5-Word 365 #161 – The Yes Men Fix The World

I’m not sure if you know this, but my friend Bubbawheat at Flights, Tights and Movie Nights has a regular feature on Fridays where he interviews another movie-site runner about their little corner of this net we all call “Inter”. This week’s was particularly enjoyable, I thought. Right, that’s enough shameless plugging for one day. On with the show…

The Yes Men Fix The World

Mission accomplished? Not quite yet.

The Parker and Longbaugh of anti-corporate activists, sometimes known as Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano, continue their mission to highlight the injustices created by rampant Capitalism (with a, um, capital C) using misinformation, pranks and hoaxes. And a Reggie candle*.

The film opens with possibly the funniest credit sequence I have ever seen on a documentary. Watching the two men in their trademark cheap suits doing bad synchronised swimming, it is clear that while their mission may be serious, their attitude is not. While it has been at the heart of their raisin d’etre for years now, that willingness to be laughed it is still refreshing to see amongst political activists of any stripe.

The first skit – if you can call it that – of the movie proper surrounds Bichlbaum’s interview on BBC World Service under the guise of a Dow Chemical spokesman, accepting responsibility and apologising to the people of Bhopal for the Union Carbide plant explosion that had occured exactly twenty years previously. He went on to say that Dow would be liquidating the recently purchased Union Carbide and using the funds to compensate all the affected locals. However Dow chose to respond to this, they would be screwed; the only difference would be by what degree. In an ideal world, the company would have played along and done exactly what The Yes Men committed them to, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Later that day, Bichlbaum was interviewed by Jon Snow for Channel 4 News (Ron Burgundy was on vacation) and was faced with a very good question: what would he say to the people in Bhopal who, because of his actions, believed they were to be compensated only to have that belief dashed just a couple of hours later? Admirably, The Yes Men decided to find out in the most straightforward way they could think of: they went to Bhopal and asked them.

Pictured: A grown man shitting himself with nerves in front of 300 million people, while taking $2 billion off the value of Dow Chemical stock. I hope you sold long that day.

The same question was posed in response to one of the last sections of the film as well, in which The Yes Men claimed to represent the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at a meeting in New Orleans, in the aftermath of Katrina. They announced that HUD would be reversing their policy to tear down undamaged low-income housing that residents had been evacuated from and build mixed-income properties in their place, effectively evicting the current residents, most of whom would not be able to afford the new homes. The Yes Men got the same answers from the people in New Orleans that they had got in Bhopal: We don’t mind that you hoaxed us, because you got people talking about the problem again. Of course, that’s only the three or four responses that the film shows. It’s unlikely that sentiment was unanimous.

All of the pranks covered in the film tie into the same central theme The Men discuss in their narration: rampant capitalism and the free market economy is A Bad Thing. While it makes the rich richer, it can destroy those at the bottom of the ladder if left unchecked. The film demonises the philosphy espoused by the late Milton Friedman but it doesn’t offer up an alternative. There are degrees of capitalism, and there are degrees of government regulations that can be imposed upon it, so where do we draw the line? Is there even a line to be drawn? Should we try something else altogether?

All these right-wing, capitalist think tank people were asked what kind of backdrop they wanted over the bluescreen. This poor sap said… Actually, no. It’s funnier to see for yourself.

The movie is fun and entertaining and it raises some important questions, but you’ll need to look somewhere else for the answers. You can’t fix the world just by pointing out what’s wrong with it.

*I’m not explaining that one. You’ll just have to watch the film for yourself.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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