I hate yes men, but I love the Yes Men

October 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

On the last day of my New York vaca, I went on a date with Mike and Andy, aka The Yes Men; meaning I took myself out to a matinee screening of The Yes Men Fix the World at the New York Film Forum.

Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum have made a name for themselves as The Yes Men by impersonating and humiliating ethically-sloppy corporate and government representatives to generate public outrage and add perspective to the problems of today and the human actions that create them, meanwhile managing to create lots of laughs along the way.

In The Yes Men Fix the World, Mike and Andy pull off a series of stunts with humor that ranges from tragic and gross to absurd. At the butt of their jokes are corporate and government institutions who don’t get ridiculed enough for exploiting people and the planet in exchange for profit and power.

But the merit in this documentary is not in its wit or snark–although, be assured, there is plenty of that–but in its humanity. The Yes Men are less  intent on making a laughing stock out of  greedy bankers, Milton Friedman worshipers, Haliburton, Dow Chemical, Exxon and their likes than on guiding their audience to a new way of seeing. This film makes viewers think twice about who is the con artist and who is being conned; who is the liar and who is telling the truth.

When Yes Man Andy went on BBC television broadcast posing as  a representative from Dow Chemical and apologizing on behalf of Dow for the Bhopal disaster, pledging 12 billion dollars in compensation to disaster survivors, who  is the scammer: Mike or the decision makers at Dow? Who is being scammed: Dow Chemical or the victims in Bhopal?

One of the most notable lines from the film comes from an impassioned Hurricane Katrina survivor commenting on  a  hoax the Yes Men pulled off in New Orleans,  “Sometimes it takes a hoax like this to show people what we’re going through.”

The Yes Men Fix the World is not going to tell you anything you don’t already know (the Bhopal chemical disaster is, after all, 22 years old news; Hurricane Katrina 4 years old; and yes, for the gazillionth time, global warming is for real).What the documentary does offer is a different lens to look at our current state of affairs. In doing so, it reminds viewers that we have grown disturbingly and stubbornly comfortable with the way things are–that we have lost our sense of outrage in the face of inhumanity and injustice. And Mike and Andy have taken the position that some creativity and unconventional thinking may be the most effective tools to jolt people out of complacency.

The Yes Men’s juvenile stunts has a what-the-fuck effect, causing viewers to rub their eyes and suddenly see their very same surrounding a whole lot differently, more vividly. When Andy and Mike impersonated officials from Dow and HUD, their personas did what Dow and HUD should do. When they printed issues of the “New York Times”, they printed what a newspaper would say in a world where people do the right things. No, the Yes Men aren’t conning us into believing that an ideal world can be achieved; but they are reminding us that our current one  is real fucked up. And as unreal as their acts may be, the Yes Men give us onlookers a glimpse of what can happen if we let our imaginations run free. They provide us with a view of a better alternative so enticingly beautiful, sparking us to remember again that the way things are is not static but dynamic. Near the end of the film, a volunteer “New York Times” staff writer comments on the reason behind her participation, “If these are the headlines that people are so excited to read, then lets make it happen.”

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Screenings

Also, I got to meet Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum after viewing his film, which was sort of neat! When the lights came back on, Andy stood in front of the small matinee crowd and thanked us for coming. He took a few questions and distributed copies of a special edition of “The New York Post”. I asked him whether it has become more difficult being a full time prankster now that him and Mike have gained more notoriety. He replied, “Nope. It just gets easier.”

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