By Don Simpson | February 7, 2010
Director(s): Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno, Kurt Engfehr
Writer(s): Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno
Starring: Reggie Watts, Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno
Directed by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (a.k.a. the Yes Men), and co-directed by Kurt Engfehr (editor-producer Bowling for Columbine; Fahrenheit 9/11), this humor-injected political documentary makes Michael Moore’s most recent effort seem utterly uninspired. Posing as high-ranking representatives of evil corporations, the Yes Men con their way into business conferences and television interviews in order to wake up their audiences to the dangers of passively allowing greed to rule the world. The results are more than just silly activist pranks; the actions of the Yes Men are thoughtfully conceived acts of protest designed to reach the largest possible audiences, inciting discussion, debate and action.
One example, Bichlbaum, in the guise of a Dow Chemical spokesperson, appears on a BBC News interview (viewed by over 300 million viewers) and announces that Dow will finally clean up the site of the largest industrial accident in history, the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. As a result people celebrate worldwide while Dow’s stock value free falls, losing over two billion dollars. But the reality is Dow will never clean up Bhopal because the stockholders will never stand for it. With the market guiding our morality, our whole planet is at risk. But, there is a bright side: the audience of the BBC News was instantly re-educated on the subject of the Bhopal tragedy and presented with a perfectly viable solution that would only hurt the greedy capitalistic interests of Dow Chemical and its shareholders. The stunt resulted in over 600 articles in the US press about how Dow had purchased Union Carbide but was refusing to deal with Union Carbide’s liabilities in Bhopal.
Another example is when The Yes Men appear in New Orleans in front of 1000 contractors as representatives of HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). Bichlbaum (alongside an unsuspecting Mayor Ray Nagin) turns the tables on the government’s plan to tear down livable housing projects (to build new mixed-income developments) as he announces that HUD’s revised strategy is to keep the existing housing projects in tact. The most surprising part is that the contractors appear to agree. Bichlbaum also announces that Exxon and Shell have agreed to finance the rebuilding of New Orleans’ wetlands (a natural barrier to hurricanes) from part of their 60 billion dollars in profits this year – a claim less believable, but met with a welcome reception. The result of the Yes Men’s shenanigans: the contractors and people of New Orleans now know that the housing projects are being knocked down by the government out of pure greed. They also know that Exxon and Shell made their city much more vulnerable to hurricanes.
But, wait, that’s not all! The Yes Men get into plenty of other mischief, including: golden skeletons, SurvivaBalls, climate-victim candles and a fake issue of the New York Times.
Sure, The Yes Men Fix the World still suffers (just like Moore’s films) from preaching to the choir. The film itself provokes more giggles than action, but it’s the immediate results of their actual gonzo schemes that count (and those schemes are witnessed firsthand by people of various political persuasions). I see The Yes Men Fix the World as a public relations piece, highlighting the clever actions of Bichlbaum and Bonanno since November 2004 (The documentary, The Yes Men, was released in 2003). Of course, naysayers will discredit the Yes Men as liars because they misrepresent themselves, but sometimes a little white lie is necessary to discover the truth. The Yes Men’s lies are purely a means to unravel the web of lies spun by their targets.
Honestly, I cannot believe that the Yes Men have not been sued or incarcerated, and that large corporations, government officials and media still fall for their tricks. In fact, the Yes Men just pulled one over on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on October 19, 2009. Let’s hope that the effect of that stunt reverberates to influence effective climate legislation!