COLUMN/ THE HOT POTATO
Apple, Intel, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, ChatGPT, HP, LinkedIn, Adobe, Zoom, Netflix, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Fox Entertainment, Disney, Universal Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, DC Comics, Visa, PayPal, eBay, Uber, SpaceX, Chevron, Cisco, Qualcomm, McAfee, Logitech, Seagate, SanDisk, Nvidia, Gap, Forever 21, Levi’s, Taco Bell…
What’s common to these companies, conglomerates, and brand names? No, they are not just American corporations. They are among the world’s most powerful brands that are all headquartered in the US state of California alone.
Over the past couple of decades since the internet revolution captured our imagination – and our brains – California Inc. has swelled into a gigantic tech and business clique. Many among us in India and elsewhere are unable to see it that way, but Corporate California is now collectively the biggest empire to influence and run our day-to-day life.
If we take a step back and look at a wider timeline of human civilisation, then this rising Californian Empire matches the clout, charm, and sway that empires from the past enjoyed – such as the Romans, Greeks, British, Spanish, Russians, and Mongols.
The modus operandi of California Inc. is technically different from the way empires from the past ruled the world. This empire is a superorganism of corporate powers looking to penetrate economies around the world and control the people, as against historical empires that were alliances of kingdoms, religious institutions, and merchants annexing distant lands and physically governing the people.
California more powerful than 190 countries
For quite some time, especially since the internet exploded onto the scene, California has been home to dozens of high-ranked Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies. As a result of new-age corporate power deciding to get headquartered in California, the self-styled western US state has actually become more powerful than 190 countries.
If California is hypothetically considered as a nation, then by the end of 2022, it had emerged as the fifth largest economy on the planet – after the US, China, Japan, and Germany. In fact, it is estimated that by the end of this year, it could leapfrog Germany and become the world’s fourth biggest economy.
Most of us, however, don’t realise that we have become de facto citizens of this Californian Empire. We are largely unaware of this empire-colony relationship between us and the American state’s corporations because the mainstream media, academic institutions, think tanks, and pop-culture platforms only teach us to look at corporate power from the narrow lens of commerce and industry. Mainstream narratives hardly tell us that dozens of MNCs today are way stronger than most governments around the world.
Before we dig deep into the reason behind this basic knowledge gap, let’s take a close look at the transnational businesses that are based out of California, and how they have become an integral part of our lives.
Hollywood’s global appeal
Today, a vast majority of the world’s population of 8 billion people are charmed, dedicated, and lifelong customers of multiple California-based companies. Social media platforms, Hollywood movies, smart gadgets, essential software and hardware, payment gateways, fashion brands, fast food chains – the average Indian and the public around the world are hooked on to these offerings dished out by California-based corporate players.
Let’s start with the fanatical worldwide love for Hollywood. The Californian film industry is well known for scripting narratives that ensure movie-goers see America and the world in certain ways in which they want them to be seen.
There is a small but extremely powerful bunch of conglomerates and companies that produce films that are revered as the benchmark of cinema – primarily because of flashy marketing campaigns and the use of the English language, the superimposed lingua franca. These movie-making companies are household names in most countries on the planet.
Columbia, Walt Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros., and Universal Pictures – these factories of influential films are located around the Hollywood area in California’s upscale Los Angeles.
These names are as popular as the movies that Hollywood beams into millions of multiplexes and drawing-room TVs across continents, such as the James Bond series, the Godfather trilogy, the Star Wars package, heroic war flicks, superhero franchises, action hits, spy thrillers, family soaps, animation artworks, and all sorts of other blockbusters.
Today, the worst-kept secret in geopolitics is how the US imperialist machine uses the CIA-Pentagon-Hollywood nexus to brainwash global audiences and control their hearts and minds, as this article exposes.
The American film industry, largely based out of Hollywood, was worth more than $95 billion in 2022, and it had reported a combined revenue of over $35 billion in 2019. The numbers point to the staggering amount of moolah that California’s movie factories make from global audiences.
The best way to get a sense of Hollywood’s grip on populations around the world is to take a look at the number of people who watch the Oscar Awards ceremony on TV every year – it was a whopping 18.7 million on the night of the 2023 ceremony.
Social media’s impact
The next major way in which California’s corporate class ends up controlling much of the world’s population is through social media. We live in times when most of us swear by smartphone-based, internet-powered platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google search, Gmail, Google Maps, Wikipedia, Twitter, YouTube, Uber, LinkedIn, etc.
The majority of the world population, including a staggeringly high number of Indians, are hooked on to most of these so-called ‘social’ platforms right from the time they wake up till they hit the bed.
Posting our intimate details online, sharing one-on-one messages, microblogging political thoughts, watching viral videos, following maps on the phone, searching for products and offers, exchanging letters, hailing cabs – we do most of these activities on platforms owned by Big Tech giants headquartered in California.
These hugely popular tech companies are worshipped as modern marvels, but most of us are least conscious of how Corporate California ends up controlling and accessing our brains and ideas through their smart products and smart services.
Activist and former CIA worker Edward Snowden once famously said, “Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records of private lives were once plainly described as ‘surveillance companies’. Their rebranding as ‘social media’ is the most successful deception since the [US] department of war became the department of defence.”
A look at the numbers gives a feel of the sheer size of California’s Big Tech giants. Alphabet, which owns Google and YouTube, recorded a revenue of $283 billion in 2022. Spearheaded by CEO Sundar Pichai, Alphabet had an employee strength of over 190,000 before recently announcing unpopular mass job cuts. The conglomerate’s assets were worth $365 billion last year.
Apple Inc., the maker of iPhones and iMac computers, and led by CEO Tim Cook, posted a mind-boggling revenue of $394 billion last year. While it employs 164,000 people all over the world, Apple’s assets were worth $353 billion in 2022.
Let’s look at Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, which owns Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. It earned a revenue of $117 billion last year, when its combined assets were worth $186 billion. Meta Platforms employed over 86,000 people as of December last year before making a much-criticised decision to sack numerous workers.
Take Hewlett-Packard as another example of California’s corporate muscle power. HP Inc., one of the world’s leading laptop makers, is not a new kid in town, which is the case with many other American technology giants that were born only since the internet revolution started. HP has been around for 84 long years. Last year, it recorded a revenue of $63 billion, while its assets totalled $39 billion. The printer-and-computer company employs 58,000 people.
Streaming giant Netflix is another cog in the wheel of the Californian Empire. While many people aren’t aware that the film production titan has been in the business for 25 years, it became the rockstar of streaming movies only in recent years. In 2022, it posted a revenue of $32 billion, boasting assets worth $49 billion. Although it employs just under 13,000 people, Netflix is now a household name; it’s almost as popular as Google and Facebook.
Equally influential as a corporation is Intel Corporation, one of the world’s top semiconductor and hardware producers. The 54-year-old company, which became a household name worldwide ever since the first PCs or desktop computers arrived, saw a revenue of $63 billion last year. Its assets are worth $182 billion, while it has a staff strength of 1,31,000.
To get a sense of the Californian tech companies’ firm grip on our lives, imagine a scenario where the world has to spend one full week without Big Tech platforms. For seven days, imagine there’s no Google search, no Gmail, no Facebook, no WhatsApp, no Netflix, no Google maps, no Wikipedia, no Apple products, no YouTube, no Visa – if this sounds like a dystopian lockdown to you, that means you are indeed a devoted citizen of California Inc.
Elon Musk and California
There’s a whole bunch of other powerful companies that help Corporate California dominate the world, as well as some celebrated tycoons, such as Elon Musk. He’s the CEO of Twitter and SpaceX, both California-headquartered companies.
Visa, PayPal, eBay dominate the global digital transactions market. Chevron Corporation is a major player in the global oil and gas business and, therefore, a key stakeholder in the US-run petrodollar system. Gap, Levi’s, and Forever 21 are textile and fashion brands that are literally worshipped by urban populations across continents. Wikipedia is the most visited online encyclopaedia for everything under the sun.
OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, is the poster boy of the Artificial Intelligence revolution. Uber is a widely trusted cab-hailing app. Fast food chain Taco Bell makes a huge amount of money in shopping malls around the world. And then, of course, there are several other IT industry stalwarts that make California Inc. a major global force, such as Qualcomm, Cisco, Logitech, McAfee, Seagate, and Nvidia.
The charm of California
Returning to the topic of what makes mainstream narratives decidedly stay miles away from telling the world how California Inc. dictates our lives, one can only speculate why it is so.
Perhaps the western corporate world, which usually scripts the narratives of the world order through its clout over the popular press, wants us to continue believing in the ages-old notion that only governments run societies – and that businesses are around only to give us goods, services, and materialistic pleasure. It’s well known that influential corporations and industries influence popular narratives in the media.
However, there’s a paradox here. Corporate California’s phenomenal rise to power in recent decades reminds us of the dark days of the British East India Company, which invaded and ruled the Indian subcontinent before it was replaced by the equally regressive British monarchy as a coloniser.
East India Company
For Silicon Valley fans, Big Tech’s obsessive customers, and Hollywood movie buffs, it is worth looking back at what happened between 1600 and 1874.
In 1608, eight years after the British East India Company was born, it was welcomed by the bewildered population of Surat in Gujarat. Surat’s unsuspecting coastal people didn’t realise at that time that the seemingly naïve trading company from Europe would someday tower above them as an octopus-like monopoly, sucking the entire Indian subcontinent dry of its resources.
And from this same East India Company story, there’s an important lesson for today’s Corporate California as well. As the saying goes, all good things don’t last for good, the East India Company was eventually bulldozed by the British monarchy in 1858 and made to wind up in 1874.
The Californian Empire and its fanatical citizens (read: customers) will find out in the time to come if history will repeat itself.
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