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Living In An Economy of Violence

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There’s an ongoing debate about whether people should or shouldn’t consider the artist’s personal history when deciding what media to consume. This debate has been applied to other industries, as art is one of many goods for sale.


It’s obvious that end consumers—watchers of movies, listeners of music, produce shoppers, and so on—are making the choice of investing in goods for reasons beyond the quality of the good. But it is seldom that an end-user holds a producer responsible for its output.


It would seem that the end-user neglects scrutiny of the contexts of the whole supply chain, as opposed to just scrutinizing individuals who solely take the fall for their bad behavior. Perhaps end-users have accepted that capitalism leaves for-profit entities with the sole motive of trying to make money. The end-user may be offering an exemption for the company’s profit motive if it is not noticeably profitable as well as moral.


Or, failing to holistically scrutinize businesses that enable harm may be because overall, people believe that businesses aren’t flexible enough to adjust to the circumstances of the unfolding shame of certain factors. Or, maybe it is just too much work for the end-user to know the full extent of the offenses of the products consumed. Ultimately, this neglect results in a lack of direct responsibility for the institutions that harbor various forms of criminality that include sexual harassment, slavery, and other offenses.


Whatever the cause, real responsibility is not a strength of particularly powerful American companies.


Responsibility is what is thought to happen when a company feigns regret with lofty, apologetic statements that lack either an action plan or accountability for following through with that plan. An example that comes from outside of the media is the production of chocolate. Years ago, companies expressed shock at the slave labor practices that produce chocolate for Nestlé, Hershey, Cargill, and other well-known companies. Since these companies’ business models were central to perpetuating this violence, they felt compelled to announce measurements to remove the violent elements from the production of chocolate. But there has been no ascertainable follow-through, and the story has widely faded from the media.


How hard could it have been to change suppliers? Wouldn’t the companies have gained good publicity by certifying that they completed their promises, while their competitors remained complicit? With no action intentionally enacting the end of child slavery from international suppliers, the regret that these companies expressed means nothing, other than that the company realizes that its conduct is embarrassing.


In business, accountability itself, has a supply chain. The three potential sources of accountability are the company, the government, and the people. If a company refuses to govern itself in such a way that upholds, in its processes, the standards it proclaims to have, the standards of its customers, or the standards of the law—basically, if a company is completely lawless—then the onus inevitably falls on the people. As it happens, the government offers greater penalties when the people demand them. If it hasn’t happened in the United States, it would seem that it’s because the people haven’t demanded better.


Or perhaps the issue is that the people don’t have much influence.


It’s harsh to put the full burden of holding companies responsible on citizens, especially in cases concerning corporate misconduct, because stronger ties exist between the government and corporations than between the government and the people.


One clear example of this unequal dynamic is how difficult it is for prisoners to advocate for better treatment from the corporations that are sanctioned by the government to imprison them. Not to mention the fact that it is possible to take rights from people that can’t be taken from companies (again, imprisonment is an example: it is a state of being that can’t be duplicated analogously in the corporate world). These dynamics matter because when something goes wrong, the unequal power dynamics are more often than not detrimental to those involved with corporations, voluntarily or not.


So some may ask if we should choose to consider how producers of culture or other goods align with our values. Maybe the question should be, have the producers of culture and goods of a useful nature effectively chosen to impose themselves upon us in a manner that we can’t resist?

Bernadette Davis

Bernadette Davis received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and American Literature in 2013 at New York University. She also received a Master of Science degree in Publishing: Digital and Print Media in 2015, also at New York University. In addition to writing for SOULE, Davis is the founder of Automated Books, a publishing company that has the goal of reshaping the literary landscape.


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