July 25, 2008

Feeding the Monsters: How I Support My Favorite Corporations

I love information. For some reason, I've always had an interest in facts, trivia and general knowledge- the kind of stuff you might find in an almanac or on Wikipedia, which is possibly my favorite website. I like to read mini-profiles of the world's movers and shakers. I like to know how the world works, why it works (or doesn't work) a certain way, what people think and where their ideas came from. I like to know who said what and why they might have said it.

I also believe there are reasons that help explain why people do the things they do. Their reasons may not be simple, logical or popular, but there are always factors beneath the surface that help to place a person's words or actions into context. If someone presents an opinion that is new to me, I hope that I am always gracious enough to find out the reasons behind their words before I decide whether or not I agree. I always seem to have more questions because the 'big picture' is very important to me.

But sometimes information can be scary. There are certain things I just don't want to know. How many calories and grams of sugar are in tonight's dessert? How did the meat and vegetables on my dinner plate get from the farm to the grocery store? How much water do I waste in the shower every year? Who makes the clothes and shoes that I wear every day? What were the factory conditions like and how much were the laborers paid? Who is getting rich off my consumer spending habits? How many children died yesterday from preventable disease? How much of the injustice and exploitation in the world am I directly or indirectly responsible for? Don't tell me the answers because I don't want to know.

The phenomenon of globalization has made us more aware of how no single person or nation is an isolated island. All of humanity is interconnected not just by technology, but by the global marketplace that plays a role in everything from the cost of oil to the scarcity of food. The demand for resources can trigger innovation and collaboration, but it also can lead to war and environmental degradation. Thanks to the mixed bag of globalization, a host of transnational companies have arisen to provide goods for wealthier nations at the expense of poorer countries who supply the labor. Massive, multi-national corporations like Nike, McDonalds, Wal-Mart and Shell Oil can exercise extraordinary power through leveraging trade agreements that are necessary to keep profits up. Sadly, the production and distribution of these goods often results in pollution, deforestation, labor rights violations and infringement on cultural practices in developing countries.

In her anti-globalization bestseller entitled No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Canadian journalist Naomi Klein explored the negative effects of brand-oriented corporate activity such as pervasive marketing targeted at increasingly younger audiences, the elimination of competition and the exploitation of cheap foreign labor. The critically acclaimed 2003 documentary The Corporation (also Canadian, hmm...) even compared the profile of the modern, profit-driven corporation to that of a clinically-diagnosed psychopath. After all, corporations are known to demonstrate callous unconcern for the feelings of others, an incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, a reckless disregard for the safety of others, deceitfulness (repeated lying to and deceiving of others for profit), incapacity to experience guilt, and failure to conform to the social norms with respect to lawful behaviors!

More frightening that the thought of an evil, merciless corporation invading my home is the reality that I have already invited them in and given them the run of the place. How could this be since I don't drink, smoke, drive an SUV or consume super-sized Big Mac meals on a daily basis? Does the fact that my wife buys all-natural fair trade cloth diapers and organic soap count for anything?

Time Warner Inc., the world's largest media and entertainment conglomerate, has the distinct privilege of being Hawaii's only local cable provider. Every time I pick up the remote, they have a reason to smile. But television is just the tip of the iceberg. If I pop in one of my favorite DVDs like All the President's Men, Chariots of Fire, The Mission, L.A. Confidential or The Fugitive, guess what? These movies all belong to Warner Bros. which is part of the Time Warner "family" that also includes box office cash cows like the Batman and Harry Potter franchises. Even my beloved Lord of the Rings movie trilogy cannot escape the clutches of Time Warner Inc. (formerly known as AOL Time Warner) since they own New Line Cinema too! What about artsy "independent" films in my collection like Before Sunset or Good Night and Good Luck? I was disturbed to learn that both are distributed by Warner Independent Pictures- an oxymoronic name if there ever was one. With this level of influence and control, it's easy to feel like you're trapped in The Matrix- another WB movie by the way!

But there's more. How often have I used MapQuest to get directions or visited CNN.com to catch up on the news? Same corporation, folks. I don't collect DC Comics, watch Looney Tunes or use AOL instant messenger, but those who do are inadvertently feeding the same monster. Time Warner practically owns the entire stack of waiting-room magazines because Time, People, InStyle, Real Simple, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, Life and Fortune are all subsidiaries of this corporate giant. Even music acts ranging from Relient K to Eric Clapton, Matchbox Twenty to Ladysmith Black Mambazo are all part of their empire.

Don't worry, I am generously spreading the love to other corporations as well. You probably won't catch me watching Bill O'Reilly on Fox News Channel, but Rupert Murdoch still gets my money in other ways. Did you know that in addition to owning MySpace, The Wall Street Journal and every TV channel and movie studio with "Fox" in its name, News Corp is also the parent company of publishers like HarperCollins and Zondervan? So now I can't even pick up a book by C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, Dallas Willard or Rob Bell without selling my soul to 'the man'? Geez Louise!

Then there's the "family-oriented" Walt Disney Company. If they didn't already reel you in as a child, they'll be sure to entice you as a grown up. Even if you've managed to avoid Disney cartoons, toys, books and theme parks, you've still got to watch out for movie studios like Miramax, Touchstone and Pixar, all of whom are happy to take your dollars. How could anyone not like Finding Nemo or Ratatouille? Guess who's behind Pirates of the Caribbean, the Narnia movies and TV shows like LOST? The answer: M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E! The same goes for movies like Good Will Hunting, The Insider, Hero and Finding Neverland, which were all decent flicks in my opinion. For all the sports fans who enjoy ESPN (either on TV, radio, the web or magazine), we too have Uncle Walt to thank.

Let's move on to NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric. If I watch shows like Meet the Press, Late Night with Conan O'Brien or The Office, I'm supporting the same conglomerate that controls film studios like Universal Pictures and Focus Features. Some of my favorite movies including To Kill A Mockingbird, Do the Right Thing, Schindler's List, The Bourne Identity, The Pianist, Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Constant Gardener belong to this parent company. As the 6th largest corporation in the world, the executives and shareholders probably don't really care if I visit one of the Universal Studios Theme Parks, watch the Olympics on NBC or buy a GE refrigerator because they're getting into my pockets either way.

So there you have it. I have done my share to make corporations rich. Even if I threw out my
entire DVD collection and never darkened the door of another movie theater or big box store, I will make plenty of other consumer choices benefiting corporations who provide me with everything from light bulbs to cheddar cheese. If we will buy it, they will make it. This very blog is owned by Google, a company with close to 20,000 employees and revenues of over $16 billion dollars last year. Such is the world we live in; an uphill battle for farmer's markets, family owned restaurants and mom & pop stores. Even Naomi Klein's No Logo book was published by Alfred A. Knopf, a company that is owned by the gigantic Random House, the world's largest English-language trade book publisher.

There are some things I just don't want to know.

1 comment:

SunnyC said...

Everyone is owned by someone. We are powerless and are being pulled and swayed by each of the "Big Five." They simply want our money and we want their products. It is like a never ending circle; big businesses create, they dangle it in front of us, we drool over the latest bait, and in a snap we are hooked. We are indeed feeding the monster and there is no hiding from it.