If you are the sort who enjoys the actions of people who exact revenge on “those in power” by using extreme hoaxes and promoting satirical activism you are bound to enjoy this documentary. Produced by the team the gave us “American Movie” they now follow the remarkable path taken by The Yes Men, and small group of upstart activists as they employ a sort of societal judo technique in bringing the World Trade Organization to its knees—or at the least to the brink of embarrassment.
Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno did not originally intend to target the global commerce body known as the WTO, but as events grew around them they adapted their unique techniques to begin tilting at larger and larger windmills. What is most surprising—and therefore most entertaining—is that the more outlandish the duo became the more they became accepted as legitimate players in the world economic debate. As they detail themselves, it was almost troubling to them that with each attempt to behave so fantastic that they would be found as hoaxsters, they instead were accepted and almost embraced by the establishment. You might think that proposing that business owners wear a gold lame’ body suit–fitted with a prominently phallic video monitor–would be obviously discovered as a ruse, but these guys nearly convince the world body that it is a good idea.
The Yes Men got their beginnings when they began performing subversive activities with the online organization with the veiled name of Rtm-ark. This is a collection of social protesters who exact revenge against powerful corporations with creative activism. The Yes Men’s activities first involved removing the recording boxes inside Barbie dolls and switching them with the voice boxes from G.I. Joe action figures. The dolls were then surreptitiously returned to the shelves so unsuspecting consumers had Barbie dolls declaring war, or G.I. Joes which would suggest they go shopping or take a bath. Dubbed the BLF (the Barbie Liberation Front) they received copious media reports for their actions.
As a result of this the Rtm-ark crowd gave the duo a website domain that closely resembled that of President George Bush, and they used graphics that made the site appear legitimate while promoting questionable policies under the guise of being an administration web site. At one point the web site was targeted by the White house to be shut down, but they endured. Following that “success” the duo was given another domain, this time as gatt.org, an address that closely resembled one used by the WTO. They again used graphics that resembled those used by the organization, but the response was vastly different.
First it was simply e-mails with questions about policy, but then they were amazed when they began receiving invitations to speak on behalf of the WTO, and Andy & Mike saw a grand opportunity. At a trade conference they posed as WTO suits who forwarded the idea that votes could viably be auctioned off to the highest bidders. Then CNBC Europe had a panel discussion where they debated opponents of the WTO, offering more ideas that embarrassed the organization. But their real coup came when they appeared before a world textile conference in Europe.
Given the time to plan they crafted a nebulous speech that was designed to lull the crowd before they unleashed their golden phallus uniform. The speech alone was priceless, as they forwarded the idea of “involuntarily imported labor” to the crowd and listed numerous ways that slavery could be a profitable solution. When they unveiled the suit the crowd tittered slightly, but the idea was taken serious enough that numerous publications ran photos along with the proposition. The ridiculousness continued with another theory that McDonalds could help third-world nations with a system that recycled human waste into hamburgers to be sold abroad.
While the antics of the group provide hilarity the documentary suffers only because there is large amounts of padding. Too often we have to sit through scenes of the guys in airports, hotels, and other traveling venues. But once their business gets underway you are going to smile. The wait is worth it.