Bad Guy, Inc.
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A debate was being threaded through posted messages on the Independent Media web site, a wire service for anti-globalization activists, progressive journalists and liberally minded thinkers. The debate centered on the use of corporations as bad guys in film. Position A went something like this: "Representing corporations as bad guys in movies legitimizes our cause! Power to the people!" Position B sounded a little like: "Representing corporations as the bad guys in movies de-legitimizes our cause! Power to the people!" Position C is reflected as follows: "Hey, they're movies—don't waste our time. Power to the people!"

For my own part, at the time of that debate, I had a sociopolitical column called “System X” (system as in "the system" and X as in a variable within "the system"). I had a cyber cool pseudonym to go with it: Syn-X—as in ”cynics” but keeping with the whole variable theme. I had a fedora and a trench coat and a small robo-dog equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment as a sidekick. I was a sci-fi journalist for the resistance, and to this day I still credit science fiction with predisposing me to social and political issues.

Ridley Scott's all-too-visionary, all-too-frightening, and all-too-possible dystopic futuristic nightmare, Blade Runner, portrays a world where the environment has been desecrated beyond repair; machines have robbed us of humanity, becoming "more human that human," and economic imperialism has become the dominant political system. In short, a future without a future. Blade Runner became a cult classic and set the standard for the techno noir genre: as pessimistic as any detective variant of the genre, but with lots of gadgetry—resulting in an often-replicated science fiction look with the mega-corporations as the bad guys. Ironically, even computer-generated corporate cola poster boy Max Headroom swindled the look for a TV show where Headroom's human counterpart worked as a journalist in a television-dependent society that placed precedent of the small screen over food.

In an era of WTO protests, Enron, and WorldCom scandals, corporate bad guys are becoming far more common in other genres as well—a cardboard cutout bad guy as ruthless as the cliché drug dealer villain inspired by the drug war. Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life takes on a corporate villain who makes his trade by selling biological weaponry to the highest bidder and chases after the mythical Pandora's Box in a plot to rid the world of stupid people—a plot more ridiculous than most of Croft's action sequences. Even James Bond himself in Tomorrow Never Dies takes on a multi-media mogul, inspired by real-life Randolph Hearst in the same way Bond was inspired by series creator Ian Fleming (as in not at all).

Meanwhile, real-event-inspired dramas like Civil Action and Erin Brockovich, along with real-theme-inspired thrillers like Rainmaker and Runaway Jury, feature corporate malfeasance with serious gravity. Herein lies the difference between the generics and the legits, as well as the resolution to that threaded message debate—the films that work, even when dramatized, are based on real world issues. The bottom line, as they say in corporate-ese, is that the "movement" is not about taking corporations down—it’s about making them accountable for individual actions and addressing individual issues and film can achieve this.

Power to the people!

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