Film Review

The Yes Men

The Yes Men, Cornerhouse, Manchester, (now available on DVD)

Less overtly manipulative than Fahrenheit 451 but in a similarly subversive vein, The Yesmen is an attempt to wake up the public to all the corporate crap that is going on around the world in the name of the WTO. The film shows Andy and Mike, The Yesmen, impersonating or “correcting” the identity of their targets,turning up the volume’ on the aims of the WTO by exaggerating them to ludicrous extents. This is illustrated perfectly by their brief rundown of the rise of the textile industry in 19th century America thanks to “involuntarily imported labour” in the South, or by their proposal that the poor eat their own shit via recycled burgers.

The publicity blurb is promising enough, and the stunts are well represented but a lot of coverage is given to redundant talking-through, lengthening the introduction and giving more background detail on the preparation for the corporate leisure suit with huge phallic appendage than was strictly necessary. The first half of the film is taken up by the Yesmen’s talk at a textile conference in Tampere, leaving the camera to trail unevenly along to two other events which are less well covered in the second half.

This unevenness of treatment is a shame, because the idea behind the Yesmen is a good one, and could be an effective way of breaking through the hard capitalist coat of unthinking obedience to The Market. Of course, it is vastly entertaining to follow Andy and Mike as they prepare to take on a textile conference in Finland, stopping off in Paris to pick up little extras like the finishing touch for the manager’s leisure suit, and as they meet up with fellow activists around the States for other stints.

The underlying idea that subterfuge in the form of chameleon-like parodies will challenge those in power in the economic arena, or at least wake up a few conference goers, is laudable but hard work; in the capitalist world too many of these expensive conferences’ are attended by too many real yesmen’ and, unsurprisingly, there are few hostile reactions to the outrageous proposals that Andy and Mike make. Even the appearance of Andy on CNBC masquerading as GATT representative Granwyth Hulatberi,’ spouting about the might of the rich compared to the poor who are wrong “because they are poor”, fails to ring any alarm bells with the producer, even after the broadcast has gone out.

The one moment of hope comes when the Yesmen go to Sydney to address a meeting of the Certified Practicing Accountants Association of Australia. Andy, speaking again as a WTO representative, has gone for the serious approach, telling it its wrongs by helping people, not business. The accountants lap it up and seem genuinely excited by this prospect and eager to do their bit. Although this interest from such a normally conservative crowd could be explained by the uncritical reaction that the Yesmen’s parodic interventions usually get, it could also be more proof that humanity would embrace a more humane society, given half the chance.

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