tragic transformation of Anakin Skywalker into the feared
and despised Darth Vader in the latest Star Wars saga, Revenge
of the Sith, marks, in only ways creator George Lucas
can capture, the return of the super-villain. But as Darth
Vader finds his way into the pantheon of evil doers in silver
screen history, he might find that he sits low on the pedestal
nudged aside by another dastardly miscreant: the evil
Long hospitable to the countercultural meme about the evils
of capitalism, Hollywood, which ironically is one of the most
successful examples of big business in America, has ratcheted
up its war against the dreaded profit motive. One of the most
famous lines ever uttered in Hollywood was delivered deftly
by a straight-faced Michael Douglas to a seminar room full
of acolytes in Oliver Stones Wall
Street, Greed for lack of a better word
is good, proclaimed the corporate raider and
bad-boy Gordon Gekko.
Hollywood has a long tradition of producing movies that bash
the capitalist system and while it has every right to use
film as a medium to criticize the excesses of capitalism,
is it truth these artists seek to portray? More likely, it
is a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the virtues
of the free-market.
Hollywood is an insular world.
Michael Moore is a patron saint, due in no small part
to his hefty attempt to remove George W. Bush from office.
It is an environment in which long diatribes against the evils
of corporate culture are most welcome. With the Lefts
ongoing strategy of pursuing class warfare, large successful
corporations have become an easy target. Remember that Michael
Moores grand debut on American consciousness came with
his satiric look at the downsizing of General Motors in
Roger and Me.
Despite the failure of communism, the slow pace of economic
growth in welfare states and the triumph of the market system
across the world, Hollywood collectively takes its cue from
academic anti-capitalists such as historian Howard Zinn, linguist
Noam Chomsky and radical theorist Ward Churchill. Box office
gratification isnt enough either. Most Hollywood filmmakers
enjoy and appeal to a growing appetite for anti-American audiences
(particularly during the Cannes Film Festival).
Staff Ranks the Most AntiCapitalist Movies with strangely
From Saturday morning cartoons to the blockbusters, studios
provide a steady stream of Big Business vilification. Conventional
black hat characters (serial killers, sociopaths, flat out
psychos) have been forced aside by the evil CEO who predictably
undermines workers, pollutes the environment and conspires
with the government of the United States to overthrow popularly
elected leaders in the Third World.
The most telling film of the anti-capitalist mentality is
the highly acclaimed documentary by Mark Achbar and Jennifer
Abbott, simply titled The
Corporation. The idea of a corporation is so intrinsically
destructive that Achbar and Abbott compare it to a listless
psychopath that meets the definition of a mental illness made
by the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
How expansive is this assault on corporate culture? By the
age of 18, the average TV viewer has seen businessmen and
businesswomen attempt more than 10,000 murders and countless
lesser offenses ranging from extortion and bribery to kidnapping
and dumping of toxic waste, according to a survey by the Media
For example, the film version of The
Fugitive with Harrison Ford involved a plot by an
evil drug company profiting from a failed drug. This plot,
interestingly, was not in the television series from which
the film was originally drawn. The 2004 remake of The
has as its villain a multinational conglomerate whose
revenue exceeds the European Unions and that has designs
on controlling the White House, not the original
1962 communist villain.
Recently, economist Donald Boudreaux found himself in the
uncomfortable position of censoring what his son should watch.
Was it soft pornography or lewd language that alarmed Boudreaux?
Neither. What bothered the usually laissez faire parent-economist
was a syndicated episode of Captain
Planet which featured hellish industrial scenes overwhelming
the idyllic life of yesteryear.
episodes opening scenes depict river banks crowded with
open pipes dumping sludge into already filthy rivers, skylines
full of belching smokestacks, and forests clear cut with only
stumps showing above the ground, recalls
Boudreax in his blog, Café Hayek. Naturally,
the heroes of Captain Planet inevitably encounter an
evil businessman with a raspy voice, sinister laughs,
and motivated by pure evil. Yes the businessman is a
regular call up from central casting.
The animated Robots
is another example of anti-capitalist ideology run amuck.
Its protagonist Rodney Copperbottom, an affable, boy-wonder
inventor, works against a plot by Bigweld Industries to commit
what amounts to genocide of older robots. This company was
taken over by a MBA-refined and Gekko-inspired corporate tyrant
named Ratchet. Becoming aware that an upgrade campaign is
a nasty effort to eliminate competition, Rodney stirs up a
revolt that prevails in David and Goliath fashion.
Ironically, Robots simply misses the crucial element of the
capitalist system - competition. For example, true free markets
would allow Rodney to start a spare parts business that would
compete with Bigweld Industrys flashy new upgrades.
Both would be able to enter and exit the market to meet the
needs of their consumers. But such nuances are certainly to
be lost on impressionable children. By the time the movies
over the intended message is clear: big business is bad.
its on the big screen or television, businessmen applying
Gekkos vision of the world regularly shoot, slash, bludgeon,
poison, blackmail, extort and smear their way to the top.
According to a comprehensive survey of some 620 television
shows between 1955 and 1986 by the Study
of Social & Political Change, businessmen are more
than three times as likely to be portrayed as criminals.
No one argues that all businessmen are squeaky-clean or necessarily
better than the population as a whole. The recent accounting
scandals are example enough of how the profit motive can lead
to ethical lapses.
The crimes that businessmen sometimes do commit embezzlement,
income tax evasion, selling faulty goods, hiding bad effects
of products, antitrust violations, insider trading
are rarely the ones they are depicted as committing.
of persons employed at major media outlets
While the Enron and WorldCom stories of bankruptcy and white
collar crimes grabbed headlines, the transgressions committed
by these companies account for a minuscule portion of the
economy as a whole. Telling the story of how capitalism expands
consumer choices at lower costs, and, in turn advances freedom
is lost upon Hollywoods mostly unionized script writers.
According to the Pew Research
Center for the People and the Press, three-fourths of
Americans agree that this countrys strength is primarily
based on the success of American business, a proportion that
has remained unchanged in polls taken over the past 15 years.
Yet public support for regulation has shifted somewhat since
the mid-1990s. In 1994, 38 percent saw government regulation
of business as a necessity, according to Pew. By 2002, the
percentage had risen to half of all Americans.
In 1996, after a wave of corporate layoffs, opinions about
Corporate America were somewhat less rosy. In a nationwide
poll conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public
Opinion, only 19 percent of Americans rated corporations as
excellent (3 percent) or good (16 percent) at really
caring about whats good for America; 43 percent
said business did a poor job. Around one-fourth said companies
were excellent or good at creating new job opportunities.
In addition, 3 in 10 rated companies favorably for providing
reasonable wages, salaries and benefits. Often less reported
is how the gales of creative destruction (i.e. downsizing
and restructuring) made way for greater prosperity later in
Opinion of big business seems to rise and fall with the stock
market. At the height of the recession of 1992, 73 percent
of Americans told an ABC News poll that large corporations
had too much power for the good of the country. By 1996, that
number had fallen to 71 percent and at the height of the dot-com
boom in 2000, only 63 percent of Americans agreed.
It would be hard to argue that Hollywood, with its tremendous
influence on the public imagination, doesnt engender
such antipathy toward big business. Who could forget Helen
Hunts famous applause-drawing four-lettered put-down
of health maintenance organizations in the movie As
good as it gets? Those [blankety-blank-blank]
HMOs, Hunts character declares, to which the doctor
attending to her son responds, Actually, I think thats
the technical term for them. That kind of influence
can shape the debate and for a time it did.
Wal-Mart prequel: Coming to a theater near you!
More recently the biggest evil-doer is Wal-Mart.
But Hollywood's been a bit slow to skewer the big price chopper.
Perhaps Hollywood may not want to bite the hand that feeds
it. After all, producers have to consider those cheap Spiderman,
Toy Story and Star Wars toys and accessories
on shelves. (Always low prices! )Thus far, we have been spared
a Moore-like documentary on WalMart CEO Lee Scott and a Norma
Rae - like pro-union movie on under-paid sales associates.
But dont be surprised. Wal-Mart is a sitting scapegoat
for Hollywood. Even though its the largest private employer
in the United States, with just over 1.3 million U.S. employees,
has been vilified by the Left, particularly organized
labor. Despite paying nearly twice the minimum wage for what
amounts to unskilled labor, Wal-Mart is often cast as an exploitative
robber baron profiting on the backs of its employees. We are
typically sold the story of a single mother struggling to
support a family of four on a Wal-Mart salary yet many of
Wal-Marts employees are teen-agers and young adults
not a familys primary wage earner. Also, because it
depends on massive imports from China, it is conveniently
blamed for the shuddering of Main Street businesses from coast
to coast as well as disrupting supermarket chains.
Artists, academics and Hollywood producers know little about
how prices are coordinated in a market or how entrepreneurs
can best exploit limited information to benefit their customers.
A businessman or corporation on the other hand must control
costs, know the market, hire good people, effectively advertise,
anticipate a competitors next step, spot the latest
trends, and most importantly, remember that the customer is
always right. The evolution of an enterprise from local to
global, from small to big, is a natural process that satisfies
the demands of consumers for goods and services. Bigness,
no matter how much it may affront our sensibilities for the
small and pastoral or days gone by, is not a bad thing. This
is a country where its not a crime to aspire to be the
next Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Michael Dell, but such biographies
don't make it on Hollywood's story boards.
In one of his more famous works, The
Anticapitalist Mentality, the noted Austrian economist
Ludwig von Mises writes that it is solely bigness in
business which makes it possible to supply the masses with
all those products the present-day American common man does
not want to do without. Thats a script for success
that Hollywood ought to option.
J. Boyd is associate editor of NewsLink.
May 27, 2005 4:17 PM