It’s two merry pranksters versus every corporation on Earth. The corporations don’t stand a chance.
Dir. Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno, & Kurt Engfehr, 2009, 87 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant
What do you think it would take to faze a room full of corporate stooges? What would make them sit up straighter and think, “My god, that’s horrifying!”? A study that calculates the worth of human life? They’ll give you their business cards. A fuel made of of people? Robust applause. A “survivaball” unit (seen on the poster) which the very rich could use to survive the affects of global warming? They will want to do business. Oh wait! Have DOW Chemical say that they’ll finally take care of the victims of Bhopal? That’ll get their attention… so that they can promptly try to pull out of business with DOW.
For years, Jacques Servin, AKA Andy Bichlbaum, and Igor Vamos, AKA Mike Bonanno, have worked as The Yes Men. The duo use Internet trickery to dupe the media and/or corporate insiders in socially-conscious pranks. They draw attention to the misdeeds of business and the injustices performed in the name of the “free market.” Imagine members of The Onion presenting themselves as genuine to interested parties. Except that most people, at some point, are able to figure out that The Onion is satirical. As I already alluded, too many in this world are completely on-board with the most inhumane, ridiculous things possible, as long as it looks like it might make good business.
This doc is a sequel of sorts to 2003’s The Yes Men, which introduced the pair and told the story of their formation. A conference in Austria mistook their parody website of the World Trade Organization as genuine, and invited them to speak. How could they pass up such an opportunity? Since then, they’ve dedicated themselves to spreading awareness of the ills of globalization through humor.
This movie is better than The Yes Men, mainly because The Yes Men themselves have gotten better at what they do as the years have passed. They are masterful at presenting the most absurd stuff with such a straight face that you can see how people don’t laugh them off the stage. Even when they are extolling the virtues of a ridiculous-looking suit with completely science-fiction-level capabilities, which are illustrated via NMA-esque CGI, they are totally convincing.
The suggestion seems to be that the marks never understand the joke because they have deadened their own sense of empathy. They don’t blink at an algorithm that rates how many people you can get away with your product killing because that’s exactly what they already do. The Yes Men compare the free-market-or-bust mentality to that of a cult. Cult members take their beliefs for granted, and don’t understand how bizarre they seem to outsiders. That mindset has infected almost all of business and most of American government, and when you look at it that way, it’s easy to see how we continue to thoroughly screw over innocent people and the environment without changing our ways.
The divide between corporate ethics and basic morality is best illustrated by the DOW prank. Bichlbaum, as a fake representative of DOW Chemical, went on the BBC and declared that the company would compensate the Bhopal victims. Before the hoax was exposed, many commented on how admirable DOW’s decision was, that they would cut into their own profits just a bit in order to do the right thing. Meanwhile, DOW’s stock plunged. Any system that not only rewards but pretty much encourages sociopathic behavior is not a system that’s going to work in the long haul.
In a pathetic attempt to divert attention from their own assholishness, DOW pointed out that The Yes Men were perpetuating a great cruelty on the people of Bhopal by giving them false hope. So the two went to Bhopal, to a hero’s welcome, and found that the people there didn’t much care, partially because they’d been fed false hope for over twenty years by DOW, and Union Carbide before them. Something similar happened when, disguised as employees of HUD, they announced to a real estate conference that public housing projects in New Orleans, instead of being shut down, would be opened for Hurricane Katrina survivors left without homes. The free market’s done a pretty shitty job of rebuilding the city, and the news that the government would step in to help was greeted with applause by the conference. Go figure – even businesspeople recognized the need for some kind of official intervention.
This is a really, really funny movie, and not just because it features devious pranks with gold-plated skeletons. Bichlbaum, Bonanno, and co-director Kurt Engfehr bring a devilish sensibility to the way they construct the movie. Wraparound scenes with The Yes Men coming up with pranks are acted out as if they inhabit a live-action Simpsons world, with ideas coming in the form of bricks crashing through windows. Some people will see it and call them “hipsters.” People who call anything “hipster” should be shunned from society.
The Yes Men Fix the World is a great look at the corporate consciousness through the eyes of men who fight it at every turn. The final hoax we see in the film has The Yes Men distributing a fake “future” version of The New York Times. The issue describes a bright world in which there is a maximum wage, global warming has been fixed, and there is a national health service. People read it and sighed “if only.” The Yes Men are culture-jammers for sanity, and theirs is a message that needs to be spread.