These are my notes I took this evening watching “The Corporation Film.” For more background on the documentary, check out the English WikiPedia page for it. The article goes through the film segment by segment, in a much more thorough way than I have here with my own notes.

I added this video to our family NetFlix queue a couple of weeks ago after reading Dr. Larry Lessig’s wiki page for “Corruption RequiredViewing.” This film is a major extension, with great depth, of the ideas shared in the short film “The Story of Stuff,” which I saw this past December and shared with my family after reading Dean Shareski’s post “Give the gift of a goat” over on Eyes Right.

It’s going to take some time to process all of this. I’m sure some people might see this film and become overwhelmed by a sense of disillusionment and despair. I won’t count myself in that group. I also won’t count myself among those who are convinced that the legal idea which has relatively recently given birth to the modern corporation is clearly in need of being dismantled. I’ve been thinking a lot more lately about our “consumer society” from multiple vantage points, however, and there is no doubt that this documentary raises multiple points worth considering. As my wife continues to read “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” I’ve been reflecting on how AMAZING it is that we didn’t have the consumer society we have today prior to World War II, and prior to FDR’s New Deal. People may assume that our current economic climate and system is not only the “way it is,” but also “the way it should be,” but that is not a justified assumption in my own view and clearly in the view of this documentary film’s directors.

There are many historical incidents and people discussed in the film with which I had not been previously aquatinted. As a past student of Latin American politics and history, I’m amazed I’d never heard of the Cochabamba protests of 2000 in Bolivia over the privatization of water. I knew companies were now patenting genomes, but hadn’t heard of the origins of this “commercial patent race” with Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty and the case “Diamond v. Chakrabarty.” I knew about Monsanto and its development of hybrid seeds (like “Roundup Ready Cotton”) thanks to a friend back in the Lubbock area who used to work for Monsanto. I was amazed to learn that the company prohibits farmers from “catching” and keeping seed from their harvest, and actually employs people to identify and “snitch” on those who do– who are then subject to large fines. I didn’t know about Monsanto’s development of Bovine somatotropin or BST, however, and that segment alone makes me much more concerned about the milk my kids drink. Yikes.

From a media literacy standpoint, the segment about how marketing agencies overtly attempt to get kids to nag their parents to force buying decisions was very eye opening. I know this takes place, however, but I’d never seen a documentary situating the marketing proponents themselves against those questioning the ethics of this behavior.

I’ll stop with my post-video observations now and just share my notes. This is a very thought provoking film, and well worth watching, whether you consider yourself to a a political conservative or liberal. We all should be concerned about these issues as human beings, irrespective of our current political affiliations or alignments.

I’m interested to know if anyone has posted a wiki project highlighting any mistakes or inaccuracies brought up in this film. The directors, writers, and participants certainly make a lot claims that I’m sure others would and do dispute, so it would be interesting to see what those points are and the counter-claims.

Studying controversial topics. This is one of the best ways to authentically develop media literacy and critical thinking skills. This documentary got me thinking, and if you watch it I’m sure it will get you thinking too. The question is, will our THINKING lead to ACTION?

— my notes follow, my own comments are in all CAPS —

“The corporation is today’s dominant institution.”

So begins the documentary…

the corporation began with the dawn of the industrial age

In 1712 Thomas Newcomen: steam driven pump to pump water out of a coal mine
– all about productivity
– more coal per man-hour

The Civil War and the industrial revolution caused an explosion of growth
– corporate lawyers realized they needed more power
– 14th amendment was passed to protect blacks and their life, liberty and property rights
– corporation lawyers came into court and declared that a corporation is a “person” in terms of the law (14th amendment)
– US Supreme Court upheld that view / position

The Center for Public Integrity

Corporations are designed by law to be only concerned about their stockholders, not their “stakeholders”
– they have no soul to save, and no body to incarcerate

key for every corporation: making as much money as possible every quarter

for a corporation, there is no such thing as “enough” money or profits

corporations are bound, legally, to put their own interests above ALL others

externalities: the effect of a transaction of two individuals on a third party who has not played a role in the carrying out of that transaction

a corporation is an externalizing machine in the the same way a shark is a killing machine
– isn’t a question of will or malevolence, characteristics are inherent which

Discussion of sweatshops worldwide by Charles Kernaghan, Director of the National Labor Committee
– example of a Liz Claybourne jacket made in El Salvador: Retail cost $178 each, workers were paid 74 cents for each jacket they made

“this is the reality, it is the science of exploitation” (referring to Nike documents on microseconds to produce a garment)

Commentary by Naomi Klein, author of “No Logo”
– workers rarely make enough to pay for 3 meal per day, let alone feed their local economy

discussion of pollution and synthetic chemicals
– starting in 1940, dawn of the age of synthetic chemicals
– the petro-chemical era
– industry is largely responsible for the current epidemic of cancer that we are seeing worldwide

stories of artificial hormone problems due to injections from Monsanto
– people are ingesting anti-biotics through their foods because of this
– Agent Orange lawsuits brought by US servicemen resulted in $80 million in settlements, but the company never admitted guilt
– Vietnamese also injured by Agent Orange never were able to bring suit against Monsanto

Multinational Monitor: top corporate criminals

Whether you obey the law or not is a question of whether it is cost effective
– this comes down to business decisions

“every living system is in decline”

intergenerational tyranny: a form of taxation without representation, by us upon generations yet to be born
– it is wrong to do

Characteristics of an individual meeting the requirements of a “psychopath,” applied to the “person” of a corporation:
– callous unconcern for the feelings of others
– incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
– reckless disregard for the safety of others
– deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning others for profit
– incapacity to experience guilt
– failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviours

“If the dominant social institution of our time has been created in the image of a psychopath, who bears the moral responsibility for its actions?”

Milton Friedman: Can a building have social responsibility?
– so why could a corporation?
– those people involved in a corporation all have moral responsibility

all flesh and blood human beings have moral responsibilities

former CEO of Goodyear: you do not have much freedom in reality
– layoffs are never a decision that any CEO makes lightly, but those decisions are the consequence of modern capitalism

comparison of slavery and other forms of tyranny are inherently monstrous, but the individuals involved in them may be wonderful
– in the institutional role, they are monsters because the institutions are monsters

Dr. Vanda Shiva
– Physicist, ecologist, seed activist
– it is legitimate for a corporation to create terminator technologies
– a war against evolution: seeds with self-destruction genes

“it’s about competition, market share, being aggressive, shareholder value – what is your stock at today?”
– people want money, that is the bottom line

excerpt from the movie “The Big One”

a CEO from “Interface” corporation who didn’t have an environmental vision
– read Paul Hawken’s book “The Ecology of Commerce”
– EO Wilson: “the death of birth”
– you can’t make all products sustainably (land mines – some products shouldn’t be made at all)
– if we can’t make carpets sustainably, then we shouldn’t make them
– I realized I had been running my corporation in the way of the plunderer
– there must come a day when running a business like this is illegal

9-11 was a blessing in disguise from a financial standpoint for clients that were invested in gold, because they doubled their money

Price of oil went from $13 to $42 a barrel when the US started bombing Iraq in 1991
– every broker was excited about Saddam doing more terrible things that would drive the price of oil even higher
– in devastation there is opportunity

There was a collective responsibility in the medieval world
– people farmed the land in a collective way because it didn’t belong to them
– beginning with Tudor England, we started to see the enclosures of the commons, focusing on private property, even in the ocean


More enclosures and private takings of the commons, Harvard Trade Union Program
– how is wealth created?
– isn’t clean air wealth?
– why does wealth have to be associated with private property

Mark Kingwell, Philosopher
– firefighters started as private companies
– you had to have the medallion of that firefighter company on your house for them to put out a fire at your location
– we moved beyond that to a public trust

Noam Chomsky: privatization does not mean you take a public institution and give it to a nice person
– it means you give it to an unaccountable tyranny
– public institutions have many side benefits
– may intentionally run at a loss

Maude Barlow, Chairperson, Council of Canadians
– there are some people who aspire that someday, everything will be owned by someone or something
– we are talking about essential services for life too: education, housing, etc
– the survival of the planet: water, air, we believe these things should be held in common

Michael Walker, Exec Director, Fraser Institute
– we should find ways to attach prices to polluting
– the interests involved in that stream should be OWNED by those who have an interest
– this is the solution to a lot of these problems

A Time Warner subsidiary holds the rights to the song “Happy Birthday”
– it has charged up to 10K to allow the singing of the song in a film

comparing marketing of the 1950s to the marketing of today is like comparing a BB gun to a smart bomb
– today it is much more sophisticated and pervasive
– products are not bad or good: it is the notion of manipulating children into buying products
– Initiative Media “The Nag Factor” – Initiative Media North America
– study to show how kids nag
– Parents, nagging kids and purchase decisions
– study in 1998: Western International Media and others conducted this study

study was not to help parents cope with nagging, it was to help corporations encourage kids to nag more effectively for their products
– a quarter of all visits to theme parks would not have occurred without kids nagging them
– if the kid nags enough, you are going to go


marketers are playing to developmental vulnerabilities of children
– the more insights you have about the consumer, the more creative businesses will be/are

let’s distinguish between psychologists helping to create toys appropriate for children, and those focused on helping corporations market to children to manipulate them

1 family cannot combat an industry that spends $12 billion per year

corporate goal: build a relationship when they are young, they will stay with your company

any institution which has power over individuals confers social roles
– institutions that are vibrant will specify those roles as virtues: the church, the school, corporations, etc.
– corporations provide these as “the ideal consumer”

Chompsky: corporations have to create wants
– encourage people to focus on inconsequential wants (things that don’t matter)
– the ideal is to have individuals whose conception of themselves, their sense of value, is how many created wants can I satisfy
– public relations and marketing industries are designed to try and mold people into this desired pattern

story of
– corporate sponsor story
– “I have lots of faith in the corporate world, because it is always going to be there.”

corporations are manufacturing consent?

corporations don’t advertise products
– they advertise a story
– decades of propaganda teaching us to think in a certain way
– now propaganda perpetuating that the corporation is responsible for prosperity and “the good life”

perception management is a methodology helping corporations working with clients, going thru a thoughtful process to identify resources, barriers, and how they can accomplish their objectives
– clients: Philip Morris, combatting environmental campaigns in Canada
– creating an image for themselves

example of Pfizer-subsidized housing development

branding is not advertising, it is production
– corporations of the future produce BRANDING
– the dissemination of the idea of themselves is their product
– example with Disney is “Celebration, Florida” – making a physical representation of themselves
– creating a physical representation of ‘the all American town’

brand driver for Disney is “family magic”
– a branded environment like Disneyworld or Disneyland is a logical extension of that

Disney brands adult films “Touchstone”

imperialist aspirations of “branding”

what happens if we wake up one day and find out that virtually all our relationships that are mediated with other human beings are controlled by commercially arbitrated relationship

undercover marketing

by the time you go to bed, you have probably received at least 8 or 9 product placements (not just in films)

Chakrabarty case
– GE and Prof Chakrabarty, microbe modified in lab to clean up oil spills
– appealed US Patent Office decision that patents don’t cover living things
– US Customs Court of Appeals, by 3-2 decision, overruled Patent Office and ruled that this looked like a detergent
– Patent Office appeal was very clear that you can’t patent life
– this means that without any public discussion or decisions, corporations will own the building blocks of life
– years later the US Patent Office issued a decision that companies or individuals could patent anything they want, except a fully alive human being


there is now a great race by companies to find the great “treasures” in the human genome
– companies are claiming these genes as intellectual property
– within less than 10 years, a handful of companies will own the actual genomes that make up human beings as well as animals

dichotomy of the future: those who believe life has intrinsic value, and those who believe everything is and should be commercialized

Story of Monsanto legal threats to Fox News over investigative report about growth hormone
– Rupert Murdoch owned 22 TV stations at that time

The reporters were told “just write it the way the lawyers say to write it”
– then they were told: “we just paid $3 billion for these television stations. We’ll tell you what the news is. The news is what we say it is.”


the reporters were offered a money bribe to NEVER speak of this report again, EVER
– eventually led to a re-write of the news story with corporate lawyers, all references that would be critical of Monsanto were removed
– was rewritten 83 times

the Fox News corporate lawyer put in writing that they were being fired because they stood up against them (Fox News)
– this made it retaliation, and invoked whistleblower status
– found falsifying the news isn’t actually against the law

RBGH remains hidden in much of the milk supply in the US

rainwater has been privatized in Bolivia
– the World Bank required privatization
– law prohibited people from collecting rainwater
– led to protests in the street, proclaiming that “water is life” and making the point that water should not be privatized
– World Bank loans were paid for in Bolivia by the privatization of state oil industry, airline, railroad, electric, and phone companies
– Bolivians failed to convince the people that water is a commodity able to be commercialized


The Bolivian government was firm in their belief that they should be able to charge a family making just $2 per day, a quarter of their daily income just for water
– standoff become very violent

Connections between the rise of facism in Europe and corporations
– Howard Zinn
– fascism arose in Europe with the help of huge corporations

Coca-Cola invited Fanta Orange to keep their profits going in Germany during WWII
– when you drink Fanta Orange, that was the Nazi drink that was created to keep Coke making millions of dollars while the Jews were exterminated

IBM systems were required in every railroad station and every concentration camp in Nazi Germany

IBM VP: discussing that computers can be used in all kinds of ways, “you always hope they are going to be used in positive ways”


Peter Drucker discussion IBM CEO Watson’s knowledge of IBM computer’s usage by Hitler

US Marine Corps General Smedly Darlington Butler admitted he helped pacify Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and China for US commercial interests

In 1934 large parts of US corporate America were against FDR’s new deal, and attempted to pull off a treasonous plan
– Butler was tired of being “a gangster for capitalism”
– includes video testimony of Butler, discussing the attempt to setup a fascist dictatorship in the United States, in a plot to overthrow FDR
– included JP Morgan, Dupont, and Goodyear Tire

Now, for corporations to dominate governments, coups are no longer necessary

capitalism has displaced politicians as the reigning powers
– “CEOs are the new high priests”

The Critical Thinking Consortium

Sign at a protest march: “Bow your heads, the corporations will now lead us in prayer”

“Everything in the store is for sale”

“I am a trade barrier”

“What corporation are you from?”

juxtaposition of images of governmental and corporate leaders meeting over champagne and wine, while protesters are violently put down outside

CEO arguing “accountability is in the marketplace, in front of their shareholders”

Ira Jackson, author of “Profits with Principles”

discussion of corporations subscribing to principles of “Corporate Responsibility”
– a voluntary tactic, a reaction, to a certain market
– corporation doesn’t have expertise in determining what “social responsibility” is

injustice, when a bluff is called, the tables turn
– ultimately wherever capital puts its foot down, it can be held accountable

Kathie Lee Gifford handbag WalMart incident

“Several years after the Walmart controversy, Kathy Lee handbags were still being made in China by workers paid three cents per hour.”

We need to look at the very roots of the legal system that created this “beast” (corporations)
– many states have laws which requires that corporations be dismantled

Fight to dissolve Union Oil Company in California (Unocal)

Michael Moore discussing the impact of his documentaries
– ultimately as individuals we have to accept responsibility for our larger, collective actions and the impact those have

corporations are not accountable to the democratic process

Reference to Ghandi’s simple act of rebellion against British authorities, taking sand from the beach to make salt in violation of the law
– India has held historically that any law which prohibits the keeping of seeds is a law not worth following
– saving seed is a duty to the earth and future generations
– it is more than symbolic, it is becoming a survival option
– farmers in India not using hybrid seeds from Monsanto have incomes three times as large as those farmers now locked in to using Monsanto’s seed hybrids

“there are many tools for bringing back community”
– what is REALLY important is VISION

captain of industry or plunderer of the earth
– we must move on to another industrial revolution and get it better
– group of people committed to the goal of doing no harm

our plan: “Climbing Mount Sustainability”
– zero footprint

Richard Grossman, co-founder, Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy

one should never underestimate the power of the people

Cochabamba, Boliva – resistance to water privatization

corporations still put Michael Moore videos “out there” because they don’t believe in anything
– corporations are convinced people won’t leave their couch and DO SOMETHING…..

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7 Responses to The Corporation documentary: A big eye opener

  1. Peter Rock says:

    I had forgotten about that wiki of Lessig’s. I just added 3 more films I think are related to the idea of “corruption”.

  2. tom says:

    I wonder why there wasn’t some discussion of the alterative viewpoint by David C. Korten, who wrote “When Corporations Rule the World” about the excesses of globalization and corporate impunity. It ends with a positive note about what can be done. I highly recommend it.

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    Tom: I hadn’t heard of that book, just added it to my Amazon wish list. Thanks for the recc.

  4. Rick T. says:


    Your post coincides with a book I’m reading right now called Unencorporating Education (yes, it’s spelled with an “e”) by Dr. William J. Cook Jr. I’ve already made two posts about it and I’m just through a quarter of the book. This is an excerpt from post 1:

    The thesis of the book as found on the inside flap and on the website reads,

    “The thesis of this book is simple: the nation’s fundamental institutions, by intent or by default, have abandoned the historical Western idea of education and thus have opened the door for a hostile takeover by corporate America. The result is an educational system, if it may be so called, that has been robbed of its essential human nature (educare) and turned into a rationalized process designed to produce profitable workers, according to industry specifications. The individual is diminished to servitude; true democracy rendered impossible.

    There is no correcting the existing system. It cannot be reformed, reinvented, restructured, or salvaged. It must be utterly destroyed and new systems of learning and teachings created -systems worthy of human beings. The suggestions offered here are an attempt to begin the action.”

    Post 2 follows up with an unexpected wrinkle that left me wondering about the connections to Corporate America…Let me know what you think.


  5. mrsdurff says:

    Have you seen the film Affluenza? A bit old by now but still the message is powerful – a good film for youth groups at church.

  6. Wesley Fryer says:

    No, I hadn’t heard of it. It’s not listed in NetFlix, but I found it on PBS. Looks interesting.

  7. Wesley Fryer says:

    Thanks Rick- I just saw your post in the moderation queue and approved/read it, I’m on my way to check out your posts and that book. That thesis is not outside the realm of possibility. I am still holding on to the ideal that the system can be reformed at this point…..

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