Magazine article Tikkun

The Yes Men Fix the World

Magazine article Tikkun

The Yes Men Fix the World

Article excerpt

The Yes Men Fix the World

Sometimes it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry at some of the scenes in this engaging and insightful documentary about the antics of the Yes Men. The film, which opened in New York and San Francisco in October, is one of the most significant pieces of political theater about capitalism to be made available to a mass authence, and its greatest strength is its humor and light touch, which provide a balance to the moral outrages that the film exposes.

The Yes Men are two committed social change activists who have managed to present themselves as representatives of several major corporations and then to use that position to expose corporate crimes that have been known but not fully grasped by the public or the media, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno are white, middle-aged men, neatly attired in corporate suits, who enter various settings and give talks to authences who take them at their word and find nothing strange about their presentations. In one such caper, they talk to their authence about the "inevitable" loss of lives that the pursuit of profit-uber-alles requires and use a gold-sprayed skeleton as a prop to illustrate how their corporate hosts have learned to put profit as the highest good. Rather than attack this corporate ethos, they perform as though they are behind it all the way, and that allows authence members to feel safe about revealing their own commitment to putting profits above human lives.

In another scene, they get invited to represent Dow Chemical on a BBC broadcast, where they announce that Dow has agreed to spend the $12 billion it will take to rectify the pain created by DoVs subsidiary Union Carbide twenty years before in Bhopal, India, where its plant exploded, killing hundreds and maiming thousands. DoVs stocks drop precipitously in the next few hours as investors, instead of rejoicing in the news that their company has finally taken moral responsibility for the well-being of those whose lives it had wounded, react by selling their stocks for fear that their profits may temporarily decrease. And in yet another scene, the Yes Men present themselves as representatives of the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development and- as the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana look on in shock- announce that the government will now take the steps to open up housing unnecessarily closed to residents, as well as seriously rebuild New Orleans after having neglected it for years following Hurricane Katrina.

In each of these last two cases, the Yes Men reveal what a morally grounded corporation or government would do, in contrast to what is actually happening. In each case, the fraud is soon uncovered, and the Yes Men are confronted by a hostile media that questions whether these activists have caused more pain by raising hopes that are dashed within hours. Community activists in Katrina-affected areas and Bhopal respond by saying that the corporations and government have done little to rectify the damage, and that the Yes Men's prank might actually put that inaction into public consciousness after years of neglect!

The Yes Men are a grown-up version of the Yippies- the Yes Men's self-presentation and analysis are similar but much deeper. Their film provides background for the specific corporate crimes they are exposing while positioning all this in the context of the fundamental distortion: the placing of corporate profits above the well-being of the human race. The Yippies rarely made these connections, and seemed to suggest that acts of individual "unveiling" of the outrages were sufficient. The Yes Men, on the other hand, make it clear that they see their actions only as a stimulus to and not a replacement for the development of a social movement that could transform the entire global economic and political system.

That they convey this message with humor, grace, and wisdom makes this film an invaluable tool for education. …

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