The Yes Men

Chris Smith, Sarah Price, and Dan Ollman made this documentary about a couple of prankster-protestors whose WTO parody website is mistaken by business leaders as the real thing. The two guys, Andy Bichelbaum and Mike Bonano, are then invited to speak on behalf of the WTO at trade conferences, an opportunity they can’t pass up. As activists, the Yes Men are about as effective as an article in the satirical weekly, The Onion, or any episode of Phil Hendry’s radio show.

Satire is just an earnest appeal for social change. But it’s perhaps even less effective than, say, straight-up, old-fashioned picketing and marching. It does nothing, nor can it do anything, to effect change — that’s what makes the efforts of groups like The Yes Men such a shameful waste. Often Bichelbaum and Bonano’s mock-appearances at conventions are hysterical — especially one in Finland in which one of them comes dressed in a gold vinyl suit equipped with an inflatable phallus that pops out to display a monitor on which corporate bosses can check up on their sweat shop labor, and another appearance in which they pitch their idea for eating digested, recycled meat to suitably flummoxed executives.

If anything, such “protests” only serve the egos of the pranksters themselves who get off on the stunt and the attention. Not that their message isn’t important or socially relevant, but social activism, when it takes on the form of satiric stage antics like this, is kind of a perverse, last gasp before society just throws its hands up and bends over for the man…again. On the plus side, Smith, Price and Ollman are on-the-ball filmmakers and their subjects are admirably gutsy pseudo-crusaders.

Grade: C+

Directed by: Chris Smith, Sarah Price, Dan Ollman
Cast: Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum, Michael Moore, Patrick Lichty, Sal Salamone

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