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A Magazine for Sheffield

The New Corporation

The “unfortunately necessary sequel” doc to 2003’s The Corporation skewers modern forms of colonialism, looking at how the face of big business has changed – but behaviours haven’t. 

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In 2003 filmmaker-writer team Jennifer Abbot and Joel Bakan posed a question in documentary The Corporation: if the concept of a corporation is deemed by law to be a person, then what kind of person would they be?

The psychological criteria included an “incapacity to maintain enduring relationships,” “a disregard of others’ safety” and “deceitfulness, repeated lying and conning others for profit.” Each ticked box led to one word that personified every corp, from Enron during the noughties to Amazon today: psychopath.

The New Corporation, the self-titled “unfortunately necessary” sequel by the same team as the 2003 doc, posits that corporations have gotten prettier whilst continuing to destroy our planet and the majority of its inhabitants. Bakan directs this time, adapting his book of the same name. He cleverly clarifies that our smartphone utopia is really a ‘neutral’ development - neither good or bad, simply a playground for the political system that underpins it. In our case, the capitalist patchwork of the west uses the digital world to pull the strings of the global south.

The New Corporation doesn’t just skim shady corporate politics with qualified talking-head interviews. It’s razor-sharp specific compared to a panoramic Adam Curtis doc, but interviews a wide enough sample of socialist experts and venture capitalists to actually cross-section the world of the top 1% of the top 1%.

One section takes us to the world famous Davos forum, where world economic leaders talk business. They aren’t smoking cigars and nefariously plotting the demise of people of colour in dimly lit rooms; they’re smiley-faced, shaking hands and laughing at cocktail banquet jokes whilst discussing trains that can transport passengers at the speed of sound. Bakan intercuts this with footage of indigenous American homes aflame, police throwing tear gas at Black Lives Matter protests and nurses reusing bin bags as plastic uniforms during Covid restrictions.

The new initiative of the capitalist system is what the doc refers to as a “charm offensive”. For example Lord John Browne, former Chief Executive of BP, stressing in television interviews just how real and threatening global warming is whilst his under-regulated facilities explode and kill working-class men and women.

A younger audience will also recognise this in the social media realm, such as Netflix posting a deluge of iconic women-centric movie stills from the Golden Age of Hollywood on International Women’s Day whilst hosting none of those films on its site. Bill Gates’ African initiative is skewered too, a quest that appears to be noble and philanthropic by funding the continent and building schools but really profits from the privatisation of teaching. In a bizarre sidenote it’s shown that teachers follow strict and calculated rules from a smart tablet telling them exactly how to move and interact with the class.

The New Corporation makes a point of showing how every facet of neoliberalism works in tandem. First, corporations avoid taxes through offshore havens or tax cuts. Then governments can pretend they have less money, which functions as an excuse to spend less money helping the poor and an opportunity for rich tech giants, oil tycoons and other corporate heads like Gates - lobbyists, all of them - to step in and play the hero, privatising their solutions. It’s called “starving the beast,” creating a crisis of confidence. Suddenly Elon Musk’s interplanetary mission looks like a saving grace.

Capitalism has never been more creative, Abbot and Bakan stress. It looks diverse but it absorbs fundamental human rights like education into business structures that then collapse the same way the housing market did in 2007, black kids becoming nothing more than assets on a shelf.

Diane Ravitch reiterates for us, in case we missed the memo: “This is colonialism, pure and simple.”

Learn more

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel is available to stream as part of Human Rights Watch Film Festival until Friday 26 March.

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