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Jokesters Practically Approach Political Agenda

The Yes Men Fix the World (2009)

Shadow Distribution

In 2003’s “The Yes Men,” Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum set up a Web site mimicking and lampooning the World Trade Organization, an international organization they oppose. Their Web site, though, was mistaken for the real thing, and they were invited to speak at important meetings and functions as representatives for W.T.O. They decided to use the opportunity to hold a mirror up and show the outfit its own greed and hopefully make a difference. Now, with “The Yes Men Fix the World,” a sequel of sorts, they have gotten much better at getting people to think they represent companies that they satirize.

The Yes Men take a page from Sacha Baron Cohen and a page from Michael Moore to turn in their elaborate pranks on large corporations. In the first of four hoaxes shown in this film, Mr. Bichlbaum was invited to go on the BBC as a spokesperson for Dow Chemical. The reason for his invitation was that it was the anniversary of the worst industrial disaster in history — the Bhopal catastrophe, a disaster Dow Chemical is responsible for. For those of you who do not know, in 1984 a Union Carbide pesticide plant released 42 tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to the toxic gas and killing more than 25,000 from gas-related diseases. Union Carbide was purchased by Dow Chemical in 2001. Neither company has taken any responsibility for what happened in Bhopal. The pesticide plant still stands today, unusable and leaching poisonous chemicals into the drinking water of the surrounding cities. So when the faux spokesperson goes on the BBC and announced that Dow Chemical plans to take responsibility for Bhopal and is setting up a $12 billion fund to help those still suffering and their families, one would expect people to celebrate that someone is finally doing the right thing. Instead, Dow Chemical’s stock dropped $2 billion.

When it’s discovered that the man who came on the BBC to make that announcement was actually masquerading as a spokesperson from Dow Chemical and had no credentials whatsoever, you can imagine the seesaw of emotions, not only from the stock holders of Dow Chemical but also from the people in Bhopal who thought they were going to finally get bailed out. It is an unfortunate side effect of their mischief that Messrs. Bichlbaum and Bonanno bestow false hope upon the people they are trying to help. Of course, they found some people to put in front of the camera who said that some hope is better than no hope, and that recognition had finally been brought to their problem; but you still feel bad that, at the end of the day, nothing was really accomplished by all of Messrs. Bichlbaum and Bonanno’s tomfoolery.

This documentary has very good production value for a documentary. Lately, it has felt and looked like documentaries have had severely low budgets — as if the filmmakers felt their point was so strong it would carry the all of emotional weight and that setting up a stationary camera with a few talking heads was the best they could do to get their point across. Here, the filmmakers go far and above just using talking heads. There are lots of superfluous and well-constructed shots, cartoons and computer graphics added in to make a point and often also for a laugh. Alas, there is the rub and one of the major problems with the way this social commentary is set up. The tone is entertaining and often the humor is very tongue-in-cheek, which then takes some of the seriousness out of the problems they are discussing. When they are talking about and showing all the displaced people in New Orleans, it’s almost given to the audience as an aside when instead it should be pulling on our heartstrings. The filmmakers should know that the most effective way to get people up in arms, to make a change and a difference, is to have them feel pity or empathy for the victims. But they seem too caught up in their own cleverness to bother with those types of things. On top of that, their Saturday-morning “Beakman’s World” approach at explaining complex theories and topics such as “free market” and “the Kyoto Protocol” do not work nor thoroughly explain the concepts enough for those uneducated about such things to follow what they are discussing.

There are four different corporations they spoof: Dow Chemical, Exxon, Haliburton and the New York Times. The connecting tissue between each of these escapades is often nothing but a fairly thin segue making them feel more like four different and distinct pranks instead of a point or a cause they are trying to push and follow through to the end. Every time they get in front of an audience, they try a different tactic to garner a response; first horror, then tastelessness and finally ridicule. They want to shock their audience awake, yet each time they get the same response: a gentle malaise followed by apathy. The cause of their failure is in the movie itself — what’s shocking to outsiders is normal to insiders. They seem be unable to grasp this and ultimately, the title “The Yes Men Fix the World” is a serious case of false advertisement. Their efforts, however valiant, do not have the effect on the people they intended; because no matter how brightly you shine a light on the problem, changes will not be made if the corporations refuse to look or see no problem with what’s being done. Making a film about their antics and showing us, the consumers and sometimes the victims, of corporate greed, what is really happening is apparently the next best thing to getting their point — however unfocused it many be — across.


Opens on Oct. 7 in New York and on Oct. 23 in Los Angeles.

Written and directed by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno; edited by April Merl; music by Neel Murgai and Noisola; produced by Mr. Bichlbaum, Mr. Bonanno, Doro Bachrach, Ruth Charny and Laura Nix; released by Shadow Distribution. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. This film is not rated.


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