1:50 mark arrived and the film was comparing corporate practices with those of Nazis. For The Corporation film, the idea of ‘the corporation’ as a business entity is an object of abject abhorrence that completely dominates the entire film’s narrative. In this way the idea of any corporation anywhere as patently evil is taken as sacrosanct. It is the type of hegemony on display that is somewhat more difficult to define.

On the surface the film would seem to be more of a subtle form of hegemony in that it utilizes symbols (i.e. images and audio) to influence people and ‘move’ ideas in a direction different from the predominant viewpoint, namely that corporations, while not perfect, provide incomes and insurance to billions of people across the world and have contributed significantly to the modern conveniences that make life more efficient now than it ever has been before.

However, there is nothing subtle about The Corporation. Though no actual labor strike occurs and the viewer’s life is not inherently altered by the viewing of the film, it represents a form of speech that is nothing if not overt. By choosing the most extreme examples of corporate mistakes and misbehavior, the film makers present only the worst of the worst and the viewer with no additional frame of reference could come away from the movie with a significantly dim view of any corporation. If the film had been more intellectual honest in its approach they could have informed rather than engaged in what amounts to a 150-minute filibuster. They even managed to get a negative-sounding quote about corporations from Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, perhaps the greatest defender of capitalism and corporations the world has ever known.

Group think is present in several instances, although to catch it one would have to be aware that several of the film’s points mirror common talking points from anti-corporate groups and thinkers. But most examples come from the subtext. Why are there no voices allowed to make opposing viewpoints in this film without being marginalized, dismissed, or depicted as foolish?

For example, the expression of the opinion that corporations “transform people’s lives for the better,” it is delivered by a na├»ve-looking teenage boy in what appears to be a 1950s junior high educational film. While he delivers this opinion, cartoonish “Leave it to Beaver”-esque music plays in the background. The scene is cut off with a jarring cut wherein more anti-corporation talking heads arrive to override the previous opinion, putting into place disqualificative discursive closure to marginalize the offending thought, showing the audience that the dissenting opinion is one that can’t be taken seriously.

Given enough time, the film works through almost all types of discursive closure methods to deliver its singular message. Using neutralization, the film tells viewers that a corporation’s concern for stockholders does not qualify as a concern for society. Society in which stockholders apparently do not belong or participate, apparently. In a later scene about sweatshops the film states that corporations create wealth for poor countries but then criticizes the same corporations for sometimes relocating, taking their payrolls with them. In this case the film can’t decide if corporations are evil for enriching poor countries or are evil for ceasing to enrich poor countries. Either way the corporations’ ability to bring wealth to poor nations is rendered a non-issue; something best to not think about too much. This occurs again when discussing layoffs. Corporations are evil and no one should work for them, but corporations that lay people off destroy lives.

Throughout the film legitimation occurs constantly, when the film’s values are presented as the way things should be and as the standard by which all others should be measured. There is a counter-argument to the concept of ‘social accountability’ but in the film the fact that everyone should aspire to this is assumed as normal and uncontested the fact that the world is round. At other times, corporations are discussed to very clearly be ‘not a person.’ This is true-corporations are many people. This is lost on the filmmakers, to whom a corporation is a non-human golem, unthinking and unfeeling.

In the end, the film uses naturalization to make the case that corporations will change, they will come around to the filmmakers’ world view, and they will be fundamentally transformed whether they like it or not. All it takes is some social action and positive thinking. Ironically, however, the film fails to mention that the company distributing The Corporation is “Big Picture Media Corporation”-a corporation. Even more ironically, the inclusion of this fact actually would have conclusively proven their thesis.


Shannon said...

So are you going to fail this class now? I can't imagine your teacher letting you pass it once he or she realizes that you are smarter than they are.

Christian said...

She gave me 100% on it because I made some "interesting points." Of course the teacher also thinks "I heard it through the grapevine" was written by "The California Raisins" in the "80s"