Created By: justanidJanuary 14, 2013 Last Edited By: justanidFebruary 18, 2013
Troped

Company Town

A town controlled by a company.

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Page Type:
Trope
Rolling Updates. No Launching Please, TRS rename in progress. Also, image pickin' thread.

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store"
-- Merle Travis, "16 Tons"

When a town is controlled by a single company. In Real Life these were popular in the days before automobiles allowed workers to freely commute. A company would build a town to provide local services such as libraries and general stores. The downside was that many companies price gouged and used debt bondage to keep their employees from leaving for a better job. Their prevalence was one of the factors that led to the formation of labor unions in the USA in the 20s and 30s, often with violent resistance from these companies, who employed Pinkerton Detectives or similar to suppress labor organizing and strikes. Not all Company Towns are bad, some were created to provide a better standard of living and create jobs. Others exist simply because the town in question is so remote, no one else wants to move in.

The more modern version of trope applies when a single commercial organization has far greater power than the rest, that it effectively runs the place. Smaller, independent businesses will exist to support the people who work and live there.

If the company has enough resources to build a town quickly, it's also a Boom Town. Should a the company in question fail, the town can become a Dying Town or Ghost Town. If it's not a company, but a family running things, then it's closer to feudalism. You can expect this trope to be Recycled In Space, with Asteroid Miners taking the place of Earth Miners.

Compare with Only Shop In Town (there's usually more than one shop, but they're either in league with or owned by a single company); One Nation Under Copyright (a Mega Corp owning a citystate or bigger); I Own This Town (one person running things); Egopolis: a town named after the dictator who controls it; and Elaborate University High (for a collegiate version).


Examples:

Anime And Manga
  • FLCL: Medical Mechanica may fill this role to the city whose skyline it dominates. or it might just be a giant alien steam-iron.
  • Ghost Hound: Suiten has Dai-Nippon Bio that employes a lot of the town, but there are also smaller businesses on the side, like Tarou's parents' brewery.

Comic Books
  • There was a series of Green Arrow stories where he worked alongside Green Lantern that played off of their divergent view of law and justice, and one story had them go to a mining town in the Rocky Mountains called Desolation, which was an example of the really bad type of these. As discussed here, the whole story is not very realistic, particularly in regard to having such a town still existing in the 1970s.

Film
  • Matewan was set in Matewan, West Virginia in the 1920s, which was a company town controlled by a coal company. It told the story of people resisting this arrangement and forming a miner's union, facing harsh suppression by company enforcers.
  • The Rundown involves a mining town in a remote part of Brazil that's run this way, at around the present time.
  • Outland has a company-town and mining camp, in the form of a mining station in orbit around Jupiter.
  • In the Robocop movies, Omnicorp's plan to level the current Detroit and replace it with a "New Detroit" that would be entirely corporate-owned.

Music
  • Sixteen Tons first recorded by Merle Travis and made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford was about life in a coal-company town and not being able to get out (see page quote).
  • The Grateful Dead song "Cumberland Blues" has the line:
    Gotta go back to the Cumberland mine
    That's where I mainly spend my time
    Make good money, five dollars a day
    If I made any more, I might move away

Film
  • Raccoon City was this in the Resident Evil movies.
  • Matewan was set in the namesake town controlled by a coal company in 1920s West Virginia.

Literature
  • The Company Town by Hardy Green
  • Building the Workingman's Paradise by Margaret Crawford
  • Company Towns from Susana Torres
  • Red Harvest is set in one of these officially known as Personville, but popularly called "Poisonville". The town is essentially the fiefdom of industrialist Elihu Willsson, "Czar of Poisonville", and Willsson established his control by hiring various gangs of thugs to help him "settle" a labor dispute and enforce that settlement. At the time the story starts, this has started to backfire on Willsson, as the gangs proceeded to fight for power among themselves and bring anarchy to the town.

Live Action TV
  • Eureka centers around Global Dynamics, with it's mayor even being a former employee.
  • Firefly: Jayne explicitly uses this term for Canton, the ceramics workers' town in "Jaynestown". It's one of the bad ones: Magistrate Higgins pays the workers almost nothing so he can get filthy rich, and they're mostly indentured so they can't legally quit. The RPG rulebook says that Higgins' son has been working to improve conditions since the episode, however.
  • In The Secret World Of Alex Mack, nearly everyone in the town works for the chemical company that sprayed Alex.
  • In the episode "A Private War" of the TV show Guns of Paradise, a mining company uses strongarm tactics to try to buy or ruin all independent businesses in town.

Tabletop RPG
  • Classic Traveller Double Adventure 3 "Death Station". The adventure starts with the PCs on the planet Gadden, working at a small mining camp. The wages are cheap and the expenses are exorbitant, and the PCs are in debt over their heads to the company store.

Video Games
  • Killer7 contains a subversion. The stage Cloudman takes place within a company town, but the end of the stage reveals that the company itself isn't even real, and the monolithic building the city is built around is just a flat prop.
  • In Star Trek Online, the player is sent to investigate a planet with a Romulan mining town, completely controlled by a Ferengi and a mining company. The people are living in squalor. They're allowed just enough currency to buy upgrades for their machinery, or food, but not both. The Ferengi in charge mentions how prices for food rations have doubled due to recent events. Further investigation reveals a hidden Romulan communications base, with the Romulans in charge paying off the Ferengi to keep quiet.
  • Midgar (and Junon, and really the whole world) from Final Fantasy VII, a colossal metropolis constructed and ruled explicitly by the Shinra corporation.

Western Animation
  • Detroit Deluxe from Motor City seems partly based on Midgar; while they're both Sci-Fi Company Towns built over massive slums, Deluxe favors the Ascetic Aesthetic in comparison to Midgar's Diesel Punk.

Real Life


Indexes: Organization Index, Settings, Small Towns
Community Feedback Replies: 52
  • January 15, 2013
    Stratadrake
    No "stealth TRS", please. In the forums, that gets threads locked pretty much on-sight.
  • January 15, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Yeah, good luck. I mean, great point and I agree with you 100% but... good luck.

    • Killer7 contains a subversion. The stage Cloudman takes place within a company town, but the end of the stage reveals that the company itself isn't even real, and the monolithic building the city is built around is just a flat prop.

    EDIT: ... okay, looked at the real Company Town page further. There's no way that made it through YKTTW. It's all Zero Context Examples, the name is nonsensical, and the description is barebones at best. I almost feel like the page should be cut for not thriving (17 inbounds, and 6 edits in the past two years.
  • January 15, 2013
    StarSword
    I agree it needs to go, but I'm not sure what the rules are. Perhaps we should just call this Company Owned Settlement or something for the time being.

    TV:
    • Firefly: Jayne explicitly uses this term for Canton, the ceramics workers' town in "Jaynestown". It's one of the bad ones: Magistrate Higgins pays the workers almost nothing so he can get filthy rich, and they're mostly indentured so they can't legally quit. The RPG rulebook says that Higgins' son has been working to improve conditions since the episode, however.
  • January 15, 2013
    Jallen
    I do believe this is I Own This Town or at the very least it covers everything but the company literally owning the city.
  • January 15, 2013
    Larkmarn
    I think they're more sister tropes. I Own This Town usually means ownership in terms of a disproportionate amount of power, not actually owning it. And the "company" part is actually pretty major in this case. And of note, not one of the examples currently up for this trope are repeats of I Own This Town.
  • January 15, 2013
    BlackTemplar
    Raccoon City was this in the Resident Evil movies, I think it got retconned into this in the games as well.
  • January 15, 2013
    Chernoskill
    In many cyberpunk games and novels, megacoporations literally own parts of a city where they enforce their own law, the keyword here being "exterritorial". These corp zones typically are the safest in the whole city because only certain people are allowed to enter (such as the coporation's employees) and armed guards patrol the area and guard the gates.
  • January 15, 2013
    zarpaulus
    Company Towns are already listed as Real Life examples of One Nation Under Copyright.
  • January 15, 2013
    SKJAM
    If the company fails, the Company Town turns into the Dying Town or Ghost Town.
  • January 15, 2013
    justanid
    @ Stratadrake & Larkmarn: could a YKKTW be put up for the current Company Town under a different name?

    @ Chernoskill: that falls more under One Nation Under Copyright.

    @ zarpaulus: one of the inspirations for this YKKTW.

    And thanks for the additions. :)
  • January 16, 2013
    aurora369
    In The New Russia, a company town is the only kind of town in the frozen north of the country, since only money from oil and mining companies could persuade people to live there. There's even a company city, Norilsk, belonging to the corporate giant Norilsk Nickel.
  • January 16, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Film

    Matewan was set in the namesake town controlled by a coal company in 1920s West Virginia.
  • January 16, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    I second redefining the current Company Town trope (not sure what the current one is supposed to be really--sounds like film industry insider-speak, not something used much in real-life), to this more commonly-used definition. The thing about One Nation Under Copyright is that it implies this on a national scale, like a corporate state--whereas historically company towns were just towns within a nation whose land and economies were controlled (often outright owned) by a single company. The workforces in these towns were pretty much captive to these employing companies, because they often paid in "company scrip" which could only be used in businesses controlled by them ("company stores"), and they often used debt (workers buying their own workplace equipment and paying high rents in company housing, etc.) as a means of keeping them with the company (they didn't make enough to be able to move away, especially in remote areas where mobility was already difficult). Company towns were fairly common in the Gilded Age and early 1900s in the U.S., and their prevalence was one of the reasons workers fought to unionize.
  • January 16, 2013
    StarSword
    How many TRS threads do we need to clear before we can fix the trope?
  • January 16, 2013
    Stratadrake
    Just hit the "new topic" button and it'll tell ya.
  • January 16, 2013
    DRCEQ
    Suggested pic doesn't illustrate. It might not be possible to.
  • January 16, 2013
    Stratadrake
    ^ Agreed it doesn't illustrate unless you're familiar with FLCL.
  • January 16, 2013
    Rognik
  • January 16, 2013
    DRCEQ
    ^^ Not even then.
  • January 17, 2013
    justanid
    ^ & ^^^ & ^^^^ Hoping a giant building that was far more modern than the town it's surrounded by would work at least a little. An ideal picture would be a giant modern building with 50's font logo including "inc." or "Co.", surrounded by buildings of older architectural style.
  • January 17, 2013
    Arivne
    We've had this on YKTTW before, under the title Company Store.

    It has examples that can be added to this proposal.
  • January 17, 2013
    justanid
    ^ Good catch, Arivine. Sorry about that, WeAreAllKosh, somehow missed it.
  • January 17, 2013
    DRCEQ
    ^^^ yeah that just doesn't work. For all we know, this quiet little town decided to built a giant statue in the shape of of a clothing iron. If any image is going to work, dialogue will be needed to imply it.
  • January 17, 2013
    Stratadrake
    ^ Heck, it could even be a religious temple for all we know. It is on a mount....
  • January 17, 2013
    justanid
    Trying another picture, more difficult to find good ones in color than I thought.
  • January 17, 2013
    DRCEQ
    Still not an example. You won't be able to show this trope just by a picture of some factories with houses built around it. You need to have something that reflects the social situation of the citizens. Acknowledging that the town is owned by the company. After all, there is a difference between a town's economy being based around one specific industry or company, and a company establishing that town and controlling every social, economic, and political decision that goes on inside it.

    The FLCL example is the former, btw. Nabase City existed before Medical Mechanica showed up, making it not an example.
  • January 18, 2013
    32ndfreeze
    The book Nothing to Lose by Lee Child features a town called Despair, which is under the control of the factory owner, with everyone in the town under his thumb.
  • January 18, 2013
    Stratadrake
    ^^ At this rate I'm thinking the trope may be nigh-unpicturable.
  • January 18, 2013
    justanid
    Might as well make an image pickin' thread for it. Removing image.
  • January 18, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    @justanid (^^^^^^^^)--no problem. I too think that "Company Town" would be a better title for this trope, but unfortunately that title is currently taken for some relatively rare thing about the film industry (and I'm not sure what it's supposed to depict exactly, other than maybe stage sets that are depicted as such?), so I had to settle for Company Store. I hope this thread helps push for a replacement of the current Company Town trope with this meaning, because this is likely the most common meaning of the phrase "company town" in English usage.
  • January 19, 2013
    Random888
    Pawnee, Indiana of Parks And Recreation is practically run by the candy corporation Sweetums.
  • January 19, 2013
    Larkmarn
    ^ Unless the town is literally run by Sweetums, then it's not quite this trope, I don't think.
  • January 20, 2013
    DRCEQ
    • In Star Trek Online, the player is sent to investigate some strange signals being broadcast from a planet. When you beam down to investigate it, you come across a Romulan mining town being completely controlled by a Ferengi and the mining company. The people are living in squalor, barely able to afford anything just to get by or keep working. They're provided the currency needed to buy upgrades to their machinery in order to keep working, but if they buy upgrades, then they can't afford to eat. The Ferengi in charge can be seen mentioning how prices for food rations has to double due to recent events. Further investigation of the mine reveals a hidden Romulan communications base. The Romulans in charge were paying off the Ferengi to keep quiet. He certainly wasn't going to complain.
  • January 20, 2013
    justanid
  • February 5, 2013
    StarSword
    YKTTW Bump. Just checked the TRS and they only need to clear two more threads to open a slot for us.
  • February 7, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
    Rebumping again, since it's now below the threshold.
  • February 7, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    You should do something about that Resident Evil entry. There is no "I" or "me" on the example pages.
  • February 7, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    Some more examples:
    • The company-owned and run mining camp in the movie Outland.
    • In the Robocop movies, Omnicorp's plan to level the current Detroit and replace it with a "New Detroit" that would be entirely corporate-owned.
    • In the episode "A Private War" of the TV show "Guns of Paradise", a mining company uses strongarm tactics to try to buy or ruin all independent businesses in town.
  • February 7, 2013
    McKathlin
    Compare Egopolis, a town named after the dictator who controls it. These may overlap, if both the company and the town are named after their leading Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • February 10, 2013
    justanid
    101 threads in the TRS. Hopefully one can be snagged if it drops.
  • February 10, 2013
    AgProv
    Real life: as railways spread across Britain in the 1840's and onwards, the navvies doing the building followed on in temporary towns that moved with the railhead. Their wives and children often accompanied them. As these temporary towns were on land owned by the railway company, guess what? - their pay was stopped for rent. As the railhead towns were often miles from any permanent settlement, the Company very kindly provided a general stores for them to buy food and other necessities. Often providing the essentials at inflated prices, or else the workforce was paid not in actual; money but in Company tokens redeemable only at the company stores. (A point to bear inmind when you hear right-wing politicians insisting the poor cannot be trusted witrh money and Welfare payment should be in the form of tokens).

    Navvies drink a lot. The company also helpfully sold beer.

    The abuses of this system became so blatant and unfair that the British government was forced to pass law to make it illegal. Although a right-wing government right now is harking on about returning to Victorian values...
  • February 11, 2013
    StarSword
  • February 11, 2013
    DorianMode
  • February 11, 2013
    Nohbody
    Tweaked the entries for namespacing and formatting, FYI. I think we might want to limit the Real Life section to what's there currently (or even move it into the description and make this No Real Life Examples Please), as it strikes me as being a Natter magnet otherwise, or as Ag Prov demonstrates a stealth Complaint trope.
  • February 11, 2013
    Hodor
    • Red Harvest is set in one of these officially known as Personville, but popularly called "Poisonville". The town is essentially the fiefdom of industrialist Elihu Willsson, "Czar of Poisonville", and Willsson established his control by hiring various gangs of thugs to help him "settle" a labor dispute and enforce that settlement. At the time the story starts, this has started to backfire on Willsson, as the gangs proceeded to fight for power among themselves and bring anarchy to the town.

    • There was a series of Green Arrow stories where he worked alongside Green Lantern that played off of their divergent view of law and justice, and one story had them go to a mining town in the Rocky Mountains called Desolation, which was an example of the really bad type of these. As discussed here, the whole story is not very realistic, particularly in regard to having such a town still existing in the 1970s.
  • February 11, 2013
    DannyVElAcme
    I think that in Real Life examples, an entry should be made for Pripyat, Ukraine, since it's featured heavily in media. The STALKER games and an important mission in Call Of Duty 4 are set there, and many works of fiction have ghost towns which are obvious stand-ins for Pripyat.
  • February 12, 2013
    Nohbody
    ^ Pripyat isn't a Company Town, though. It was created by the Soviet government for nuclear weapons research and development, along with several other Atomgrads.
  • February 12, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    However, it is still somewhat of an example of this Trope, in that the reason for the town existing was to house the employees and families of the labs and nuclear reactors.
  • February 12, 2013
    StarSword
    ^Bit of a stretch but I think he's got a point.
  • February 12, 2013
    Nohbody
    It's more than "bit of a stretch", especially since the very first line of the trope description is "When a town is controlled by a single company." Governments are not, outside of One Nation Under Copyright, companies.

    The primary reason Pripyat and other closed cities were set up was primarily security related, with convenience for locals in remote corners of the country a secondary (or even more distant) concern.
  • February 12, 2013
    justanid
    @DannyVElAcme: I put a markup comment on linking to articles rather than putting walls of text in the RL section.

    Atomgrads (or anything Communist) wouldn't work for towns showing Captialism gone horribly wrong.
  • February 12, 2013
    Xtifr
    This trope is often Recycled In Space with Asteroid Miners or similar.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable