Comment: The Manchurian Candidate and the Evil Corporation
The Art & Importance of Doing the Least Possible at Work
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Tell yourself that the absurd ideology underpinning this corporate bullshit cannot last for ever. It will go the same way as the dialectical materialism of the communist system. The problem is knowing when...-Bonjour paresse
August 16, 2004--In the classic 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate, years after the Korean War of the early 1950’s, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) is haunted by bizarre nightmares about an army buddy, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). Shaw’s mother (Angela Lansbury) is organising his stepfather’s vice-presidency bid and as the story develops, we see that Shaw has been reprogrammed in a way that a trigger will even prompt him to murder the presidential candidate in order to ensure his stepfather will become the presidential candidate. The recently released remake of The Manchurian Candidate is set in 2008 with Gulf War veteran Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) in turmoil, wracked by nightmares about his army buddy Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). Shaw is a politician on the rise- a war hero, a member of the US Congress and his mother, the powerful Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Meryl Streep), is pushing for the VP slot for him in the upcoming election-the 'Manchurian' candidate. The original film was taken out of general circulation for a quarter-century following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (In 1972, Frank Sinatra bought the rights and in 1975, removed it from circulation entirely. However, he gave his daughter Tina permission to produce a remake). The film is based on the 1959 Cold War political thriller by Richard Condon. (Click here for more information).
The original's Chinese Communist villains have been replaced by today's evil doers in a big bad corporation. Manchurian Global is a multinational conglomerate with revenue greater than the European Union's and which has designs on controlling the White House. It will do what's necessary to control key politicians including using a sophisticated brainwashing scheme. Manchurian Global is among other things a defence contractor and it profits most from a world in constant chaos. The programmable president serves its needs with a foreign policy which keeps American armed forces engaged. Microchips in the remake, replace hypnosis in the original and some viewers may wonder with a modern bogeyman Halliburton, the energy services company which Vice President Cheney used to run, in the political frame, if embedded microchips are really needed after all!
The evil corporation as the antagonist, chimes with the times. The images of manacled Enron executives, stories of greed and excess at companies such as Tyco, concern about the power of huge companies and the nexus of money with US politics in particular, feed a cynical public mood where the business corporation is viewed as wielding virtually untrammelled power. There is of course nothing new in the transnational corporation wielding power greater than individual governments. The Catholic Church was the unchallenged transnational corporation for 1,500 years until Martin Luther provided people with a viable alternative. Media magnate Rupert Murdoch, a former Australian now an American, can wield influence over UK policy towards the European Union from his office in New York. A century ago in the US, media barons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer thrived in a power vacuum, while John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust squashed competitors like bugs. The tide began to turn when Theodore Roosevelt became president. In the 1941 movie Citizen Kane, which was based on William Randolph Hearst, Orson Welles' Charles Foster Kane character, shouts at his wife when she questions his megalomania:
'But Charles, people will think . . .' she says.
'What I tell them to think!' Kane explodes.
Are today's corporations good or evil or are they amoral and pragmatic? Business companies shouldn't all be lumped together. In the long term, very few organisations retain a dominant place in their markets. Nokia, a one time paper manufacturer, becomes more economically powerful than its homeland, Finland. However, Nokia's dominance of the mobile telephony market is already under threat from the likes of Samsung, a company that has prospered in the onetime impoverished South Korea. Remember the fear of the mighty Japanese corporations just a decade ago? There will always be examples of egomaniacs trying to play God. This is where enforcement of corporate governance rules and the maintenance of a diverse media is so crucial. Our experience of large foreign owned corporations in Ireland has been a positive one. Prior to the introduction of extensive statutory employment rights, conditions of employment in foreign owned companies were significantly better than in locally controlled firms. This is an experience that is also to be found in developing countries.
Working in a big corporation may be an experience that does not depend on whether it is publicly or privately owned. This is certainly the view of Corinne Maier, an economist at state-owned Electricité de France (EDF), who has written the summer publishing sensation in France: Bonjour paresse (Hello Laziness), a call to middle managers to toss away their laptops, organigrams and mission statements. The 113 page book sub-titled The Art and the Importance of Doing the Least Possible in the Workplace , has prompted the embarrassed senior management of EDF to summon Maier to a disciplinary hearing on her work for the company. The company has cited her for 'repeatedly failing to respect her obligations of loyalty towards the company,' and of running a 'personal campaign, clearly proclaimed in the book, to spread gangrene through the system from within.' The company referred to her habit of reading newspapers in meetings and the charge that she had neglected to secure permission to mention on the back cover that she worked for EDF. However, Maier told them that she's not available in August as she's on holiday. Chapters in the book include headings such as: Business Culture: My Arse!, The Cretins Who Sit Next To You, The Best Management Con-Tricks and Why You Lose Nothing By Resigning.
The French 35 hour week is currently a big policy topic in France. According to the OECD, the French work 24% fewer hours than in 1970, whereas Americans work 20% more. France is not alone. Large declines are also seen in Germany and Japan. But the situation in France is the most extreme. The proportion of French people of working age who find jobs has fallen to 61.9%, compared to over 70% in the UK, the US and Denmark. The average French worker's year is only 1459 hours, compared with an OECD mean of 1,762 hours.
France is a country where early retirement programmes have left only a third of the country's 55-64 year olds still working - 'a world record', Ms Maier told the Financial Times. It is a world where companies parrot 'our people are our most important asset,' yet throw them out like used Kleenex. It is a world where impossible demands are made of the young ambitious employee who believes the words proactive and benchmarking actually mean something and who hopes his talents will be recognised and that he will be loved and cherished. 'It is de rigueur to claim you work because your job interests you and even if in reality everyone is only there to pay the bills at the end of the month, it is a complete taboo to say so,' she says. 'One day I said in the middle of a meeting that I could only be bothered to turn up in order to put food on the table: there was 15 seconds of absolute silence during which everyone looked agonised.'
Many of us are familiar with the common use in business of the jargon popular with business book writers. I used to regularly hear about 'group culture' when I worked for a Swedish multinational but like the citizens of a dictatorship who appear to their deluded leaders to soak up propaganda like sponges, a company's employees can recognize a duck whether it quacks or not.
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