Corporate villains

Today I saw the movie “Moon”, a riveting sci-fi yarn that is basically one actor’s showpiece – Sam Rockwell carries the full weight of the story, and he does it brilliantly. By all means go and see it…and I promise not to give away anything crucial here.¬† Much as I loved the film, I was put off by the tired clich√© of corporate evildoers being predictably cast as villains. To me, the villainy of the corporation was the weak link in the story. Without giving away the twist, it seemed extremely far-fetched to me that a publicly traded company (and we’re not talking about a too-distant future here) would feel the need to resort to the trickery the plot called for…let alone get away with it for any length of time. Indeed, that same question is asked in the film “But why? Why would they do this?”. And maybe it’s my pro-market bias taking over, but I felt the answer (quotes are from memory) “Because they’re a corporation! They have investors, shareholders… ” was a bit lacking, though no doubt many will find it sufficient.

Yes, companies are made up of people. And yes, people make mistakes. And also yes, companies have at times engaged in questionable tactics. But I think it is wrong and misleading to characterize corporations as inherently evil, as Hollywood has been doing for much of the past couple of decades. This distorted image of corporations is seeping insidiously into the public mindset. And where is Calvin Coolidge in all this? It may be said that his presidency was the last that had an unrestricted pro-business tilt, as per his famous quote, “The business of America is business”. In effect, he and his predecessor Harding ran the country in the Gilded Age manner of a Cleveland, McKinley, or Taft, steering it rightward away from the trustbusting progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, who -like Hollywood producers of today- liked to cast businessmen as villains.

To get back to the movie, I really feel a much more likely candidate for villain would have been the government, in the guise of some department or agency. Go see the movie, and ask yourself if a big, unaccountable and all-powerful government agency wouldn’t be much more likely to be the agent of evil. But I suppose that would be too avant-garde for the Hollywood of today.