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Prodding the free market

 The Yes Men’s irreverent crisis of conscience
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  October 21, 2009

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DEBUTING THE SURVIVABALL. The Yes Men are just crazy enough that their antics might be real.

Yes Man Mike Bonanno on the most fun aspect of co-directing the new documentary, The Yes Men Fix the World: “climbing into an abandoned flooded quarry in a business suit with 30 pounds of rocks in the pockets to combat buoyancy for the underwater scenes.”

That scene is one of numerous hilarious one-off gags strewn throughout the film, which chronicles the latest misadventures of the “culture-jamming” antiglobalization activists, Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum. Along with that opening credits sequence-cum-synchronized swimming routine come a “headquarters” set in a ratty warehouse set upon a heap of dirt, and “text messages” received on bricks thrown through windows.

The absurd comedy goes hand-in-hand with the Yes Men’s aesthetic, which amplifies the greed of the world’s largest corporations. Most Yes Men pranks involve the duo (and a growing legion of collaborators) setting up elaborate fake Web sites imitating large companies like ExxonMobil or Dow Chemical, waiting to be invited to speak at conferences, and then posing as executives debuting absurd and sometimes horrifying new initiatives: alternative energy made from human remains, say, or a “golden skeleton” logo that reminds businessmen that lives are expendable so long as they result in greater profits. Much of the comedy, and disturbing resonance, of the film stems from the suits’ blasé reactions to these disgusting concepts.

The plot of Fix the World, such as it is, chronicles the duo’s latest attention-getting pranks while tackling a few reflexive questions. In trying to expose corporate evils, are the Yes Men actually harming the victims of globalization? Are they helping to incite change — to fix the world — or are they merely causing brief media sensations that are quickly forgotten?

To wit: the film’s first prank finds a notably nervous Bichlbaum dressed up as “Jude Finisterra,” a non-existent Dow Chemical spokesperson, revealing live on BBC television that Dow has freed up $12 billion to compensate the victims of a 1984 industrial explosion in Bhopal, India, whose aftermath still taints Bhopal’s water and ground to this day. Within minutes, Dow Chemical lost billions on the stock market, and the Yes Men were defending their prank against accusations of insensitivity toward the victims in Bhopal.

Bichlbaum and Bonanno, concerned by reports that they angered residents of Bhopal with the brief, false hope of future riches, travel to the town in the film’s most belabored sequence. The scenes are more awkward and self-gratifying than they are educational, with the Yes Men essentially saying, “You mad at me?,” and Bhopalis saying, “Oh, no! On the contrary, thank you!” (A later prank, where the Yes Men pose as HUD representatives announcing the reopening of all livable public housing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, plays a similar game much more effectively.)

Later, the Yes Men head to an insurance-industry conference where — dressed as representatives from Halliburton — they debut the SurvivaBall, a massive inflatable suit built to withstand any natural or man-made calamity, “designed to protect the corporate manager no matter what.” The film ends with their most attention-getting act of idealism — a fake edition of the New York Times with headlines like “Iraq War Ends” and “Maximum Wage Law Passes,” distributed in New York City last summer — an earnest attempt to convince people how realistic such lofty-seeming goals are.

In many ways, The Yes Men Fix the World is cut from the cloth of other anti-corporate documentaries, with its slapdash structure, slightly reductionist arguments against free-marketeers, and casting of villains in situations that are more subtle and intricate than the Yes Men make them out to be. That said, there’s a surprising amount of both intellectual and comic rigor on display here, and belly laughs are plentiful. At the very least, the Yes Men, for a moment, steal anti-capitalist activism from unappealing anarcho-crusaders and make it seem like something we could all get behind.<0x00A0><cs:7><cbs:-0.9>^<cbs:><cs:>

Christopher Gray can be reached atcgray@phx.com.

THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD | directed by Andy Bichlbaum + Mike Bonanno | produced by Andy Bichlbaum + Mike Bonanno + Doro Bachrach + Ruth Charny + Laura Nix | 87 min | screens at SPACE Gallery Oct 27-28 at 7:30 pm | Oct 27 screening followed by Q&A with one of the Yes Men | $7 |space538.org

Related: Review: The Yes Men Fix The World, Yes Men take aim at Coca-Cola, Corporate Persons Are Jerks, More more >
  Topics: Features , Entertainment, Movies, Economic Issues,  More more >
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