The corruption of power, or the power of corruption is a common theme found in texts of many different types of media and in many societies and cultures around the world. In the texts I have selected, I have come to the conclusion that, all characters in the pursuit of power are corrupt. In the texts I have selected, which include, The Crucible, The Godfather, Animal Farm and Akira, the portrayal of corruption is closely linked to that of power. How is corruption of power shown/represented in the texts?
Lord Acton, a key influence on this essay, once said, All too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. This quote could hold no more relevance to any other text than that of The Godfather. In The Godfather the story revolves around that of Michael Coleone, and his rise to power as the head of a the family, a gang that deals in various underground activities. Michaels character undergoes a dramatic development as the film goes on. At the beginning of the film we can see that Michael appears to be a moral and upright character.
He is a war hero, and is not involved in anyway with the family business. However as the film progresses, and Michael stats gaining power in the family, he becomes more amoral, firstly killing Sollozzo, a gangster who attempted to take Michaels father, Vito Corleones, life. At this sudden and dramatic change in character Michael justifies his revenge saying, Its not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business. The term, just business is used throughout the film to justify corrupt behaviour, immediately associating the character as materialistic and amoral.
The film hence suggests that Michael, perhaps like all of us, always had the potential to be materialistic, (and therefore amoral,)but did not previously hold a position that enabled him to commit any acts or corruption or evil. This corruption is also evident Animal Farm, where the pigs, and more specifically Napoleon, strive for power as a means to commit acts of corruption. Here, however, the initial motivation is the inverse, and yet the same of what we see in the Godfather. Where Michael uses corruption to achieve power, Napoleon uses power as a means to commit selfish act of corruption.
Napoleon and Snowball, two authoritative pigs assume leadership over the farm. However corruption soon becomes evident as Napoleon exiles Snowball, through a long setup plan, in order to gain full control of the farm. Just the fact that Napoleon assumed leadership and had an agenda proves that he was corrupt before he gained power. Napoleon being the only leader almost immediately becomes dictator and inevitably sets up a bureaucracy, which goes against the most important rule of Animalism, All animals are equal.
So as Napoleon assumes full power, his corruption materialises, as he has no opposition to challenge him. In The Crucible too we can see that when absolute power is attained absolute corruption is gained. Powerful characters are always evil. Danforth and Abigail, the two best examples are both willing to kill in order to get what they want. For Abigail, he object of desire is Proctor, and she is willing to kill Elizabeth. While Danforth will do everything he can to protect the power he holds, allowing innocent people to be hung when he knows that the girls are lying.
The characters Hale and Proctor both give up their position of power to do the right thing. Proctor for example repents and admits to adultery in order to prove to the court the grudge Abigail holds against Elizabeth. So within the play corruption is therefore represented as power itself; those who hold power, to put it bluntly are corrupt. In Akira however, corruption exists in all if not most characters. A clear sign of corruption in the movie is through the use of violence.
Characters such as Kaneda who from the beginning use violence are seen as corrupt, and as we see Tetsuos character develop he becomes more and more violent, firstly beating people, then eventually killing them. Gentle or passive characters on the other hand are much more pure and, represent the good guy. We can see that as Kaneda attempts to kill Tetsuo he achieves nothing but to further enrage him and cause more destruction, but as Kaneda becomes sympathetic towards Tetsuo eventually trying to save him, he is rewarded by surviving the explosion that destroys Tokyo.
What was the context in which the text was created. How does it affect the way corruption of power is portrayed? Context plays an important role in all texts, specifically in those that are allegorical, and represent reality at the time in which they were made. For example the book, Animal Farm and the play, The Crucible both are metaphorical and allegorical and both are critical reviews on an event or person at the time. In Animal Farm the protagonists are metaphorical, or rather allegorical representations of key political figures at the time.
For example the character of Napoleon is Stalin in reality, while the character of Snowball is Trotsky. Both were communist revolutionaries, but both had different contradicting views on Marxist theory. The text therefore portrays Napoleon in exactly the same way as Stalin, making the character commit acts that were parallel to that of Stalins. Such as the exile of Snowball/ Trotsky, and the execution of many suspected soviet/animal enemies. In The Crucible too we can see a direct representation of corruption, as the text is metaphorical of the McCarthy trials in the 1950s.
The character of Danforth, while not directly parallel like Stalin/Napoleon, has many similarities to the U. S senator McCarthy. Much like in the McCarthy trials characters in the crucible use hysteria and jurisdiction to charge rivals with crimes they did not commit. McCarthy used charges of communism against many of his opponents inside and outside of office, in the same way that characters such as Abigail used charges of witchcraft against her rival Elizabeth. Again time period plays an important factor in the portrayal of corruption.
We can see that in The Godfather 1972, corruption is portrayed as one and the same thing as materialism. Vito Corleone, who is the original head of the family, may be a mob boss, but he is viewed as a moral upright character. This is because of the humanity and sense of justice that he carries with him. The opening scene of the film has the character Bonasera asking Vito to kill two boys who abused his daughter, I ask you for justice, but Vito replies, That is not justice. Your daughter is alive. Unlike almost ll the other mobsters in the film, Vito never uses the phrase just business, this emphasises yet again the humanity of his character, and contrasts with Michael and the other gangsters materialistic values. For example when one of the Corleone gangsters kill a mole within the family, he comments soon after saying, Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. This quote shows how irrelevant human life is compared to material wealth, as the killer pays no notice, let alone respect to the dead. The film is therefore a negative review on American society, and its capitalistic or materialistic values at the time.
Akira is also an important text in relation to a culture or society. It is different from the other texts I have studied because being made in Japan, it is not western. This is an important fact, as we might not notice but western films are very biblical and often justify the use of violence for the good guys to defeat the bad guys. In western film evil is often much more of an external force than what we find in Japanese film. This is related to the fact that Buddhism being a major religion in Japan, influences a lot of media.
Much like in The Godfather materialism is seen as evil, but the main indicator for corrupt characters in Akira is violence. All characters who commit violence are immediately considered corrupt, however these characters can be forgiven very easily by simply changing their ways and becoming more moral. What comparisons can we make between the portrayals of John Dalberg-Actons standpoint on corruption of power in the texts? What differences are there? In all the texts, those who strive for power are evil. Power is seen as a means to carry out the selfish and generally immoral goals of a character, and that is why it is valued.
In The Crucible, Danforth commits evil deeds in order to stay in power. He and the other ministers recognise that the girls are lying, but if they admit they were wrong, their power will be undermined. In one particular scene Hale tries to convince Danforth to postpone if not cancel the hangings, as the girls are strongly suspected of lying, but Danforth replies saying, Twelve are already executed; the names these seven are given out, and the village expects to see them die this morning. Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprive or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died until now.
At the risk of losing authority Danforth is willing to sacrifice numerous lives in order to keep his position of power, he is therefore seen as extremely selfish and corrupt character. Abigail we can see is clearly corrupt even before she holds any power. After the girls are caught dancing in the forest, Abigail threatens them saying, We danced. That is all, and mark this, if anyone breathe a word or the edge of a word about the other things, I will come to you in the black of some terrible night, and I will bring with me a pointy reckoning that will shudder you!
The Crucible does however fail to show any moral or even ethical characters develop into dishonest corrupt ones. Nevertheless we do see characters such as Hale and Proctor throw away their power and reputation, for the right thing. This nevertheless emphasises my point, as ultimately in the crucible no moral figures can have any authority. Hale starts the play being amoral, or rather naive, but by the end is willing to throw away his reputation in order to save those he has damned. He confesses to witchcraft in an attempt to convince the judged to do the same, therefore saving their lives, he says, I come to do the devils work.
I come to counsel Christians they should belie themselves . . . can you not see the blood on my head! In Animal Farm, one clear difference we can see from the other studied texts, is that Napoleon, the head pig has an agenda from early on. This serves to emphasise my point that characters that seek power are inherently corrupt. However Animal Farm may go as far to say that, Napoleon underwent little to no transformation in character at all. He took the potion of leadership so that he could set his plans in motion.
In The Godfather it is less strongly suggested as it is in the other texts that the corrupted character was in fact corrupt to begin with. However if we re-examine the portrayal of corruption, which in this case is materialism, we can still use this text to support my theory. We as the audience first see that Michael is corrupt when his materialistic views are made noticed. Before he even gains any power, he offers to kill Sollozzo an enemy to the family, for business, Michael is then instantly seen as an amoral character, as he much like many of the other gangsters are very aterialistic. Michael later becomes more and more materialistic, and therefore becomes more corrupt. As we can see through the numerous killings he orders, including the death of his brother in law, and the casino owner Moe Greene who previously refused to sell Michael his casino. In the texts we can see that any character that seeks power, does so as it allows them to commit acts of corruption. In a text like the Crucible, it has even gone as far to say that those in power must be corrupt, and that moral leaders cannot exist if they have power.
Those who are moral and hold power, forfeit their power out of selflessness, while those who retain or seek out power do it for selfish means.