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  • Evil Fictional Corporations

    Posted by Shannon Love on January 27th, 2009 (All posts by )

    Via Instapundit comes this review of science fiction movies at Popular Science. The review of the movie “Moon” caught my eye:

     In this space drama, Sam Rockwell plays a lonely lunar miner who is nearing the end of a multi-year contract. With communication satellites down, he’s cut off from the outside world, with little to keep him company other than a Kevin Spacey–voiced computer named Gerty (and his own demons, naturally). While the space dramas of the ’70s and ’80s were dominated by acid-spewing aliens, this movie’s monster is scarier yet: a negligent corporate bureaucracy. [Emph. added.]

    WTF? You set a movie on the freaking Moon and the scariest, most dramatic conflict you can come up with involves tight-fisted accountants? Who’s going to be the scary monster in the sequel, those weenies in marketing? 

    This follows a pronounced trend I have seen in popular entertainment: Corporations are always portrayed as evil. This is especially true in entertainment aimed at young people, such as animation and video games. 

    Non-leftists find it so hard to convince people of the virtues of the free market because people are trained from childhood by popular entertainment to view business people as evil and exploitive. 

    In Disney/Pixar’s Wall-e, a single evil corporation drives the entire planet into a consuming frenzy that renders the planet uninhabitable. Then the corporation evacuates everyone to space and programs A.I.s to keep them there. (Like most of these depictions, the corporation actually acts like a government. In Wall-e the CEO of the corporation is even shown in recordings standing at a podium that is a direct knock-off of the U.S. Presidential podium.) In the Stars Wars prequels, the Separatist dupes of the Sith are identified as merchants and bankers. The popular video game/movie franchise, Resident Evil, revolves around the evil machinations of the Umbrella corporations. 

    Examples abound. Indeed, I would go so far as as to say that corporations never appear in any popular entertainment save as a force for evil. The only time this does not happen is when writers play to the trope to lead viewers to believe the corporation is to blame, so that they can pull a twist and blame someone else. All of the positive products of corporations that might be plot points, medicines, space ships, housing, etc. all appear ex-nihilo. Characters say things like, “A new drug has been developed that might help” instead of saying, “Fictional Corporation has developed a new drug which might help”. The only time that corporations are linked to their products is when they produce weapons. 

    The “Moon” example seems especially egregious due to its apparent depiction of corporations acting against their own immediate self-interest. There are numerous examples of corporations having people work in extreme, isolated conditions. Oil-rig workers on sea rigs or in arctic regions have to work very hard, for weeks or months at a time in conditions that are both hard, lonely and tedious. Companies learned a long time ago that they have to do everything possible to keep such workers happy and feeling well-cared for. It is incredibly expensive to get people to the work site and to supply them with the tools they need. It is counterproductive to create conditions in which this very expensive talent can not work at its optimum level. Oil-rig workers are payed extremely well, often into the low six figures, receive a great deal of down time and receive every perk and luxury possible given the constraints of the environment. Companies do so because they don’t want someone to get disheartened, depressed and distracted so much that they turn a valve the wrong way and destroy a 12 billion dollar sea rig. 

    Mining on the moon would be the same thing. Sending a worker and his equipment to the moon would be fantastically expensive. A company would want to make sure the worker was happy, attentive and productive. Making a plot in which a company risked massive losses reveals a profound bias. You could make a movie about somebody eating breakfast on the moon and make it interesting, but the best monster they can come up with is those bastards in accounting?  Clearly their minds gravitate to the evil-corporation stereotype in the same way that artists circa 1900 went for racist conceptions of happy-go-lucky or where’s-all-the-white-women “Negroes”.

    It wasn’t always like this. Prior to the ’60s corporations showed up as positive actors in fiction, especially science fiction. As a child I read the “Tom Swift, Jr.” series, which had as its central character a boy genius whose father owned a multinational engineering conglomerate. The corporation helped solve problems by making things. You would never see such a plot in children’s works today.  

    I think a lot of the young people who get a thrill up their leg when they see Obama do so because they have been programed by the entertainment they consumed, when they were growing up, to view corporations as evil. They really view themselves as under constant siege from powerful, evil organizations and believe that their only hope lies in an even more powerful State controlled by benevolent, articulate intellectuals. 

    We need to figure out how to counteract this. It might help if, when people begin to bad mouth corporations in a conversation, you just point out that they think that way due to the concept’s saturation in entertainment. Might make a few people think.

     

    8 Responses to “Evil Fictional Corporations”

    1. sol vason Says:

      These are the same holiwood guys who make wildly popular movies about people who dress like mediaeval monks and duel with florescent light bulbs. Liberals live in a different universe from our own where the laws of physics are decided by voting.

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      Sol Vason,

      I rather like imaginary stories. Probably most of fiction reading is speculative fiction. Imagination isn’t the problem. It’s the lack of imagination and the gratuitous nature of the references.

      For example, the fact that the villains in the Star Wars prequels are business people doesn’t actually play into the plot. It’s just mentioned a few times apparently just for style. The reason why the commercial people would rebel against the Republic in the first place is never addressed. Telling, the business characters are portrayed a craven whereas the Jedi who are by comparison nothing but highly skilled killers and mind rapers, are portrayed as heros.

    3. david foster Says:

      “the Jedi who are by comparison nothing but highly skilled killers and mind rapers”…there is of course a long tradition of contempt for those engaged in “trade”…by military aristocracies, idle and useless aristocracies, and court intellectuals.

      Don’t know if there are any Flashman readers here, but a great example of anti-trade snobbery is provided by the (fictionalized) Lord Cardigan and his reaction to the news that Flashman has married (under much duress, but that’s not to the point here) the daughter of a wealthy and successful textile manufacturer, who Cardigan can only think of as a “Glasgow weaver.”

    4. James McEnanly Says:

      The only exception I can think of to this trope is another Disney movie, called Plymouth http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102681/ . It was made for television and ran in 1991, and again in 1992. The Corporation, called Unidac was benevolent, but had made a tragic error, which left the fictional town of Plymouth , Oregon uninhabitable. Rather than covering it up, the way most fictional corporations try to do, or pay a huge settlement, they relocated the people of the town to a struggling Lunar base, where the erstwhile lumberjacks turn to mining He3. The angers faced by the townspeople are from the Lunar environment, and not from corporate machinations. In fact, Unidac is very eager for the Lunar base to be successful. Unfortunately, The series was never picked up. It now runs on You Tube
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGSnrKrm4-w

    5. Phil Fraering Says:

      Did anyone else read the description of “Moon” and think they’re trying to come up with their own version of Red Dwarf, but without Cat?

      (In which case, they won’t have the shiny thing. But I digress).

    6. Jack Diederich Says:

      A great recent (and egregious) example of this is “Shoot ‘Em Up” where the evil corporation is a gun manufacturer who is impregnating women to kill them and harvest the organs of the babies. Wow, just wow.

    7. MICHAEL Says:

      I was absolutely stunned by the rich story and character development of a film that was actually popular, and had a compelling story that painted Man as a Hero: Iron Man.

      For perhaps the first time I can recall in mega-popular movie history, the lead character was not a nerdy nobody that was somehow magically bestowed with powers by some freak accident or from having been born on another planet. In Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Tony Stark, was already a successful, wealthy and charming entrepreneur. (To Shannon Love’s point, his company DID manufacture weapons, but HE was not painted as inherently evil–in fact, it was his ignorance and anger at having discovered what happened to his weapons after they left his care that ultimately made him become a super-hero).

      The Iron Man character was born out of Tony Stark’s ingenuity and intellectual brilliance–the genesis of the hero was Tony Stark’s mind–NOT a radioactive spider. Tony Stark also made no apologies for his success; he enjoyed the rewards of his hard work lavishly (when he was not engrossed in his work). He was not a whiny altruist “burdened” with guilt and responsibility (Spiderman), doomed to forever be miserable about being a HERO.

      The villain in the movie was an equally formidable and intelligent man, who was not psychopathic, umm, just because he was psychopathic (the latest Joker), but rather was riddled by jealousy and contempt for Tony Stark’s genius and success. At one of the climactic moments, he rages at Tony Stark, accusing him of being selfish for hoarding the products of Tony’s mind and using them as he saw fit.

      Fantastic movie, completely bucking the trend. Best super-hero movie ever. In fact, perhaps the only legitimate super-hero movie ever.

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      MICHAEL,

      Iron man is the exception that proves the rule. I would point out that the Iron Man character first appeared in in 1963 when pro-business and pro-American sentiments were still intellectually respectable for most people.

      Wikipedia mentions:

      Born Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark, he suffers a severe heart injury during a kidnapping and is forced to build a destructive weapon. He instead creates a power suit to save his life and help him escape. He later decides to use the suit to protect the world as the superhero, Iron Man.[1] He is a wealthy industrialist and genius inventor who created military weapons and whose metal suit is laden with technological devices that enable him to fight crime. Initially, Iron Man was a vehicle for Stan Lee to explore Cold War themes, particularly the role of American technology and business in the fight against communism. Subsequent re-imaginings of Iron Man have gradually removed the Cold War themes, replacing them with more contemporary concerns such as corporate crime and terrorism.

      In the Ironman story I read as kid, Stark is injured when kidnapped by North Vietnamese communist while in Vietnam checking on weapons he made for the U.S military. I think it would be hard to get such a story accepted now.