Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Corporation

The Corporation is the latest left-wing, activist documentary, after anti-Bush Fahrenheit 9/11 and anti-McDonalds Super Size Me, that can be seen at many cinemas. And it has much to recommend it. However, it has an obvious and glaring blind spot: it takes a form of capitalist business (admittedly a dominant form) and sees in it all the problems that arise from a structure of society (capitalism) that it refuses (fears?) to name.

The film's dominant narrative conceit is that corporations are legal persons that are psychotic: "It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism." Whilst this is an intriguing if legalist and ultimately meaningless accusation within a compelling (if overlong and rather scattergun) documentary, it underscores the ultimately reactionary nature of the political economy of the film.

It is not any particular form of capitalist institution that should draw our ire, however interesting a brief history of it might be, but rather our attention should be directed to the form of society within which such institutions can thrive. If we do not have a critique of capitalism then all we have is an indignant, uncomprehending howl that understands a particularity without any understanding of the wider context in which it makes its appearance.