Monday, April 27, 2009

Corporate Evil

The notion of corporate evil is popping up a bit in workshops and these Facebook discussions so I’m getting on to thinking about that idea further.

It’s all very subjective... my blood pressure rises instantly when I think of my evil accountant holding on to my 'economic stimulus cheque' for more than a week, but on the flipside, I guess he does an OK job for my annual tax return.

Other more obvious examples of corporate evil that involve financial fraud, human rights abuses, and environmental negligence impact us not only as individuals but as a human collective when our moral structures are seemingly failed. A corporate moral good existing in the framework of globalisation and capitalism may be something of an oxymoron.

Here are some obvious examples of corporate evil I’ve been looking into:

Exxon Valdez – In March 1989 an oil tanker spilt 10.9 million gallons of crude oil on the Alaskan coastline creating the greatest oil spill in American waters. In the days immediately after the oil spill, scientists estimated mass mortalities of 1000 to 2800 sea otters, 302 seals, and an astounding 250,000 seabirds. The Local economy loss was estimated to be between up to $580 million US dollars from tourism and recreation industry. For the last 15 years the health effects for 11,000 workers who were exposed to extremely high levels of toxic benzene vapour in the initial stages of cleanup have become a major concern.

ENRON – The company had a range of claims against it ranging from rigging California’s energy prices, years of fraudulent accounting practices, as well as corruption and conspiracy including insider trading. It finally sank to bankruptcy in 2001 after audits revealed the US$ 1billion annual profit was in fact a US$153 million cash flow deficit. “The company lost $60 billion in market value, long-serving employees lost more than $2 billion in pension money and 5,600 people lost their jobs” according to a Time magazine article. The Enron collapse is coined ‘the 9/11 of the financial world’ showing how the evil acts of a few have far reaching social consequences. You can see more at

Corporate abuses don’t stop with environmental disasters and creative accounting leading to stock-market crashes. The claims against Nike for human rights abuses, including child labour, show the degree to which corporate responsibility can fail us as a population over two centuries beyond the industrial revolution.

And all in the name of progress! (?)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and how 'corporate evil' stories may be communicated in a museum display.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Delivering on the themes

My last post looked at the six thematic areas that emerged from participants’ feedback and responses. So, what kinds of angles and themes were they most interested in?

“Terrible Unknown”:
* Real life examples were of most interest here, particular the footage of an exorcism in Sri Lanka. The voyeuristic appeal of this showed distorted humanity before their very eyes. It also met the audiences’ desire for a real look at evil (as opposed to solely a ‘mythical’ one)
The Other:
* Subcultures are of high interest to potential audiences – they are interested in how evil ‘plays out’ in the modern world. Subcultures are a great manifestation of the other as non-conformist and, therefore, scary
Impotent Evil:
* This was a popular topic as it made the connections between ancient and contemporary evil – how have the icons of evil changed over time? It was also seen as a relatively safe way to explore evil, while unpacking some commonly accepted clich├ęs
Other aspects that were of appeal:
* Colourful, visually engaging material – objects with a strong sense of dynamism were more engaging rather than those that were ‘brown’ and ‘static’
* Moments of light relief were welcomed, examples of impotent evil that are sanitised become funny rather than scary
What ‘failed’ to engage?
* Too much religious iconography – religion is something to look at but not overdone, they return to religious class at school – yawn!
* Mythical evil has become impotent, rather than true evil and is not seen as contemporary and, therefore, relevant to them
* Amulets and other symbols of protection – only of interest if real life stories of ceremony are also shown
* Two dimensional displays are not welcomed as our audiences expect objects and interactivity not paintings

My next blog post will look at how the Museum could better articulate the ‘evil’ idea based on audience feedback so far...