The function of documentaries is to present real life issues or subjects to the general public. As they present facts, documentaries can be accepted as, to an extent, an accurate representation of reality. However it is not true to say that they are completely factual and that everything presented in a documentary is true. Coming to an agreement, particularly over controversial issues such as the influence of corporations in our society, is extremely difficult. Even if it is unintentional, a documentary will be dominated with a particular view. This can be explored through the documentary “The Corporation” by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbot & Joel Bakan. Through the use of certain techniques of selection of detail, film language and verbal language the creators present corporations as being a destructive institution with no emotion and no morals.
The technique selection of detail plays an important role in influencing a particular point of view towards an issue. Through the exclusion, as well as the inclusion, of certain footage, the documentary “The Corporation” effectively presents corporations in a negative way. An example of how the inclusion of certain information can influence a particular view can be seen in the beginning of “The Corporation”. The director for Business and government at Harvard is interviewed and asked for his metaphor of what a corporation is. He relates corporations to eagles describing them as being ‘noble, visionary, majestic’ and as being something that ‘people can believe in and be inspired by’. Then at the end of the interview, not knowing that the camera is still rolling, he stands up and says ‘ok guys, enough bullshit’, contradicting everything he had just said.
At first the viewer is made to understand and accept this positive representation of corporations, but after realising that everything the CEO had said before was a lie, the viewer is urged to feel deceived and outraged. Evidently the value of honesty and trust are held by both the makers and the viewers of this documentary, thus by showing the corporation disregarding these values, lying and manipulating to the public, “The Corporation” successfully presents corporations as being a big, deceitful organization of con artists. If the makers of The Corporation had not included this bit of footage and had just shown the CEO praising corporations, then the audience would most likely adopt to this positive view and the effect of positioning the audience to view corporations negatively will be lost.
Though “The Corporation” presents facts concerning the manipulative and deceitful characteristics of corporations, this negative view cannot be regarded as an absolute ‘all truth’ representation of corporations. Of course what is being shown in a documentary depends directly upon the view of its makers. Different people will have different views towards corporations, depending on what they value. Other documentary makers may choose not to include these negative representations of corporations, and instead focus on the good customer service that they provide.
Film language is another technique of construction evidently used in “The Corporation”. Factors of film language include the use of montage, Juxtaposition, camera shots, lighting and music. Montage is used in the documentary to present corporations as being selfish and inhumane. This montage scene involves two situations happening simultaneously. One situation is of CEOs drinking, laughing and enjoying themselves. They are indoors and the lighting used, bright yellow, evokes a feeling of warmth and comfort. The eye level medium shots used here, influences a friendly and inviting atmosphere. Sound effects of people chattering and laughing can also be heard, again provoking a friendly environment. The other situation is of the military shooting and inflicting violence on protesting civilians. The camera angle dominantly used is a low angle, which makes the military look powerful, dominant and superior, and the dark lighting, of black and red, provokes a cold feeling of danger and fear.
Sound effects of the military marching suggest that the military are like working bees, having no emotion and doing only as they are told, and the sound of gunshots emphasise the violence that they are inflicting. On piecing these two situations together in a simultaneous sequence, the shots of the happy CEOs is juxtaposed with the shots of the violence being inflicted on civilians. The viewer is positioned to feel anger towards the corporation as while there are civilians being brutally bashed, simply for not agreeing with corporations, the CEOs are enjoying themselves pretending like they know nothing about what is going on.
Clearly the values of the makers of “The Corporation” here, is that of peace and freedom of speech. By permitting the viewer to see these images of violence and linking them to corporations, the viewer’s values of peace are being challenged and thus viewers are encouraged to associate this inhumane act with corporations, viewing them negatively. Furthermore, violence erupting simply due to civilians expressing there disagreement with corporations, is seen as being an outrage to the viewer, as people have been stripped of their right for freedom of speech.
As before, while “The Corporation” presents facts about the violence involved with corporations, the view of corporations being immoral and uncaring is only an interpretation of what the documentary makers feel corporations are all about. Different people may have different interpretations and so there can never be a ‘true’ representation.
The use of verbal language is essential in presenting a certain point of view. The language used by the interviewees and the voice overs in The Corporation, function to present corporations as being bad. Factors of verbal language include figurative, emotive and formal language. The use of metaphors in the beginning of the documentary is an example of figurative language. The viewer is immediately bombarded with the metaphor ‘bad apple’, a version of the common metaphor ‘One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel’. However constant stressing of the metaphor changes its original meaning of the ‘bad apple’ as an exception to the ‘bad apple’ as all pervasive.
By describing corporations using a common metaphor of which the viewer understands means that one bad person in a group can have a bad effect on the whole group, and using it extensively, The Corporation persuades the viewer to see corporations as being completely full of these bad people. Of course no one likes ‘bad’ people and thus corporations, being portrayed as made up completely by them, are viewed negatively by the viewer. In this case, the makers of the documentary want to immediately present to the viewer how they feel about corporations and how corporations are being presented in the media. It is obvious that the assumption of the makers towards corporations is that they are simply bad organizations full of rotten apples.
Emotive language is also an aspect of verbal language used to present corporations negatively. It works on the emotions of the viewers, by using words, which provoke anger and outrage. This can be seen in the interview with the founder of ‘Programs on Corporations, Law and Democracy’. He talks about how ‘600 000 people were killed to get rights for people (African Americans)’ and how ‘with strokes of the pen…judges applied those rights to capital and property, while stripping them from people’. The words ‘strokes of the pen’ when put in comparison with ‘600 000 people were killed’ provokes a feeling of outrage, as it took the death of thousands of people in order for human rights to be enforced, but it was as simple as putting pen on paper for corporations to apply this law for protection of their possessions.
Furthermore the word ‘stripping’ is a harsh word to express the forceful taking away of human rights from people. This situation of corporations taking the law of human rights to their advantage positions the viewer to see corporations as being uncaring and selfish. People value life and freedom, so when the link is made between corporations and the death of people, the viewer’s values are breached and thus they are angered by the inhumanity of corporations. Of course the makers of The Corporation also value the importance of life and freedom as this information would not have been include if they had not felt anger towards the actions of corporations towards people.
Though the situation of corporations passing themselves as a person falling under the 14th amendment is and actual event that happened, this view of corporation being amoral, selfish, uncaring and overall bad is simply a one sided interpretation of the event. Other people, such as CEOs, might see this act of corporations lawfully becoming a person as being a positive accomplishment for their company. Therefore, whilst “The Corporation” presents issues, which occur in reality, it can only, to an extent, be accepted as an accurate representation, as it only exhibits a particular view on corporations.
The documentary “The Corporation” by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbot & Joel Bakan can, to an extent, be accepted as an accurate representation of reality. However, although it presents facts, it cannot be considered as being truly factual. Through the techniques of selection of detail, film language and verbal language corporations are presented as being a destructive institution with no morals. This negative representation of corporations is merely a one sided view of corporations. Other documentaries may present corporations as being great institutions, which can serve the public and bring people wealth. As corporations can be presented in many ways, depending on the values and attitudes of the documentary makers, it can be concluded that documentaries are not necessarily completely true but rather offer its representation of reality.
Courtney from Study Moose
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