The Yes Men is a documentary that tracks the exploits of Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichblaum—two activists who specialize in throwing wrenches into the machinery of the rich and the powerful with elaborately planned and executed public pranks hilarious as they are subversive. The Yes Men’s résumés include such high-profile hi-jinks as switching the voice chips on Barbie and G.I. Joe dolls (Joe shops for clothes while Barbie kills for peace) and creating an outrageous fake George Bush website in 1999 that led the then Presidential candidate to respond by saying (and we quote) “There ought to be limits to freedom.” This film follows the duo in a series of events surrounding their successful impersonation of World Trade Organization representatives.
While they have no formal economic training or board-room experience, The Yes Men certainly have ideas about an organization like the corporation-friendly WTO, which they began tweaking in the late ’90s with another authentic-looking but phony website. Mistaken for the real thing, The Yes Men began receiving invitations to speak at international conferences, where they skewered the WTO by taking pro-business positions to the most absurdist extremes they could—“innovations” such as employers “owning” their labor force (yes, they used to call it slavery, but …) and the ultimate in free trade capitalism: Auction-A-Vote. Discovering no one blinked an eye, no matter what they said—and that, moreover, the real WTO didn’t even seem to notice what they were doing—The Yes Men became more adventurous, appearing on CNBC in a lively discussion on how best to stop developing nations from being the economic doormats of the world (their on-air solution: whatever the most powerful nations feel like doing to poor countries is OK, because, after all, might makes right.)
The film documents The Yes Men’s travels to such far-flung places as Tampere, Finland, where they introduce a prototype of a futuristic, gold, combination management/leisure jumpsuit that comes equipped with a three-foot-long electronic phallus that’s top is an interactive video screen; Plattsburgh, N.Y., where they suggest to a college economics class that world hunger might be cured by allowing McDonald’s to sell “post-consumer” hamburgers (don’t ask) to the poor; and, finally, Sydney, Australia, where—rather than talk about accounting issues—The Yes Men suddenly declare that the WTO, shamed by its own greed and actions, will dismantle itself and try to re-form as the essentially humanistic concern it always should have been.
That The Yes Men are able to perpetrate all of this with nary a raised eyebrow from either the corporate world or the news media does, of course, speak volumes about the state of both of those universes. Significantly, it is only the college students who don’t buy what the pranksters are peddling, and it’s their response to The Yes Men—disbelief followed by open hostility—that furnishes at least a glimmer of hope as one watches this very funny, but in its own way, very chilling film.