Penny Crofts on Aliens Wickedness Corporate Crime And the Three Forms of Denial

Penny Crofts teaches law at the University of Technology in Sydney Australia.

She used to teach criminal law and jurisprudence.

Now she teaches wickedness and vice. 

“I look at philosophies of wickedness, but also jurisprudence,” Crofts told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “My argument is that criminal law has a great deal of difficulty conceptualizing corporate crime, but horror films don’t. So we can look at horror films to get an idea about how to conceptualize how harms come about, and whether organizations are culpable and think through criminal law doctrine that way.”

Crofts is the author of Aliens: Legal Conceptions of the Corporate Invasion.

“There has long been recognition that the criminal legal system has great difficulties in ascribing responsibility to corporations for harms caused and crimes committed,” she writes. “This article turns to the film Aliens (1986) to enrich the corporate criminal law imaginary. This article argues that the film Aliens delivers a complex representation of the evil corporation Weyland Yutani and a depressing, realistic depiction of our low or lack of expectations of law and justice for corporations. The film portrays the dehumanizing effects of the corporate form, an entity with legal personality but with almost no interest in humanity except as a means of labor and profit. Aliens depicts the routinization of harms, whereby the harms of Weyland Yutani Corporation are rendered banal and normal and not even categorized as criminal but just part of doing business.”

“Despite holding up untrammeled rapacious inhuman exploitativeness for critique – no solution is proffered or even suggested. Aliens bleakly portrays the consequences of the legal failure of imagination in conceptualizing and attributing corporate responsibility.” 

“If law continues to regard corporations as monstrous, incomprehensible and capable of great systemic harms, then law can and should import the insights of horror and use extreme measures to resolve the corporation,” she writes. “Alternatively, we can recognize corporations as a fiction of our own creation and change the story and genre of corporations away from horror, and rewrite the corporation.”

Crofts has also written an article titled Strategies of Denial.

“With large organizations denial really works,” Crofts told Corporate Crime Reporter. “You have a literal denial –  it didn’t happen. You have interpretive denial – it happened but it’s not what you think.”

“One of the things that I’ve actually found kind of heartening, was that the banks actually said – and it was on the front page of newspapers here – we’re not criminals. They really, really wanted to dodge the criminal label. That shows the expressive power of criminality, even though it’s rarely applied to the banks.” 

“And then the third form is symbolic denial –  yes yes it happened but what are you gonna do about it? You know it’s too big to change.”

“Denial is very effective in large organizations and governments, because it’s so hard to get hold of the information.” 

What are you working on now?

“I’m writing a book on corporate crime, horror and philosophy. There’s a Netflix series called Ragnarok. It’s a Norwegian series but it’s dubbed in English. It’s about the giants and Gods of Norway. The giants are these rich corporate owners who you know are immortal and incredibly strong and are basically poisoning the environment and killing everyone who lives there, but the town is completely dependent on them as an employer.”

What’s the working title of your book?

“I’m thinking something like – They Might Be Giants. Corporate law and how we think about corporations is very similar to how the giants are portrayed. They have this incredible strength and immortality, but also they’re human, but they’re not human, so they’re quite psychopathic.” 

“They have to kind of pretend to care, and everything’s all about maintaining their lifestyle and their wealth and their riches.”

Do you actually teach a course in horror and corporate crime at the law school?

“I used to teach criminal law and jurisprudence, but now I teach wickedness and vice. I look at philosophies of wickedness, but also jurisprudence. The basic idea is that criminal law tells us right from wrong and has sanctions attached. And so we can analyze the kind of models that law is communicating about right and wrong. In relation to corporate crime, the failure to sanction and to prosecute is expressive and is communicating that this is not a problem, that it’s fine for them to continue with that practice.”

I’m thinking of the Wizard of Oz and the man behind the curtain. Do you argue that these giants are in part smoke and mirrors and they might be easier to control than we think?

“Yes. I do think there’s a smoke and mirrors aspect. Wizard of Oz would be a great film to refer to, so thank you.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Penny Crofts, see 35 Corporate Crime Reporter 33(13), Monday August 30, 2021, print edition only.]

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