Often, literature reflects our fears and magnifies them. So the abundance of novels revolving around total corporate control over society is an interesting reflection of our fears today. Several novels I can think of feature societies where corporations control everything. Oryx and Crake depicts a world where corporations keep their employees and families housed in compounds, like the HelthWyzer compound where Jimmy met Crake. This is perhaps a direct nod to Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, where most people live in “burbclaves” or franchise-run enclaves as well. In Cloud Atlas, Sonmi-451 lives in a “corpocracy”. Additionally, though Super Sad True Love Story is more focused on the social media side of things, the overabundance of corporations is a prominent feature as well. This corporate element also surfaces in novels like Neuromancer by William Gibson, where the Tessier-Ashpools run a corporation with which they control mass amounts of capital and have created two A.I.s.
What exactly are we afraid of, here? Corporations have become a staple of our current state of affairs. Small businesses struggle because of the power and influence that corporations have. They can make contributions to political campaigns and lobbies. The discourse of “corporations are people” means that they can bring lawsuits like anyone else, though this is usually in order to sue for the right to donate even more to politics, or to try to sue on the grounds of religious rights (see the ongoing Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case). However, they’re rarely prosecuted for actual crimes.
While 1984 showed the effects of too much surveillance and government control (which is still a salient issue, given the NSA revelations), these corporation-based dystopias seem to point out another significant fear of our time. In a society where “corporations are people”, it seems fitting that authors should explore the what-if here – how much control do corporations have, and what if they have too much? If corporations as they are now would continue to gain power – political influence, money, smaller businesses, you name it – could we end up like the societies in these novels? Unfortunately, it seems as though it could be frighteningly accurate.
Eh, Stephen Colbert always says it best.