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Corporate power, demand culture rushing us towards oblivion

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Sometimes it’s sobering just to stop and think how capitalism manipulates our everyday comprehension, language, habits, expectations and movements, reflects John Hilley.


Following Russell Brand’s eloquent call to exit corporate-ordered politics, George Monbiot has delivered a further impressive essay on political subservience and public alienation, arriving at a largely similar conclusion:

It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.

Like Brand’s intervention, it’s a rare treatise at the Guardian on corporate hegemony and the very task of exposing corporate power as the problem.

Yet, in that open, challenging vein, is it churlish or pedantic to ask why Monbiot doesn’t question the Guardian’s own editors on why the words”corporate power” are seemingly “unmentionable”, and why there’s no apparent prospect of the Guardian itself ever rejecting the corporate-driven model?

As Jonathan Cook asks, what of the Guardian’s own corporate-rooted background?

A more elementary part of the problem, I suspect, is that the Guardian is not only locked-in, quite ‘logically’, to the same corporate rules, but that, like most other workers and consumers, its employees are deeply conditioned to believe that things could never be seriously otherwise.

Sometimes it’s sobering just to stop and think how capitalism manipulates our everyday comprehension, language, habits, expectations and movements; not only in controlling political life but by inuring us to a vocabulary of rushed consumption and corporate surveillance.

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As Raymond Williams noted, long even before the rise of me-centred neoliberalism, capitalism has been re-shaping the common language for years towards more “particularly acquisitive words: “get”, “unique”, “individual”, “self”, “choose”; while over the same period “give” and “obliged” decreased.”

Yet, as corporate sovereignty has intensified, so has the terminology of market life.

There’s the mass branding of rush consumption, from Wash and Go shampoo to ‘Grab and Go’ products – others abbreviated to ‘Grab ‘n Go’, saving even more time.

Joining ‘fast food’, there’s every variation now on the word ‘express’, from ‘express lunch’ to ‘express pizza’ and, on every other street, the ever-encroaching ‘Tesco Express’.

Likewise in the rush to production. In taking up increasingly stressful jobs, we’re told we need to ‘hit the ground running’, the process of learning a task or skill now all about ‘getting up to speed’.

Even the art of calmness is now pitched as a ‘coping exercise’ by that Orwellian entity ‘Human Resources’, where, over the now standard ‘working lunch’ or quick break, you might just seize a moment to unwind, all helping towards greater productivity.

From the pretentiousness and pressure of the middle-class career ladder to ‘fast-tracking’ people back into work, everyone’s expected to be part of the flexible corporate workplace, all in the great push for profit and growth.

David Cameron even wants capitalism and the corporate ethic taught in schools. Maybe they could contract-out the lessons, express-style, to McDonalds.

Mobile phones, laptops and a galaxy of apps are also now the expected accoutrements to our working and ‘leisure’ lives, requiring us to be online, available, locatable, accountable, observable, persuadable. The technology may be wonderful, even radicalising, but what’s the effect of such corporate dominance on the flow and serenity of our lives?

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Back home, even the idea of relaxation has been greedily individualised: rather than easy, sharing perusal of programmes, there’s the grasping notion of ‘TV on demand’.

And you will probably search in vain now for a TV drama, radio channel or even weather report that isn’t sponsored by some notable corporate icon.

Corporate culture hasn’t so much permeated the world of sport as colonised it, from shirt sponsorship to the sensurround of rapid-blinking pitch adverts.

The decision by Newcastle United to accept a sponsorship deal with payday loansharks Wonga illustrates just how craven directors and other corporate-fervent executives can be in taking money from the most ruthlessly exploitative outfits.

Incredibly, the club’s financial director John Irving rationalised the deal by citing Wonga’s proclaimed ‘concern’ to help underprivileged families in the North East. Alongside its recent PR film, the company has also extended its influence over the local Evening Chronicle in a calculated effort to sanitise its notorious reputation.

All of this corporate takeover of life, from the local to the global, has been accompanied by a massive expansion of market surveillance, observing how we act and consume.

For example, Tesco has just anounced plans to install OptimEye technology cameras at their petrol forecourts for the purposes of face-scan marketing:

Peter Cattell, category director for Tesco petrol stations, said the technology would “enhance” the customer shopping experience. He said: “The ability to tailor content based on time and location means this can be extremely useful and timely for interacting with our customers.”

In other words, useful and timely for tracking people as consumers and boosting potential profits.

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Corporations also, most menacingly, have the planet. What standard journalist or politician would likely mention the words ‘corporate power’ when reporting or lamenting the dreadful Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines?

Nor will the corporate-driven, fossil advertising Guardian, dutifully citing man-made climate change as the cause of intensified catastrophic weather, declare or act against the very force driving all that calamity.

For Naomi Klein, there’s no such equivication: climate change is a corporate-culpable emergency, requiring nothing short of revolutionary civil engagement.

Corporations now call all the key shots, with the political class acting as gun-toting bodyguards. Despite the fig-leaf of parliamentary appearances, corporations have a malleable political elite in their boardroom-suited pockets. Political ‘participation’ is a wholesale pretence, the cartel of political parties just more corporate-type brands. And, while a corporate media helps keep the whole charade ideologically intact, corporate surveillance maintains a beady panoptic over the entire social and cultural landscape.

Beyond what we’re told is the principal mode of opposition, ‘democratic politics’, there can be no meaningful, radical change – political, economic or environmental – without primary resistance to the great corporate monster in all its manifestations – including the corporate-driven Guardian.

Glasgow-based Dr John Hilley is the author of Malaysia: Mahathirism, Hegemony and the New Opposition (London: 2001). He blogs at johnhilley.blogspot.com

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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