Companies are people too…

By Peter Hemminger

If you had a friend who was perfectly willing to lie, cheat and steal for profit, that might be unnerving. If they willingly injured people and animals for their own gain, even going so far as poisoning them, it might verge on disturbing. If they felt absolutely no guilt or remorse for doing these things, there would only be one word to adequately describe them–psychopath.

Corporations, entities which are legally considered persons, do all of those things. Not only that, but they do it repeatedly and with little regard for morality or anything else but the bottom line.

So, if a corporation is a person, does that make them a psychopath? Could the dominant cultural institution of our time be placed in the same mental classification as mass murderers?

Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan think so. That’s the point they make in The Corporation, the latest political documentary to hit the screens and a worthy successor to Bowling For Columbine. Not everyone will agree with its left-wing bent and it runs a little long at two-and-a-half hours, but anyone craving an intellectually sound documentary would be well advised to seek this one out.

Featuring everything from the health risks of bovine growth hormones and the media complicity in the cover-up to day-traders overjoyed at the effects of September 11 on gold prices, The Corporation shows a bleak world. The odd thing is much of the testimony comes from the corporate heads themselves. Every one of them greets the camera with a smile and sincerity, glad to have the opportunity to address the public. The film wisely avoids the confrontational tones that inspired much of the criticism aimed at Bowling for Columbine, instead allowing interviewees to hang themselves.

Perhaps most frightening of all is a marketing professional whose goal is to inspire children to nag their parents for her products. She readily admits she’s unsure whether what she does is ethical, but instead of trying to justify her actions, she laughs and says "we’re moving product."

It’s often said that executives convince themselves money equals morality. Here’s proof that some of them are just as willing to ignore morality outright.

Not every corporate executive is demonized in The Corporation, however. A large part of the film is devoted to showing that these people are human beings, with the same concerns as anyone else. None of them want to see the world destroyed, they’re just put into a position where they have no choice. After all, corporations are legally required to put self-interest above all else.

The head of Shell might be a nice fellow who brings hot tea to the protestors camping on his lawn, but he also makes decisions which can knowingly ruin lives. It’s a strange contradiction, but it stems from the very nature of corporations–they’ve evolved specifically to be our lack of conscience, our personification of greed.

It’s a pretty depressing topic, and at two-and-a-half hours it can be a bit overwhelming. Much of the film consists of talking heads and a large portion of the rest shows suffering and inhumanity throughout the world. In other words, this ain’t a popcorn movie. But it is worth watching.

By removing Bowling for Columbine’s stunts and theatricality, The Corporation proves it is intelligent enough that critics will at the least have to respect it.

For those who agree with its perspective, The Corporation is as essential to watch as No Logo is to read.

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