The Yes Men

Corporate activism takes a performance art spin in The Yes Men, an amusing new documentary from directors Dan Ollman, Sarah Price (Caesar's Park), and Chris Smith (Home Movie, American Movie).  The Yes Men are a group of guys who traveled the world posing as others, notably members of the World Trade Organization, then viciously satirizing their beliefs in front of esteemed audiences.  The main Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano, are two very smart, and underemployed men.  They lean to the left, and first gained attention for mocking then Presidential candidate George W. Bush on a fake website.  It gained them a measure of notoriety, which led to a parody of the GATT site (that's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, not Global). 

Bichlbaum and Bonnano, with the help of some of their friends, made a pretty legitimate looking site.  Only when people read the articles carefully would they notice it was fake.  The Yes Men satirized their subjects by taking things to the extreme, to illustrate what they felt was the inherent wackiness of Bush, the WTO, or whoever.  For the WTO, they felt that the organization, created to help foster competition amongst nations of the world, actually did the opposite.  But a weird thing happened - people began writing to the site, asking for guidance on laws, which the two answered to the best of their ability.  Then, they were invited to conferences, and they gladly accepted.  Under such bizarre names like Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer, Hank Hardy Unruh, they appeared on MSNBC, and most prominently, at a WTO conference in Poland, where they gave their own, grown-up version of Punk'd.

The two cornerstones in The Yes Men were the 'management leisure suit' and their defense of slavery.  Bonnano and Bichlbaum wanted to make an argument so far out there that people would gasp in horror.  The opposite happened - nothing.  It was dumbfounding how few people reacted to their lecture on how slavery could be a viable source of income.  The leisure suit was even better.  The purpose of the suit was to provide a comfortable way for executives to watch their employees.  They could do so by watching a small television that was attached to their clothes.  The catch was that the suit was a skin-tight gold lame bodysuit, and the television was such that it attached to the suit and looked like a giant phallus.  The Yes Men got a lot of press, much of it not in on the joke.  They even got to go to Sydney to announce the dissolution of the WTO. Then there is a small coda about using recycled human waste in McDonald's in third world countries.

The duo effectively get their point across, and it is funny watching them, yet their methods are ethically dubious.  It does get them publicity, and they do get additional donations, but in the end it all goes towards more pranks.  While one could argue that the publicity gets their message out in the public eye, it also seems like they are doing themselves more harm then good.  While it makes them even more famous for people who already support their views, it has the potential to turn away any people on the fence about these various issues.  The one other thing that Ollman, Price, and Smith omitted was more footage of them in action.  There is too much time spent on Bonnano and Bichlbaum preparing, or wandering around, or not doing much at all.  It begins to drag the pacing of the film down, and when a film is less than ninety minute and still feels long, that is a problem.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 20 minutes, Rated R for language.

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