"The Yes Men" and "The Yes Men Fix The World" are a pair of documentary comedies which follow the exploits of the Yes Men, a group of "culture jammers" who impersonate the identities of those they dislike and engage in "identity correction", a process in which they either behave as the entity really would behave were it not socially bound to maintain some modicum of civility, or behave as the entity would behave were it ethically responsible. In other words, the Yes Men are a group of socially conscious activists who engage in pranks. They con their way into various situations and satirically pretend to be various corporate heads, politicians, bureaucrats and world shakers. Most of their satire flies over the heads of their audiences.
And so the two films find the Yes Men pointing out the unethical practises of Dow Chemical, BP, ExxonMobile, Milton Friedman cultists, the world trade organisation, the New York Times, the US Chamber of Commerce, various environmental bodies, various bastions of commerce, various media corporations, and various bodies responsible for the post hurricane Katrina clean up.
Most of their pranks start with a fake website, such as their mock website of the World Trade Organisation, which despite being ridiculously blunt about the WTO's unethical practises garnered the Yes Men an invitation to speak at an official occasion. Once in, the Yes Men's representatives then caused havoc before unsuspecting audiences. Thanks to global media, their actions were carried out in full public glare. Other Yes Men stunts involve delineating the principles of free trade by taking such principles to their logical conclusions. Elsewhere they put forward arguments for selling votes to the highest corporate bidder, making the poor eat feces to cure endemic hunger and allowing countries to commit human rights abuses with a system of "justice vouchers" modelled after pollution vouchers. Yet, shockingly, the Yes Men's audiences often show little difficulty in accepting the legitimacy of such ideas. At a CPA meeting (a group of accountants), for instance, the Yes Men exploited the credulity of their audiences by recruiting them into the elaborate fiction of a trade organisation governed by grotesque principles. The two films highlight not only how willingly the public accepts unethical behaviour, but how such behaviour, as it is intimately bound with concepts of success, has long been seen as an ideal to be pursued.
Because the Yes Men's cons are difficult to set up and execute, the two documentaries spend most of their time focusing on preparatory work. The actual pranks are few and far between, which will irk those looking for incessant humour. Compared to, say, "Punked", "Borat" or the "Jacka** Movies", these are slow films. Both films also fail to properly/intelligently explore that which the Yes Men rally against.
Interestingly, the Yes Men are shown without familial or romantic relationships. Their private personalities are not delved into and they seem androgynous and almost ascetic. Their first two pranks, we learn, involved inserting homosexual activity into a computer game and inserting masculine, warrior voices into female dolls. Their gender-bending, a kind of monastic selflessness coupled to chameleon like amorphousness, echoes the impersonal flux of global capitalism. In theory, they're a parasite which can permeate any situation and counter-bend as readily as capitalism can. In practise, this is perhaps impossible. Even detrimental to their health.
While some view the Yes Men as a needed, new breed of activism - of spirituality even - most view them as a mild annoyance engaging in futile efforts. For some theorists, culture and counter-culture are barely distinguishable in an all-pervasive, global culture too ready to incorporate the anti-gesture. Culture jamming, some believe, is rapidly losing political force and the capacity to generate new cultural images and values. On the flip side, the force of the Yes Men's prank comedy lies in the fact that it rises above the abstemious moment of critique and the seemingly noble aim of "enlightening people" and in so doing takes us onto another register. In a time in which global capitalism has such a monopoly on what can be thought, their task seems to be that of enabling something genuinely new to be thought. Their whole image is based on a recognition that affirmation, rather than refusal, is a novel political strategy.
8/10 – Worth one viewing.
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