The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

You remember The Corporation? Documentary movie released back in 2003, it put forward that if corporate personhood was a thing, then the corporation would be diagnosed a psychopath. Big favourite in charity shop DVD sections near universities all throughout the 2000s. It made you start reading and then swiftly abandon the book No Logo, remember?

This is ‘The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel’, of how corporations have rebranded in the past quarter-century to co-opt tackling social issues to deflect from scrutiny of their actions, and mitigate moral outrage at their relentless pursuit of profit at any cost to human life or the earth itself. This is not simply the greenwashing that takes place in advertising, although that is a massive part of their charm offensive, but how they have positioned big business as the solutions to the very problems they’ve created. So this means touting the idea that more investment is needed in massive fossil fuel companies so they can ‘carry’ us over the hump to where renewable energy is ready to meet all our needs. This means social enterprise and public partnership being the solution to underfunded public services, without mentioning that the tax avoidance committed by those companies is what is responsible for that deficit. It means shaking your head about how wasteful and incompetent governments have failed to create wealth for their poverty-stricken citizens, and suggesting that maybe government should be run more like a business, by business people, with as much privatised as possible.

Like most call-to-action movies, it’s really comprised of two parts. The shit stick, and the dangling carrot. The shit stick is when you are repeatedly whacked over the head with stuff that you already kinda know, but which is horrifying when you think about it all at once. The dangling carrot is the bit at the end where they tell you to recycle or whatever. This film’s shit stick is very well put together, if somewhat heavy-handed in its presentation, coz, you know, American. But its dangling carrot is maybe even more depressing. Coz it is so anaemic and underwhelming, and seems to divert the energy of groundswell grassroots movements back into the broken political system that failed to prevent this situation in the first place.

Bleak as it was, I was riding with this film all the way through the corporate manslaughter, and ecological devastation, and undermining of any form of accountable governance, and the creation of the pandemic through a reckless, destructive and dangerously intrusive food industry, and the breakdown of social cohesion after years of poverty and hopelessness. And what actually made me hop off the wagon was when at the end, the upswing of hope was for us to pour our energy and money into electing people like Bernie fucking Sanders. I was just like, “NOOOOOOOOO!!!” All the anarchists that live in the back of my head were screaming. Mate, you have just got through talking about 25 years of history where a revolving door of people’s faces on the front this machine, Democrat and Republican, have not changed one iota of the exponential expansion of corporate greed. Why, oh, why, do you think this will be different?

And I know it’s the American way, to pour your faith back into democracy, but the form of democracy you have is so archaic and insufficient. Why are you choosing what has not protected you in the first place? Also, you can’t go, “the answer is grassroots movements, grassroots movements, grassroots movements”, then be like, “Stop! Everybody pour all their energy and resources into this one person to represent us.”

I dunno. The older I get the less faith I have in representative democracies. People campaigning against poverty boasting about how they raised £10 million for Bernie’s campaign. Like, how much could that kind of money have done if it had been spent actually just directly on people in poverty? Like, stop electing people to solve the problem, and just solve the problem. If the schools are bad, organise to fix the school, don’t organise to collect money, to create a campaign, to elect someone, to sit on the board, to make decisions, to fix the school.

I mean, at one point one of the beacons of light to usher in this new dawn was the election of Sadiq Khan as mayor of London. Are you fucking kidding me? Is this how low we’ve set our sights? He’s a Labour MP, he sat as part of the government under Tony Blair, that grinning muppet you see at the Davos summit, rubbing shoulders with the billionaire CEO of JP Morgan Chase. That’s the outsider voice who’s about to turn the tables on this shit? Sitting in Scotland that elected Labour for a century, and a century on still has the highest poverty rates in Western Europe, you do just wanna ask, “What are you on about?”

Ugh. Anyway.

It’s a decent enough movie for analysing the economic devastation that’s been wreaked the past few years. It’s gonna be a firm favourite of charity shop DVD sections near universities for many years to come, along with Feel The Bern tshirts.

On The Line

On The Line follows 3 deportees from the United States to Mexico. All have spent decades and decades living in the US, and have nothing in Mexico. They live in Tijuana, close enough to the American border to see San Diego on a clear day.

The heartbreak of this film is of how near, and yet so far, they are from their home. The deportees have not integrated into Mexican life, they don’t want to. They spend every moment thinking about and working towards getting home to the US. Although they can all speak Spanish, they speak English in their homes. They listen to San Diego FM on the radio, watch the news on CNN on the tv, and they work in call centres phoning American businesses and homes to sell products for American companies, just at a fraction of the wage they would get in the US.

Ricardo is a veteran. Which just blows my mind. They don’t need to you to have papers to sign up and die for your country, but you do if you want to come back home and get a piece of the good life you fought to protect. Fucking wild. Americans, and especially the Republicans, are so ‘Support the troops!’ and ‘the military is sacred!”, especially when it comes to discussing the point of a war or challenging budget expenditure, but they are deporting veterans?

Ricardo still holds services for the fallen along with other deported veterans, standing to attention and reporting rank. He works online, spending all day speaking to other Americans going about their day, and when he finishes he watches American tv. He keeps himself in this bubble of America. And it all seems so real, he can watch what they watch, see the weather forecast, listen to the same music. It is so close to home. And yet it’s not. He lives in this island in his flat, full of unpacked boxes, and ignores all of Mexico outside his door.

Sergio also works in a call centre. He is saving up whatever he can to find some way back to his wife, his kids. His whole life is in American and it is like he has been picked up and dropped off in a foreign land. He was brought to America at the age of 1 by his parents. He has never known anything other than America. He is painfully aware that he is living in exile, while his kids grow up without him, while his wife has to find a way to raise their family alone.

Rocio is a grandma whose son serves in the America military. Her boy is off fighting for his country while Mum is being deported to live in a broken-down shack without running water, all alone. Again, everything seems so close. She can facetime her daughters and speak to her grandkids. She can open her home security app on her phone and see the house she left behind, watch her elderly mother cooking meals. But she can never eat the meals, or hug her grandkids. Her daughters are eventually able to come and visit her, and they are struck dumb at their mother living in this crumbling one-room building.

Throughout all of this, despair runs like a torrent. And a barely suppressed rage at the injustice of it. Ricardo had a criminal record as a result of the heroin addiction he developed serving in Vietnam, but has been clean for decades. It is when he is clean and approaching retirement, that’s when they deport him. Sergio also had drug offences from when he was a teenager. But they deport him once he has turned his life around and is a hard-working family man. He even had papers, but they had been lost at one point. And Rocio, she had no criminal record at all. She worked almost half a century in America, put her kids through uni, sent her son off to war, and then they deported her.

It’s all so arbitrary, and so stupid, and so needless. That is what is so disgusting. The destruction of their lives, the tearing apart of their family, leaving them to die alone in a foreign land in a state of poverty – it’s not for any reason. No one believes Rocio, a grandmother and family pillar, is some cartel mafioso. No one believes Sergio poses a danger to society, with his business and kids. No one thinks Ricardo, a Vietnam vet, is a people-trafficker. It’s obvious, and everyone sees it for what it is – ethnically cleansing the USA of as many Latinos as possible.

The bitterness and resentment towards the US this will drive into the hearts of people will last for generations. The sense of insecurity – of Rocio’s grandkids watching their grandmother snatched away after a half-hour hearing – is going to leave ripples that will stretch out beyond sight. This is a trauma that is going to have, and is already having, long-lasting consequences.

The Man Who Sold His Skin

The Man Who Sold His Skin is based on Delvoye’s Tim, an artist who tattooed his work on a guy’s back, a man who now sits in exhibit halls displaying it. In this film, the canvass is Sam Ali, a Syrian refugee who sells his back to a famous artist to gain safe passage to Europe.

This film is chocca with themes. It’s about art and its commodification, the devaluing of human life in comparison with the arbitrary value placed on status symbols, religious metaphor with the visa as salvation, and Faustian deals which bring you closer to Hell as you approach an imagined Heaven.

It also has a very human story at the centre of it, that of Sam and Abeer, two young people in love at the start of the war. Sam is impetuous, impatient, eager to get married. Abeer reveals that she loves him while they sit together on a train, and Sam passionately declares to the carriage that he loves her and asks for a sheikh to marry them there and then. Unfortunately he also in his exuberance adds a few words about the optimism for a new age through the Revolution.

Thus they are separated. Sam is arrested by security forces, and has to flee to Lebanon. As war approaches, Abeer marries a man who is a foreign diplomat who can take her abroad to safety. Maybe Hell is just being given time to sit with your mistakes.

Sam cannot accept that their love is doomed, and meets a famous artist who says he can take him to Belgium where Abeer is. He can make him rich. He can bring him out of the margins of society and make him famous and valued. “Call me Mephistopheles,” he says.

He tattoos Sam’s back with a visa stamp, turning him into a work of international art. As a human being he could do nothing and go nowhere. As an object, he has international passage and is valued as precious.

But will it actually get Sam what he wants? Or will being in Belgium only bring home just how out of reach a married woman is? Will this visa free him or mark him for permanent ownership?

The Ants and the Grasshopper

The Ants and the Grasshopper focuses on two women, Anita and Esther. Anita is a Malawian farmer and a community activist. Esther is Anita’s friend, mentor and a nurse. Both are active in Bwabwa. They run a women’s local network, focusing on tackling gender inequality, improving children’s health, and ensuring food stability.

Anita is one of those people who you are in awe of. The strength of her spirit touches everyone she meets. The first act of the film focuses on her and her life in Bwabwa. Her story reminds me of The Color Purple, because it is not only a story about triumph over adversity, but a triumph of her spirit. Anita’s father had two wives and favoured one over the other, so her mother and her often went hungry. Anita wanted to be a nun, was devout and studied the Bible to achieve her goal. But at a friend’s wedding, a man decided her would have her as his wife, so he got a group of 15 of his friends to kidnap, beat and imprison her, until she agreed to the marriage. Since she would have been considered “spoiled”, ie. raped, because she had been gone from home alone with the man over many nights, Anita felt she had no option but to proceed with the marriage than bring shame upon her mother and family. As traumatic as the violence was, what was worse was that it forever derailed her life’s plan of being a nun.

But here’s where you see what kind of spirit Anita has. Because when we meet her, her husband works in the field with her, washes clothes, and cooks. He speaks so highly of her, of how she changed his mind about men and women’s work, and how he has learned so much from her. He says he regrets how he married her, and will not let his sons get married in such a way. He understands now it was wrong.

Her husband’s mate Winston, who participated in her abduction, is now their next-door-neighbour. Every other day, Anita visit’s his wife and gets on at him for not helping her out. She has not been cowed by him, it is him who is cowed by her. He talks boldly to the camera about how ludicrous it is for men to do women’s work, bah! But when Anita is speaking to him, he just lets her talk and looks at the ground.

Anita’s my hero.

Esther – who studied to become a nurse right here in Scotland! – is the community nurse who helped Anita overcome her first child’s malnutrition, opening up her horizons to so much knowledge, and who helped change how she farmed, how she thought about the world, and how she lived. Together they are trying to find new ways to deal with the biggest threat facing their community – climate change. The nearby river has completely dried up, it has become a snake of sand through the landscape. Water must be dug for, and even then is but a puddle. The rains and seasons which had been so predictable, are now giving way to successive droughts and floods. For Esther and Anita, climate change is here.

The filmmakers note what passionate and moving speakers Esther and Anita are, and ask them if they would like to come to America to let people know how climate change is effecting their community. What follows is almost like a missionary, Esther and Anita are both devout, and see this a calling to spread the word to stop the destruction over the earth which it is our responsibility to protect.

Weirdly, the people in America least convinced about climate change are the farmers. I’ve always found stuff like this difficult to wrap my head around, like farmers not believing in evolution, it’s like, mate, you actually practice selective breeding, you are literally doing it! You’d think farmers would be the first to see the evidence of climate change, it should be city-dwellers like me, who think food comes wrapped in plastic and couldn’t tell you which direction the sun rises in, that should be denying climate change.

The first folk they meet are from Iowa. The differences between Anita and them are so slight. They are both devout Christians. They are both farmers. They both struggle with constantly being in debt. They both have families and kids they are trying to give a better life. And yet, when the subject of climate change comes up, the conversation falls to immediate awkward halt. The American farmers, even the organic farmers, don’t concede the existence of climate change, chalking it up to cyclical change or God’s will. You can see the frustration on Anita’s face as she tries to convey that this is happening *right now*, this is the reason children in her community go hungry *right now*, this is a reality.

Privately Esther and Anita console each other that seeds that are planted take time to grow, and you can never know what impact you might be having on another.

Unexpectedly, Anita finds more hope in the cities than the countryside. The inner city projects run by Black communities and people of colour – primarily women of colour – are much more realistic about climate change. As they’re told in Oakland, in urban Black communities, this was where all the polluting industries were based, because white and prosperous neighbourhoods didn’t want them in their backyards. So despite a lack of cultivatable land, these city communities were well aware of how industry was impacting the environment. In fact, the colour line is quite visible among Americans who are and are not in denial about climate change. From community kitchens inspired by the Black Panthers, to neighbourhood cultivation of the Detroit urban prairie, consciousness of climate change was at the forefront where the growers were Black.

What’s interesting about this film is how many issues it pings off, despite being ostensibly about climate change. This film is as much about gender, about race, about the effects of slavery and colonialism that are still being felt, about health, about exploitation, about capitalism, about food and the food industry.

It touches upon how a lot of different problems with the food industry has led to it being attacked on many different fronts, without it really changing. For example, the organic farmers see the need to remove pesticides from the ecosystem, but are still part of this bulk exploit and export cycle which perpetuates the notion of food as a commodity, a product, as opposed to the thing you need to live. It is still very much about growing for profit within a capitalist system. At one point Anita also points out that the grain that is being grown on these thousand-acre farms are all going to feed livestock, whereas this would be considered food that could be feeding people in Malawi. Despite Anita not being a vegetarian, the global industrial production of meat is obvious in its impact on food availability.

The film finishes with a coda that takes place two years after the rest of the film, revisiting some of the people Anita met. Some have not changed their minds, but some have. They are more conscious of their practices, even if they are struggling with how to put that into practice, they are actively trying to find a way. And back home Winston has begun learning to cook. He even teaches classes alongside Anita.

How do things change? One person at a time.

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The Last Forest

The Last Forest is a documentary showing the Yanomami people and their home, the forest of Brazil. It is co-written and stars Davi, a Yanomami leader and activist. It takes place almost entirely in the forest, showing the daily life of the people there. There are some staged scenes, where their origin story is acted out, and where a hunter is carried off by an evil forest spirit. But most documentaries will have staged scenes, they just won’t telegraph them as clearly.

Davi speaks out to his people about the illegal mining encroaching on Yanomami land. He describes living through the 1986 invasion which killed almost 2000 indigenous people. He tells them of the human and environmental calamity that follows mining.

The folk are in agreement but, much like here, there can be difficulty envisioning such vast and permanent change. Especially when life among the Yanomami is so peaceful. People go about their day, making bread, weaving baskets, feeding weans, watching the dug scratch itself. Living in the forest, as far as they are concerned, is living in luxury. Everything you could ever need, stretching for miles in every direction. And the idea that someone would destroy the systems that sustain human life, seems an impossible feat, a ludicrous and mad suicidal endeavour.

When prospectors show up, the Yanomami put on their camoflague paint, take up arms, and chase them from their lands. “You won’t mine here, we won’t let you!” shouts Davi. But the natural curiosity of a world beyond their own, so different, can prove a temptation to some young men. The fear is that it will be too late before they realise how they will be used in that other world, how they will be leveraged against their own people and home.

The Last Forest shows the world of climate crisis activism from the perspective of the Yanomami. Their way of life has lasted 1000 years, and they are entering crucial years where they will have to fight if they want it to continue.

At the end of the film, Davi steps off the mountain and speaks to a lecture hall full of people at Harvard about the book he has written about Yanomami life and how it is being impacted by the corporate violence driving climate change. And it’s like it’s our world that seems weird. After the cool, canopied safety of the singing, living forest, stepping into a bristling concrete city full of screaming sirens feels alien. The ability to carry the reality of one world to the other is a challenge which is enormous but vital.

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Living Proof

Living Proof is a documentary comprised of archival footage from the post-war years through to the 1980s, tracing the causes that led to the climate crisis.

The documentary filmmaker never makes an appearance, nor adds any voiceover, the material is allowed to speak for itself. And speak it does. Comment by the filmmaker seems unnecessary when the archival film speaks so directly to the audience.

It is basically composed of 4 promotional films for the up-and-coming industry of the moment. It’s basically Coal! Steel! Oil! Fuck! It ends with organised resistance to the nuclear power industry and the emergent modern green activism movement.

For a documentary which every audience member in 2021 can see is about climate change, the notion of climate or environment is almost totally absent in the majority of the film. Obviously because at the time it was almost entirely absent in the concerns of those pushing for industry. So in a way this film is as much about the negative space of what’s not being talked about, as what is.

Watching only lightly edited industry promotional films from the midpoint of the last century might seem like a bit of a drag, were it not clearly marked into chapters, each moving forward in time. And it’s striking how identical the message is every time. Someone with an authoritative accent comes on and says, “Scotland is underdeveloped! It has so much potential! Have you not noticed that everyone here lives in a state of poverty? This will end with New Industry TM. New Industry TM will make all your lives better. Work for the men. Goods for the women. Children with clean modern living and a future to look forward too. A better world is waiting for you with New Industry TM.”

And it’s amazing how those people in poverty needing lifted up by work, they’re there decade after decade, industry after industry. And at the end, they’re in an even worse position than they were, because not only are they in poverty, but the planet which sustains their lives is roundly fucked.

Of course it’s horseshit. But, even watching it in 2021 and knowing that, you feel the emotional draw of the message. Coz God, don’t we all wish there was something coming down the line that was gonna solve this shit, make our lives better. A little hope is an addictive thing. Standing in the middle of a pandemic, in a world where wealth inequality has never been so extreme, and a few narcissists at the reins of capitalism are about to ride the earth into an early grave, I actually felt envy at the people who were naive enough to fall for this.

The last film-chapter picks up where the first one began, in the Highlands, describing it as a wasteland, desolate, and empty. It is mind boggling conceit how someone could look at life growing in every direction and be like, “This is empty”. But almost half a century on, the same patter is trotted out, for what is essentially the same project that was supposed to save us last time around. Only now, with allegations floating about that it’s having a devastating impact on the planet, the upbeat optimism is touched with a wistful shrug of “Who knows what the future will bring? Who’s to say what the impact will be?” Although by that time, they knew very well what the impact would be because it was already happening.

The thing this film reminded me of most was the Jeanette Winterson book Stone Gods. It’s a novel comprising multiple smaller stories set on various planets, each focusing on two lovers meeting at the end of the world. Each time the apocalypse is self-inflicted, and each time the scenario restarts with a different incarnation of the More Corporation. Each time More learns and adapts and finds a new way of pushing constant consumption to lead to a different kind of demise. Living Proof’s rolling roster of heavy industries is just like that.

A trip through archival footage might not be for everyone, but I found Living Proof to work really well at telling the story of climate change in a way that brings it close to home, and that reminds us that this environmental problem is really a problem about people.

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