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The Corporation

October 1, 2004 by Chris Woo

Directed by Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar

The Corporation is like an amoeba. It is an entity that sucks and eats whatever is on its path; pollutes and excretes whatever it cannot digest. It begins as an organism interactive organisations that structure and animates its form that must continually grow so as to reproduce parts of itself and dominate the environment of its birth. The Corporation is alive but it is not merely confined to an organism; it mutates into a subject.

The Corporation is based on Joel Bakan's book titled The Corporation: The pathological pursuit of profit and power. The documentary questions the confounding logic that claims a corporation, legally defined in the 14th Amendment, as a subject. A subject is distinct from the legal definition of a 'natural person but nonetheless hold similar rights. These legal privileges gives the company limited liability, which means that stockholders hold no accountability for the corporation's financial loses; the subject is allowed to sue and in return be sued; it is allowed to own property, sign binding contracts, have constitutional rights and even more disturbing, participate in social life.

What does it mean to be a subject, or in the terms of U.S. law, a corporate personhood? This question is pervasive in the documentary, which Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott (dirs.) relentlessly use as a trope to attack the smugness of corporate security. The voice-of-god enunciated by Mikela J. Mikael introduces the documentary with a cyborgian indifference. The invisible narrator that exposes the power structures of corporations presents a posthuman condition. The modernist, whole, and rational person is no longer visible but fragmented and prosthetically linked to an efficient system. The difference in this posthuman model is that the prosthetic is not composed of mechanical parts but rather constituted by natural persons.

Machinic organisations of the corporate subject are thus comparable to The Matrix trilogy (Wachowski Brothers: 1999, 2001, 2003) whereby the consumers of everyday life are illusionary creations of an apathetic and ruthless alien composite. The meaning of everyday life is an economical, semiotic formation that is provided by thousands of brands and corporate images. The consumer ingestion of logos and digitally remastered advertisements provide the necessary requirements for corporate survival. We are but sacrificial lambs in a capitalistic pen waiting to be honoured to a God called the corporation, which dictates only one law: make profit.

The immortality of the corporation is maintained by the ignorance of its consumers. But gods are frequently annihilated in our cultures and corporations are no exception. The documentary interpellates a resistive audience and offers counter-strategies against capitalistic systems that exploit Third World workers. The political commitment to grassroot coalitions such as Cochabambaian's war on water privatisation in Bolivia is a prime example of effective opposition.

While The Corporation maintains a critical assault on privatisation and its economic rationality, government ownership of businesses is projected as a more agreeable and less damaging option. Both the documentary and Bakan's book expresses the need for governments to enhance and revitalise the obligation to democracy, although this is less explicit in the film. Bakan states in an interview: What I suggest is that government, when it is democratically-run and democratically accountable and I mean democratic in a much deeper and broader way than we experience in our current so-called democracy has a substantial role to play in constraining and channeling the actions of the entity that it creates, namely the corporation: see Of course, this is the hope and idealism of democracy, which supports populist and socialist concerns while undermining capitalist fundamentalism. However, as Lee Kuan Yew Prime Minister of Singapore once bluntly said, a democracy is always a false democracy. How does the unraveling of government inequities and corruption facilitate the Marxist goal of fair, capital distribution and elevation of poverty? What are the characteristics of a pseudo-democratic nation state? These questions remain to be analysed, should be analysed, in another documentary called The Government. I am, however, unsure if the film could be contained in less than 180 minutes.

An old English proverb reminds us that corporations have neither bodies to be punished nor souls to be damned. It is an amoeba that adapts and transforms into a most undesirable, monstrous entity called a corporate subject or personhood. This documentary amply justifies the current mutation and cannibal practices of powerful corporate houses. It has also suggested that environmentally sustainable projects by British Petroleum and Shell are rerouting resources to fuel a less polluting economy. But when profits are down and production prices soar, will these corporations still save the orang-utans and penguins of the Antarctica? Bakan says no. Achbar and Abbott says no. I say no. But you have to decide for yourself.