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Joel Bakan is a man of many talents. An internationally regarded legal scholar who teaches law at UBC, he plays jazz guitar, often accompanying the singer and actor Rebecca Jenkins, to whom he’s married. But he’s probably best known as the author of The Corporation, the 2004 nonfiction bestseller in which he argues that a corporation, deemed by law to be a person, has the personality of a psychopath, and that it’s dangerous to have allowed psychopaths, in our global age, to wield great power over human affairs. The book, which has been published in 23 countries, also spawned a documentary, which has won many awards and been shown the world over. In his new book, Childhood Under Siege, he laments the many ways in which corporations specifically target children.
Like such anti-corporate crusaders as Naomi Klein and Morgan Spurlock, Bakan has his detractors. But he’s not easy to dismiss. He’s not a communist, and he’s not a noisy, confrontational zealot like Michael Moore. “I’m a social democrat,” he says. “Markets have a place in society—but not at the expense of democracy, health care, and, of course, the protection of our children.” He’s a Lansing, Michigan-born Rhodes Scholar, with law degrees from Oxford, Dalhousie, and Harvard, who clerked for a chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and who articulates his views with thoughtful, reasoned clarity. Of the Stanley Cup aftermath, he says, “The riot wasn’t new, but the surveillance was. I don’t think we’ve fully digested that we’re under constant surveillance, not by the government but by one another.” What most disturbed him were not torched cars and smashed windows, but people’s vigilante-like eagerness to “throw out basic principles of justice—evidence, presumption of innocence, due process—based on a photo on the internet.”
Toward the web he’s ambivalent. Its humanistic potential will ultimately, he fears, be trampled by the pursuit of profit—as happened with another revolutionary medium, television. “Social networks have played a key role in mobilizing democratic movements,” he says, “but their focus is increasingly on brands, consumerism, and marketing.” To see what Joel Bakan thinks of the way corporations target children, click here to read the full Q&A article.