White Guys Impersonate Other White Guys, Fix the World

by |
10/07/2009 4:00 AM |

The Yes Men Fix the World

Directed by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno

This documentary focuses on four public relations stunts that the two clever pranksters known as the Yes Men have unleashed on unsuspecting government officials, business people, and news outlets since their last documentary (2004’s The Yes Men). Robin Hoods of corporate responsibility, they practice highly choreographed (in the school of Augusto Boal) vendetta justice against the corporations and bureaucratic organizations (Dow Chemical) that hurt those who can least defend themselves (Bhopal chemical disaster victims). The title of this film refers to the their most recent stunt and the final coup de grace of the film: their “fixing” the world’s problems with last winter’s printing of 100,000 utopian New York Times issues featuring headlines like “Iraq War Ends” and “Maximum Wage Law Passes Congress.”

As with this final effort, the documentary shows that the duo’s pranks are always well played. First, their production values are flawless, mainly due to the fact that these two white guys both exude just the right amount of blandness and business to successfully impersonate any suit-and-tie person, and know how to keep a straight face. Second, never do their means fail to justify the ends. When a Yes Man played a fake rep from Dow Chemical and announced on the BBC that Dow Chemical would be paying $12 billion in reparations to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, Dow’s real stock dropped a very real $2 billion. In response to the those who asked how fair that was, the Yes Men explain that the loss of confidence further proved their theory that the market punishes corporations who do good: “When we announced that Dow would do something great they got a financial spanking.” And though the true victims were momentarily given false hope that a solution has been found to their problems, interviews with the disaster survivors show they are grateful to the Yes Men for at least raising media attention.

Self-proclaimed anarchists, the Yes Men aren’t shy in Fix the World about proclaiming their disdain for free-market capitalism. This can sometimes make the film seem a little preachy and elemental, but the ironic backgrounds (flooded Katrina, Victorian gay porn, dollar signs) that they’ve bluescreened behind the talking heads of much reviled representatives from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and other free-market think tanks are still, like, totally hilarious. Given that art only rarely effects social change on such an immediate and grand scale, what better artists to choose as the newest recipients of the $25,000 Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change? Maybe, given to the right people, that’s all it will finally take to truly fix the world.

Opens October 7