The Yes Men (2003)

Would you trust this man with your economic future?The Yes Men, a not-so-gruesome twosome of Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, began their adventures in “identity correction” with a wit, a prayer, and a web site, Back in 1999, Bonanno and Bichlbaum turned their little domain into the preeminent piece of web-based anti-Bush satire. The Bush campaign, like any good political hit squad, responded with Cease and Desist orders and pitched a bitched about to the Federal Election’s Commission. This generated a minor media kerfuffle for the Governor and a bit of free publicity for Our Heroes.

One publicity consumer, the proprietor of, wondered if Bonanno and Bichlbaum might throw the same kind of satirical mud on at the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, institutional precursor to the World Trade Organization. What better way to piss in the WTO’s eye (if, like our two heroes, you couldn’t make it to 1999’s Battle of Seattle) than a satirical website poking fun at everything these real-life Evil Capitalists propagate? It probably would’ve stopped right there…if not for those blessedly idiotic people who don’t bother to read the websites they Google. Occasionally, one of those useful idiots would stumble upon and send in an esoteric question on tariffs…or trade…or an invitation to speak on the WTO’s behalf.

Any grade-school devote of the Great God Bart Simpson will recognize the wonderful mischief of this situation. Any hippie worth his pachooli stink can Take it To the Streets…but taking it to the boardroom is a much subtler tactic. It takes a hippie of unquestionable fortitude to shave off all that hair, don a constricting suit, and deliver a speech from inside the belly of the Beast Itself.

How about him?The Yes Men is a documentary record of Our Heroes bloodless swath of rhetorical destruction through the financial powerhouses of the Western World. From Salzburgh, Austria to Plattsburgh, New York. The Yes Men cut a bloody swath of highly refined and target-specific practical jokes…but that is not the whole of this. No, these Yes Men are something different. Indeed, there is not quite a phrase in the English language capable of describing just what the Yes Men do…that’s why the group had to invent one. Their web site defines this latest, greatest work of docu-comedy as follows:

Identity Correction: (n) “Honest people impersonate big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.”

Docu-comedy godfather Michael Moore (who drops by in tonight’s subject, spreading his own special tidings of outrage and providing the best ten second history of the WTO you’re likely to find), for all his omniscient narration, always takes care to maintain a distance between himself and his subject…the better to accentuate the gab between us, the common man (represented by More, however that might make you feel) and those who count themselves among the Elite.

The Yes Men, by contrast, utilize the bureaucratic and institutional expectations of their targets (i.e., any greedheaded institutions stupid enough to invite them to speak) and proceed to conspicuously mock everything their targets stand for…”globalization”, “free trade”, “unrestrained markets.” In any early scene, just to provide an example, we see Andy decked out in a suit and tie, styling himself “Dr. Andreas Bichlbaum,” and presenting a lecture in Saltzburg, Austria, calling for the destruction of the siesta in Spain and Italy (they being barriers to free trade) and for voters to sell their votes online to the highest bidder, “to streamline the grotesquely inefficient system of elections.”  Rather than face arrest, the Saltzburg attendees swallowed Bichlbaum’s satirical recommendations with handshakes and polite applause.

Watch out, man: Princess Leia's got the drop on you.Maybe you have no idea what the WTO is. Perhaps you don’t believe The very institutions of modern capitalism…institutions that are slowly but surely destroying the human race. I genuinely don’t care whether or not you do: the point is, the Yes Men believe it to be so, and they believe it with enough force to commit acts like these…on camera…and then sell the footage directly to you, in the hope (infinitesimal as it may seem) that you might actually agree with their belief…or at least derive some enjoyment from their antics.

You have to be a special breed of crazy to strap on a skin-tight, golden “Managerial Leisure Suit”, complete with a giant, inflatable “Employee Visualization Appendage,” allowing the heads of Future Corporate American to monitor their underpaid sweatshop workers in the third-world from the comforts of their Gilded Age mansions. Only the truly bat-shit would conceive of wearing such a thing in public. But we see Bichlbaum wear it while delivering a speech to the “Textiles of the Future” conference in scenic Tampere, Finland. (Under an assumed name, no less.) That speech is the high point of the film: a bald faced Bad Idea offered without the slightest twitch of a smile…and swallowed just as quickly by the so-called “experts” charged with steering the great, global economic ship.

Throughout the film, you expect some type of extra-heavy reaction to the sight of a man with a giant, inflatable TV/dong…any decent folk would give you one. But these “Textile’s of the Future” sheeple don’t even bother to speak up during their designated question time. Watching it is akin to watching John Wayne Gasey douse himself in lamb’s blood and form a one-man circus parade down Main Street of River City, U.S.A…or the Broadway musical version of John Swift’s A Modest Proposal. It’s hilarious in a horrifying, “my God, the world of international finance is in the hands of utter fools,” kinda way. It certainly amused my household. Perhaps it’ll amuse yours as well.

Amusement continues when the Yes Men are taken seriously by the media at large…the financial media, mind you, but the media no less. Unless you read Fortune magazine or Harper’s their antics might have escaped your notice until now. One hopes that, as they move on to more Big Name targets (and as prattling jackasses like me keep writing about them) their work will attract more attention from the Public at Large.

I could go on about them, heaping praises upon their heads, but what, exactly would be the point? One could argue their continued existence as a functioning entity depends on copy such as this…but these are highly talented individuals, and by God they’ve got themselves a cause. Besides, odds are I’d just end up sounding like the distributor’s blurb on their damn website: “The Yes Men, a movie, follows a couple of anti-corporate activist-pranksters as they impersonate World Trade Organization spokesmen on TV and at business conferences around the world.”

Blech. None of that for me, thank you. I’d rather descend into pseudo-philosophical ruinations on the Yes Men’s overall effectiveness.

Halfway through the film, Michael More tells the story of a few Mexican border towns he went to see in the days before NAFTA cut the throat of America’s already-hemorrhagic manufacturing industries. Millions of these over-the-boarder worker enclaves exist, all squalid, disgusting places, most of which exist within sight of the border. Most have sanitation that would shame the largest corporate hog farm. Yet they house the “illegal” millions who pick our strawberries, slaughter our chickens, and clean our office suites. Men, women and children, irking out lives in the dirt. Moore recently returned to get the view from a post-9/11 world. “And not a damn thing’d changed.”

Here are your options for the 21st century. Take your pick.Gotta thank Mike for that special ray of sunshine. After all, the WTO is still around (no matter what might say), still helping rich bastards the world over get richer, while billions die each day, hopelessly oppressed by the sociopathic logic of a global economic system geared for short-term profit. How can two freaks from the East (along with their video-camera adept friends) possibly alter the course of human events?  The Yes Men’s answer is, inevitably, one big joke at a time, because satire is (as of this writing) still legal throughout the civilized world…and that is the Yes Men’s chosen battlefield. In the war of ideas, they are the fifth columnists infiltrators, “trying to create public spectacles that, in some kind of poetic way, reveal something about our culture that’s profoundly a problem.”

But like all modern agit-prop documentarians, they lack a true mass movement in support of their efforts. Until the Yes Men’s ranks swell to the point that they rival China’s Ever Victorious Army, the WTO will continue to run roughshod over the laws, mores, and cultures of the world (including, whether its citizens acknowledge it or not, the United States), secure in the contention that corporations are the new sovereign nation.

At the very least, every repressive Western institution deserves to have its own cadre of “Identity Correctors”. Imagine if you will: a devil for every greedy corporate shoulder in the hemisphere. A glorious thing to watch. If nothing else, it would be really, really funny.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *