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A comedic documentary which follows The Yes Men, a small group of prankster activists, as they gain world-wide notoriety for impersonating the World Trade Organization on television and at business conferences around the world. The film begins when two members of The Yes Men, Andy and Mike, set up a website that mimics the World Trade Organization's--and it's mistaken for the real thing. They play along with the ruse and soon find themselves invited to important functions as WTO representatives. Delighted to represent the organization they politically oppose, Andy and Mike don thrift-store suits and set out to shock unwitting audiences with darkly comic satire that highlights the worst aspects of global free trade.Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Going to see this movie, I expected to disagree with its message, but I wanted to know how easily one can fool top trade negotiators, and hoped to laugh at some funny pranks. I was wrong on all three counts.
First of all, there is nothing to disagree with, because the movie contains a single claim of any political relevance: apparently, trade agreements have reduced the power of governments (but how could an international agreement fail to restrain governments?). Actually, this claim is of interest for what it says about the anti-globalization movement: they take to the streets to increase the power of the State. We have come a long way since 1968!
There is also a guest appearance by Michael Moore, but he does not have anything relevant to contribute, apart from a self-satisfied smirk. Not surprisingly, there is no mention of the intellectual father of anti-globalization: Benito Mussolini.
Second, the Yes Men did not go anywhere near top trade negotiators. In fact, I am not sure that they went anywhere near anybody who knows what the WTO is supposed to do (not that it manages to do much, but that's another issue). More on this later.
So the only thing to discuss is the entertainment value. Part of the movie is reality TV: we watch the Yes Men as they get up late, get a costume manufactured, change clothes in a toilet, etc. Eventually, we get to see the first prank at a conference in Finland. Here, the Yes Men deliver a lecture, pretending to be from the WTO. The lecture starts by addressing an academic question about slavery (note to those who never heard the question before: Adam Smith addressed it in 1776); and ends with a pathetic attempt at a visual gag. The pained expressions of members of the audience suggest that they, like me, were just hoping that it would be over as soon as possible. The Yes Men take the silence of the audience as a sign of stupidity. It does not occur to them that maybe the prank is just not funny.
We are not told who were those people in Finland, but one thing is clear: they were not top trade negotiators. If they were, they would not go to a conference whose organizers confuse the Yes Men with the WTO.
But there is a deeper problem: according to the Yes Men's lecture, the WTO is devoted to developing gadgets. Now here is the Catch-22: if the audience were taken in, then they do not know anything about the WTO; if they were not taken in, then the Yes Men made fools of themselves.
There are a couple of other pranks. One is at the expense of a college class. This prank managed to make me smile, but I do not recommend watching it on a full stomach. This time we know for a fact that the students were taken in. They, too, believe that the WTO is devoted to technical development. Not a good advertisement for the college.
Finally, the Yes Men persuade an Australian chamber of commerce (or was it a news conference in Australia? I can't remember, and the movie web site doesn't say) that the WTO is closing down. The concept is pretty bold, actually it should have been the best prank in the movie, but it falls short because we do not get to see the targets of the prank when they realize that they have been taken in.
Members of the chamber of commerce (or whatever) were interviewed while still under the impression that the WTO was really closing down, and they seem to think that it is a good idea to do so. This is surprising enough for me to give an extra star to this movie. But what do they think is wrong with the WTO? Their answers do not go beyond banalities, which is a pity. So much more of a pity, since there will never be another chance to ask them.
In conclusion: If you want to know more about "globalization", do not waste time on this movie. If you just want to see some funny pranks, then see "Amici Miei" (1975): too cynical for some people, but at least there is something to laugh about, and even the toilet humor manages to be funny.
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