The Yes Men Fix the World

This post was first published by Suite101. It contains spoilers. 

Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (alter-egos for Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos) first attracted public attention with their 2003 documentary The Yes Men. In the original Yes Men film, Bichlbaum and Bonanno, after setting up a fake website, were mistaken for employees of the World Trade Organisation. Taking advantage of this situation, Bichlbaum and Bonanno staged a series of hoax conferences designed to call attention to the dangers of international free trade. In The Yes Men Fix the World (directed by Bichlbaum, Bonanno, and Kurt Engfehr) the two activists return with a whole new set of stunts, and a plan to make the world a better place.

The Yes Men Fix the World follows the Yes Men as they plan and carry out a number of hoaxes against large corporations. Written and directed by Bichlbaum and Bonanno, the film is a documentation of their efforts to embarrass big companies, and to cast a spotlight on issues such as the 1984 Bhopal tragedy. In Bhopal, India in 1984 a chemical plant owned by the American corporation Union Carbide experienced a gas leak that killed thousands of people and injured countless more. It is widely believed that the victims of the Bhopal disaster were not adequately compensated by Union Carbide. By setting up a fake website pretending to represent Union Carbide (and Dow Chemical, a company that had recently acquired Union Carbide) the Yes Men were invited by BBC television to speak on behalf of the corporation on the anniversary of the disaster. During an international live broadcast, the Yes Men announced that Dow Chemical was presenting a 12 billion dollar compensation fund to the victims of Bhopal. While the hoax was quickly discovered, Dow Chemical suffered a drop in their stock, and the suffering of the victims of Bhopal was again big news around the world.

The Yes Men Fix the World also presents pranks against the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as they redevelop New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the US Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce subsequently sued the Yes Men for staging a conference in which they announced a new (and false) climate change policy on behalf of the Chamber.

The pranks carried out by the Yes Men in The Yes Men Fix the World are elaborate and creative, and clearly could not be realized without a great deal of effort and dedication on the part of Bichlbaum and Bonanno. However, the documentary does at times feel like little more than a cerebral Jackass film – each hoax is clever and entertaining, and has the audience laughing and cringing at the corporate system. But, in the end, the Yes Men have not ‘fixed’ the world. Their pranks expose a great deal of unpleasant corporate thinking, and injustices such as Bhopal and the redevelopment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are brought to public attention. But the Bhopal victims are not compensated, and the residents of New Orleans who lost their homes to re-development do not get their houses back. In the end, the Yes Men films are best compared to the fake copy of The New York Times created for The Yes Men Fix the World – it is the news we would like to see, although none of it is very likely to be realised.

The Yes Men Fix the World was released in 2009. It runs for 87 minutes. More information can be found at theyesmen.org.

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