Tags: capitalism, corporations, knowledge, marx/marxism, media, political economy, theory, censorship, fox, ideology, monsanto, news, 00 to 05 mins, 06 to 10 mins
Year: 2003; 1999
Length: 10:20; 4:17
Access: YouTube (clip from The Corporation)
YouTube (clip from The Insider)
Summary: This pair of excerpts exposes corporate censorship of the news via a documentary (The Corporation) and through a Hollywood film (The Insider). In recent years, the news media has become increasingly concentrated and controlled by corporations. The implications of this is that corporations are responsible to shareholders and must earn high profits. This concentration of corporate news has led to conflicts of interests when a news source wants to air a story that could hurt their advertisers or their shareholders. The first clip from The Corporation shows this process. In 1997, investigative journalists Steve Wilson and Jane Akre of Fox News, had prepared a story about Monsanto and the negative impacts of their bovine growth hormones (e.g. their milk was potentially carcinogenic to humans). Monsanto was an advertiser for the Fox News channel, and the company threatened to both sue Fox and pull their ads. Because this would have cost Fox News significant advertising revenues, Fox decided to edit the news story so Monsanto would not pull their ads. The clip describes the process of 83 rewrites that either removed or minimized any negative effects of the hormone, until the journalists were ultimately fired and the story never aired. The second clip, from The Insider, features Al Pacino arguing how a story at 60 Minutes was being censored because of financial interests. The film is based on a true story about a whistle blower who worked for Big Tobacco and CBS was hesitant to air the interview on 60 Minutes because it might jeopardize the sale of CBS to Westinghouse Electric. Both clips illustrate the political economy of news media and Marx's concept of ideology, in which ideas and knowledge reflect the interest of the ruling class. Marx argues that the class having the means of material production (e.g. technology, money, labor, tools, etc.) also has control over the means of intellectual production (newspapers, schools, books, broadcast media, etc). One can see Marx’s claim come to life with the influence that Monsanto had over Fox News. Corporate interests shaped what news was aired, and a Fox executive later told the journalists "the news is what we say it is"; when the journalists used the courts to fight back, a Florida appeals court ruled that falsifying the news is not against the law. In both cases, financial interests shaped what constituted the news, and how it was presented--ultimately shaping knowledge in the interest of the dominant class.
Submitted By: Avery Winston and Paul Dean
Tags: capitalism, commodification, consumption/consumerism, corporations, health/medicine, marketing/brands, pharmaceutical industry, prescription drugs, 21 to 60 mins
Access: YouTube (trailer)
Summary: The filmmakers of this documentary argue that "missing in the health care debate is how drug companies are putting your and your family's safety at risk in order to make more money." Money Talks: Profits Before Patient Safety exposes the questionable tactics that big drug companies use to make record profits by playing with the safety of our health care. Using misleading advertising, attractive "drug reps" who wine and dine doctors, and other unethical practices, the drug industry makes billions of dollars every year selling us unsafe, unnecessary, and overpriced drugs. The film gives an in-depth, academic perspective on the questionable marketing tactics of the pharmaceutical industry, and features the commentary of investigative journalists, former pharmaceutical sales representatives, and medical professionals including Dr. John Abramson, author of Overdo$ed America, and Alex Sugerman-Brozan, director of the Prescription Access Litigation Project. Other notable interviewees include Dr. Bob Goodman of Columbia University, founder of the "No Free Lunch" program, and Dr. Jerome Hoffman of UCLA Medical School. Money Talks: Profits Before Patient Safety was chosen by the American Library Association as one of the most notable films for adults in 2008.
Submitted By: Holly Mosher
Tags: capitalism, class, corporations, inequality, economic sociology, organizations/occupations/work, 21 to 60 mins
Summary: Although The American Dream says that hard work will lead to wealth and success, it doesn't seem to apply to most of Americans. Indeed, the smallest economic returns go to those generally laboring the hardest of all: the working poor. Billionaire Thomas Peterffy argues in his anti-Obama ad that America's rich will lose motivation to work if they are required to pay more taxes. But while preaching the value of hard work, he fails to note that the rich have virtually monopolized income gains in recent years. Reflecting on the unequal opportunity for financial security that the class structure presents, the late Beth Shulman, in her 2005 book, The Betrayal of Work, was one of the first to examine the diminishing well-being of the working poor. The above clip features Shulman's interview on PBS's NOW, and at about the 12:20 mark, she observes that while worker productivity has grown significantly, higher incomes have not trickled down to those in the bottom reaches of the American class structure. Indeed, she notes in this 2007 interview that "The top 1% is garnering 80% of income gains" (Note that today the top 1% is garnering over 90% of income gains, according to Emmanuel Saenz). With this being said, how is it possible for most American workers, and particularly the poor, to sustain their dream of a better life when their incomes remain so low and stagnant that they continue to struggle just to get by? (Originally posted on SoUnequal).
Submitted By: Tara McQuay
Tags: capitalism, commodification, consumption/consumerism, corporations, economic sociology, marketing/brands, marx/marxism, political economy, theory, culture industry, false needs, max horkheimer, theodor adorno, wal-mart, 00 to 05 mins
Access: South Park Studios
Summary: In this South Park clip, Kyle and Stan enter the local Wall-Mart in an attempt to ruin the business because the people of South Park have been negatively affected by its recent opening in their town. Having been led to believe that destroying the “heart” will destroy the business, the boys search the store for the “heart” of Wal-Mart . While Randy (Stan's father) is walking through the store with the boys, he is distracted by the fact that Wal-Mart continues to lower their prices. Everywhere he looks there are items that he does not need, but he continues to buy them because of the low prices. In this way, Wal-Mart is creating “false-needs,” which are created and fulfilled by capitalism, and exert power over Randy. When the boys meet the man that calls himself “Wal-Mart,” he claims that he can take any “form” that he chooses. He then switches clothes, thereby acquiring different forms through consumer goods, and asks the boys which “form” they prefer. When the boys find the “heart,” they are surprised to see that it is a mirror; i.e. the “heart” of Wal-Mart is the consumer. The man adds that his “forms” can be Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target, but that he represents one single entity, “desire.” This desire is the power that is exerted over people by major corporations. While the clip seems to suggest that Wal-Mart is simply fulfilling the desires of the consumer, viewers may consider how such desire and the low prices of Wal-Mart are produced more broadly. Through advertising and Wal-Mart's artificially low prices (e.g. by exploiting cheap labor), these desires are produced like a commodity in a factory and are a fundamental mechanism for capitalist control over people. By suggesting that the "heart of Wal-Mart" is the consumer, does it offer hope in us being able to change the corporate giant or does it unfairly place blame on individuals for a bigger structural issue?
Submitted By: Sean Kelley and Ian Hammer
Tags: corporations, crime/law/deviance, economic sociology, government/the state, historical sociology, inequality, political economy, copyright law, subtitles/CC, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: States, it is often said, must regulate corporations in order to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of its citizens. Even the most ardent fiscal conservative would concede that antitrust laws are necessary in order to sustain a competitive market and protect consumers from price fixing. To take another example, when states enforce copyright laws, they "promote the progress of science and useful arts." While corporations may want to own a copyright forever, states are obliged to limit the duration of copyright protection in the interest of allowing other authors the ability to remake or build from classic stories. This is what benevolent, well-meaning states should do, but in practice, corporations often wield power over state regulators, and as C. G. P. Grey remarks in the above clip, on four separate occasions Congress has aligned with the narrow interest of corporate copyright holders that the length of copyright is too short to turn a profit and so extended it. But as Grey also points out, it's hard to imagine that J. K. Rowling "wouldn't have written Harry Potter if the copyright protection was just for her whole life and not an additional seven decades thereafter." The clip works well as a rather vivid antidote to the myth that markets are best left unregulated, and the clip is also a useful entrée into a discussion about how power—in this case, corporate power—shapes the formation of law, and perhaps even the ideological premises, which become the foundation of discussions about whether those laws should be changed in the first place.
Submitted By: Sparhawk
Willam Belli, Detox Icunt, and Vicki Vox sing "Hold On"
Tags: consumption/consumerism, corporations, economic sociology, gender, lgbtq, prejudice/discrimination, sex/sexuality, social mvmts/social change/resistance, consumer boycott, homosexuality, protest, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: There is a long history of consumers boycotting businesses that practice socially irresponsible, unsustainable, or discriminatory practices. For example, Equality Matters (which promotes LGBTQ equality) has documented that Chick-fil-A has donated millions of dollars to promote anti-gay groups in 2009 and beyond. While the company claims they are "not anti-anybody," their donations have sparked a variety of protests and boycotts against the company. Recently, Los Angeles-based drag queens Willam Belli, Detox Icunt, and Vicki Vox have entered the debate with this parody of Wilson Phillips' "Hold On" (and with a small rap homage to TLC's "Waterfalls"). Singing "Someday somebody's gonna make you wanna gobble up a waffle fry", they praise the chain's food, but note the issue with the company's discriminatory practices. They assert "We just want a little meat without your Bible" and "With the fact they hate gays but the food is so dope", but they ultimately encourage viewers to "chow down at Chick-fil-A, even if you're gay." Viewers interested in this debate may consider how businesses like Chick-fil-A promote an anti-gay agenda and the role of public protest and parody in resisting or promoting the social activities of business. More generally, viewers can consider how our consumption practices may support or resist certain types of business practices, and reflect upon how consumption (e.g. consumer boycotts) may or may not be used as an effective tool to promote social change by attacking corporate brands.
Submitted By: Christine Moore
Tags: capitalism, commodification, corporations, economic sociology, globalization, inequality, marx/marxism, organizations/occupations/work, capital flight, feminization of poverty, maquiladoras, world-systems theory, 00 to 05 mins
Year: 2006; 2012
Length: 4:04; 2:58
Access: clip 1 on YouTube; clip 2 at the New York Times
Summary: These two clips examine the role of low wage work in the global economy. The first clip looks at maquiladoras (multinationally-owned factories operating in tax-free zones in low wage countries) from the documentary Maquilapolis (city of factories). It presents the stories of two female maquiladora workers. Carmen works the graveyard shift at a factory that produces television parts. She was attracted to the maquiladoras because it paid better wages than the rest of Mexico. However, she ultimately suffers from kidney damage and lead poisoning from her years of exposure to toxic chemicals and her employers that do not allow workers to drink water or go to the bathroom during their shift. In a global economy, corporations are attracted to places like Mexico because of their tax-free zones that offer tax breaks and cheap labor that is easily exploitable. Employers expect labor, which is mostly female, to have "agile hands and would be cheap and docile". Ultimately, Carmen's employer moved from Mexico to Indonesia to find cheaper labor and earn higher profits. The clip discusses female labor as a "cheap commodity" that is easily discarded if they become less productive or defend their labor rights. The second clip documents workers at a Chinese Foxconn factory that employs 120,000 workers with low pay and dangerous working conditions. The clips offer a good illustration of world-systems theory, and viewers can be encouraged to think about the role of maquiladoras in the global economy. How does value flow through the global economy? How is work, gender, and inequality linked to maquiladoras and the mobility of transnational corporations around the world? Do maquiladoras reproduce poverty or can they help nations rise in global value chains?
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: capitalism, children/youth, consumption/consumerism, corporations, marketing/brands, media, psychology/social psychology, advertising, false needs, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This excerpt is from the documentary The Corporation (based on the book by Joel Bakan), which examines the role of corporations in our lives today. This brief clip moves between commentary from Barbara Linn (professor of Psychiatry at Harvard's Baker Children's Center) and Lucy Hughes (a marketing executive at Initative Media), a Co-creator of "The Nag Factor." The Nag Factor is a scientific study of how children nag their parents to to "help corporations to help children nag for their products more effectively." Hughes notes the study found that "20% to 40% of purchases would not have occurred unless the child had nagged their parents" and emphasizes the use of psychologists and media technology to better advertise to children. Professor Linn is highly critical of the industry that spends $12 billion/year to market to children, and argues "comparing the marketing of yesteryear to the marketing of today is like comparing a BB gun to a smart bomb." Viewers may be asked if it is ethical to market to children? While Professor Linn argues against it, the marketing executive says she doesn't know, emphasizing that it is her job to sell products. What is the role of marketing and advertising in society today and has it gone too far? How is it related to capitalism (e.g. the Marxian concept of false needs) and the corporation? At 7:40, the clip ends with the story of two college students who became "corporate sponsors" to pay for their college tuition. See other educational uses of the documentary here and see also this NYT video on advertising on college campuses.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: commodification, consumption/consumerism, corporations, education, marketing/brands, advertising, college students, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This NYT video starts by showing us UNC's inaugural party for incoming freshmen at Target (an American big-box store) where "campus ambassadors" promote corporate brands to their fellow students. At another 50 campuses, American Eagle student representatives help freshmen move into their dorms on their first ever day at college, an iconic and memorable moment to link to corporate branding. As one marketing exec says, "its all about marketing through students as opposed to marketing to students." But what does this mean for university education today? The university, meant to represent intellectual integrity through the pursuit of truth and dissemination of knowledge, is becoming increasingly compromised as budgetary cuts encourage greater reliance on the private sector. The students themselves benefit by gaining work experience, compensation in money and products, and networking (e.g. meeting marketing executives), but are they being manipulated by corporations in the process? Student "ambassadors" in the video report that "when you know companies are not there just to get your money, they're actually willing to help you as an individual in whatever way possible, it makes you respect them a lot more," and that it "feels like what you're doing actually matters." Are these corporations really "willing to help in any way possible" or will they do this only insofar as they have something to gain? A UNC representative notes that they have little control over the commercialization of their campus, and a student advocate for social justice notes that this is "commercialization and materialism at its finest." The video reflects a growing body of research (e.g. The Corporate Campus) documenting the rise of commercialization on college campuses, which offers many excellent readings that can be paired with it. Viewers may be encouraged to reflect on the role of corporations and corporate advertising in society today. How have corporations drawn upon social relationships of trust and legitimacy to further their agenda? How might a Marxian perspective help us understand these processes and what is at stake? Should corporate advertising be banned in certain spaces?
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: consumption/consumerism, corporations, food/agriculture, health/medicine, marketing/brands, media, social mvmts/social change/resistance, culture jam, sociology of culture, subvertising, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This McDonald's culture jam montage demonstrates how, by mashing up a readily recognizable yet rarely questioned piece of popular culture, new and critical questions can emerge that draw attention to social problems. In this mash-up, various scenes from McDonald's commercials are rearranged and placed alongside U.S. health data trend maps, images of obesity, and graphic scenes from a liposuction surgery in order to highlight the alarming rates of chronic health problems facing our "Fast Food Nation," including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, various cancers, insulin resistance, among many others. The accompanying music, "Pusherman" by Curtis Mayfield, provides further commentary on the role of McDonald's in American society, one that resembles that of a drug dealer, providing addictive and unhealthy products to consumers that can ultimately lead to life-threatening and socially dysfunctional outcomes. This clip would be good to use in a lecture on sociology and health, food, or media studies. This clip also adds to The Sociological Cinema's growing collection of video clips on culture jamming, (e.g., here).
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
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