Progressive politics, ideas & culture


The Corporation 3: The Case of Michael Moore

This Magazine Staff

Sorry for the long delay between postings, but I’ve been enjoying the fine weather, finer beaches, and terrible drinking establishments of British Columbia. I also managed to finally get to Fahrenheit 9-11, the Michael Moore doc that’s breaking attendance records everywhere.
There’s something about the combination of me, Moore, and Vancouver that does not mix well. I saw Bowling for Columbine the last time I was out here visiting, at a theatre down off West Hastings. I thought it was a terrible film, in large part because of Moore’s obnoxious use of Canada as the whetsone against which to grind his axe. Remember the scene where Moore says, “behold, a Canadian slum!” along with a shot of a tidy Toronto housing project? As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well with the Vancouver audience since, not fifty metres from where we were sitting, junkies were tying off and homeless natives were drinking butane out of scavenged lighters. And since nothing Moore says about Canada in that movie is remotely trustworthy, it makes me suspicious of just about everything else he puts on the screen. (Note: It does not seem to have occurred to most of Moore’s numerous Canadian fans that he is against gun control.)

Anyway, F*9-11 didn’t annoy me nearly as much, perhaps because I’m now accustomed to discounting the truth-value of everything Moore says by about 90%. Plus, I’m a typical knee-jerk anti-American, so the anti-Bush rhetoric pushes the easy comfort buttons in my psyche. And if you’re willing to suspend any expectation of coherent narrative, logic, or moral honesty, the steady parade of images and the rock soundtrack is fairly enjoyable. But as a piece of serious journalism, F*9-11 is execrable. I won’t bother with any of the details, since Christopher Hitchens has done an admirable job here.
(Caveat: While Hitchens’ analytic powers are fully intact, he seems to have completely lost his sense of humour, and I don’t much care for the macho posturing of his “challenge” to debate Moore. What would be the point?)
But one thing from Hitchens’ review is worth hilighting, which bears on our discussion of The Corporation:
“I know, thanks, before you tell me, that a documentary must have a ‘POV’ or point of view and that it must also impose a narrative line. But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your “narrative” a problem and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don’t even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft. If you flatter and fawn upon your potential audience, I might add, you are patronizing them and insulting them. By the same token, if I write an article and I quote somebody and for space reasons put in an ellipsis like this (…), I swear on my children that I am not leaving out anything that, if quoted in full, would alter the original meaning or its significance. Those who violate this pact with readers or viewers are to be despised.”
This is pretty much my beef with The Corporation. The intellectual dishonesty on display is so profoundly cynical that those who made it are to be despised, not by the Terrence Corcorans of the world, but by their target audience. (That’s you, my dear This Mag readers). To briefly rehearse the point that both Joe and I have tried to make: What makes The Corporation such an awful work is not that it is anti-profit — there are plenty of respectable anti-profit arguments and polemics out there. The problem is that The Corporation pretends to be a critique of the institutional nature of the limited liability corporation, but it completely ignores the institutional context in which the corporation is embedded. Which is to say, the free market economy.
Imagine if I made a documentary about a class of psychopaths who have been given a license by the government to go around with knives, drugs, restraints, and other tools of torture and dismemberment, who regularly killed people by drugging them, tying them down, cutting them open and taking out their internal organs. If I neglected to NOT ONCE MENTION that these nutcases were SURGEONS, working in the HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY, the film would get laughed out of theatres. Yet somehow it seems perfectly alright to make a movie about the corporation without once mentioning invisible hand reasoning.
Please read that last sentence again. Note that I did not say that Bakan, Achbar, and the rest are obliged to accept invisible hand reasoning. But they have to mention it. Otherwise, they are to be despised.
PS: Those of you who have seen F*9-11 will have been struck by the very first thing you see on the screen when the film starts. It is simply a black screen with the words “Fellowship Adventure Group LLC” in large white print. The F.A.G. (an in-joke for film types who know about the Weinsteins of Mirimax) was formed to organise the printing and distribution of the film after Disney forbade Mirimax from distributing it.
LLC stands for Limited Liability Corporation.

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