The Political Power of Netflix’s ‘Okja’

Netflix has done it again.

Again, by releasing another original production that profoundly reflects our current social, cultural and political moment.

This time it is the original film Okja, directed by Boon Joon-ho.

It tells the tale of the agricultural multinational Mirando Corporation (a wink and a nod reference to Monsanto) that has recently developed a superpig. The company decided to send 26 piglets to farmers around the globe to be raised for 10 years prior to the company deciding which farmers have raised the best superpig. The film focuses on two South Korean farmers — a young girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), and her grandfather — raising the superpig, Okja.

Okja is subsequently chosen as the winner of the competition to be taken to New York City to be shown off by the company. The rest of the film follows Mija’s efforts, along with a ragtag group of animal rights activists, to rescue Okja.

It is fun, dramatic and heartfelt. Most of all, it is politically powerful.

Okja is most politically relevant through its discussion of the morality of factory farming, questions of animal rights and analysis of environmentalism.

Nonetheless, it is at its politically most profound not in its criticisms of factory farming but its smart and radical analysis of corporate culture, activism and direct action, and the nature of capitalism.

With the recent resurgence of socialist, leftist and anti-capitalist sentiment, Okja is a distillation of the increasing disillusionment with capitalism.

Putting a Happy Face on Corporate Neoliberalism

We see it everywhere; corporations playing up their progressive ethics in flashy PR campaigns to mask the behind-the-scenes corruption and immorality of their business practices.

For every cause, there will be some corporation lining up to support it — be it LGBT rights, women’s rights or immigrant rights.

The same is true for the Mirando Corporation.

The company markets its superpigs under the guise of progressive environmental ethics, highlighting that the pigs are non-GMO. CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) further plays up the company’s environmentally-friendly image by outsourcing the raising of the pigs to sustainable farmers around the globe.

As the film reveals, though, this is all just a façade; the pigs are not non-GMO, they are still slaughtered en mass, the company exploits its small, “independent” farmers.

This façade is rationalized by Lucy as she argues that she has remade the company’s image from a corporation criticized for its cruelty to an “enlightened” corporation. She makes reference to Mirando’s past of manufacturing Agent Orange to lionize how “nice” the company has become under her direction.

One real-life parallel to this corporate strategy can be seen prominently in the PR of Goldman Sachs.

Like other Wall Street firms, Goldman makes a conscious effort to remind the public of their commitment to diversity and inclusion, recruiting women, and environmental stewardship.

Committing to those values is obviously all well and good, but, of course, those values don’t obscure that Goldman played a major in the 2008 financial crisis — a financial crisis destroyed the wealth of countless women and people of color.

Goldman has no problem advocating for greater diversity on their corporate board; just don’t forget that this is the same company that Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi described as a “giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

In fact, there is a sick but unsurprising irony of placing a statue of “Wonder Girl” is a symbol to female empowerment on a street that symbolizes the literal extraction of wealth.

But, after all, corporations have no problem parading around their performative progressivism as they engage in in all manner of crimes and exploitation.

The Chaotic Beauty of Civil Disobedience

The civil disobedience and direct action of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) feature prominently in the film.

In the film, Okja is being taken from the company’s headquarters in Seoul to New York City in a truck when the ALF arrive to rescue her.

Okja eventually breaks loose from the Mirando truck and a wild chase ensues three mall between the ALF and the police to capture her. Creatively, the masked anarchists use umbrellas to shield Okja from the police’s tranquilizer darts and, later, throw marbles onto the ground to impede the police.

It is a chaotic scene but also beautiful and inspiring.

The scene reminds us of much of the current chaotic yet beautiful acts of civil disobedience.

The direct action of the ADAPT disability activist organization in the current fight to oppose Trumpcare and defend Medicaid immediately spring to mind.

We have seen the chaos of police pulling people with disabilities out of their wheelchairs for the nonviolent act of occupying their Senator’s empty office.

Powerfully, ADAPT has become the iconic face of the opposition to the Republican health care agenda and Mitch McConnell’s plan to eviscerate Medicaid — a policy that literally threatens the lives of thousands of people with disabilities.

In the case of ADAPT, in addition to Black Lives Matter and other activist movements, we must remind ourselves that activism and civil disobedience can be messy and chaotic but without it progress cannot occur.

The Ruthless Violence of Capitalism

As my own thoughts on capitalism have gradually shifted in recent months, I have come to better understand the violence and ruthlessness that allows capitalism its preeminence.

A system of private ownership of the means of production must necessarily derive its power and legitimacy through violence.

This was true when John D. Rockefeller employed the Pinkertons to shoot down striking miners at Ludlow to the CIA overthrowing the Guatemalan government in 1954 for the expressed purpose of benefiting the United Fruit Company to the recent case of United Airlines dragging a passenger out of his seat.

The same dynamic of capitalism enforcing itself through violence is clearly evident in the film.

Toward the end, the ALF invades the Mirando Corporation’s unveiling of Okja to liberate her. As the group chaotically disrupts the festive proceedings, the company’s CEO, Nancy Mirando, calls in an elite NYPD squad to arrest the ALF members — by any means necessary.

Of course, the militarized police force arrives in seconds to utterly crush the ALF. With terrifying precision force, the police force beats and smashes any activist either in their way or attempting to escape.

The police act as nothing more than paid thugs of the Mirando Corporation, swiftly putting down any action that remotely threatens the company property. Okja, after all, is the property of the company and violence is necessary to protect it.

A situation eerily reminiscent of Pres. Grover Cleveland sending in the National Guard to annihilate the Pullman Strike.

***

Okja is the best film I have seen so far this year.

It is a heartfelt story of the deep, spiritual connection between people and animals. It has a radical political consciousness, acting as a vehicle to examine our social and economic institutions.

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About Sportocracy

I am a college-aged journalist exercising my First Amendment rights to rave on sports and politics.
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