"Yes Men Fix The World" *** (96 minutes)

Friday March 19, 2010

Michael Moore has made his living successfully exposing various corporate/government/individual misdoings ever since he hit the scene with his 1989 brilliant General Motors expose, "Roger & Me". However, over the years, his film making tactics have been controversial & polarizing-especially from the right side of the political spectrum.

What was needed was a somewhat softer approach to illuminate to the majority of the world's populist the evil greed exhibited by a lot of the same targets Moore had in his sights throughout his career. Enter stage right Mick Bonnano (Jacques Servin) & Andy Bichbaum (Igor Vamos)-university professors in real life but here known as The Yes Men.

Off to the historic Senator Theater where Yes Man Mike was hosting their latest-a follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2004 "The Yes Men". This time around, we watch them unleash their resources and energy on Dow Chemical, Halliburton, Exxon, and the U.S Government's Chamber of Commerce and Department of Housing.

We see them in their "office", which is actually a run-down warehouse equipped with a computer and a couple of chairs, as they set-up a fake Dow Chemical website. In 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide plant exploded in Bhopal India-killing over 8,000 and injuring many more. Its long lasting effects can be seen in birth defects that are still occurring today in the populace. As the 20th anniversary of the disaster approached, their idea was to represent Dow Chemical (who bought out Union Carbide in 2001) and, in a breath of corporate fresh air, admit to the wrongdoing by "offering" 12 billion dollars of corporate profits to the victims of Bhopal. That's exactly 12 billion more than was previously offered by the now defunct Union Carbide.

That's where the fake web site comes in. When they were asked to be interviewed by The BBC, they were off and running as Andy, posing as a bogus Dow rep, announced to the world that the corporate giant was ready to make good and come clean by compensating the victims in honor of the 20th anniversary. Needless to say, the stock market didn't approve as the company's position on Wall Street promptly dropped like a piano in a lake.

The point was made that maybe this wasn't such a good idea-that it was a cruel hoax on the Indian victims who were given tons of false hope. However, when they visited Bhopal after being exposed, the Yes Men were actually greeted as heroes by the residents because of the resulting world coverage that served to reinforce the corporation's greed as it continues to refuse to right a terrible wrong.

Next on their agenda was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We observe them holding a phony press conference at the National Press Club in D.C. after the agency "declares" they are reversing their decision on global warming. It was fun to see Fox News reporting on it throughout the day (raising the old adage that you can't always believe what is being reported).

Another target was the corporate giant Halliburton. Posing as Halliburton execs, they are present at an insurers' conference where they are introducing their latest invention: the Suvivaball (see the poster above) meant to save the inhabitants in the event of any and all catastrophic events. Hilarious. Surely anyone in the audience would catch on, right? Wrong! We see them approached by several attendees, after their bogus demonstration, seeking their business cards.

Another segment shows them at an energy conference in Calgary, Alberta. Now we see Andy as an Exxon rep as he introduces a new biofuel made of Vivoleum-which is supposedly made from the flesh of deceased humans. To illustrate, they pass out the foul smelling candles made of the new substance to the audience. Part of the stunt is stand-up comedian Reggie Watts playing an Exxon janitor who, in a hilarious video presentation, has decided to end his life and donate his body to the project.

They next travel to the Katrina stricken community of New Orleans as they expose the disgusting goings-on by HUD as they "work" to rebuild the damaged region. We see Andy, posing as HUD rep Rene Oswin, announcing that, instead of tearing down untouched public housing, they would actually rebuild for the purpose of bringing back its displaced citizens-much to the chagrin of the independent contractors (and even a noticeably perplexed Mayor Nagin who was present at the news conference). Again, the question was raised as to whether this was more a cruel hoax on the residents than on the government that was there to protect and help them recover.

A final segment shows them preparing to print and distribute a bogus New York Times that proudly declares on its front page "All the news we hope to print". Its headline in bold print: "Iraq War Ends". We see them and their volunteers handing out for free over 100,000 copies to the populace on the streets of New York-who can only hope the news they're reading is true.

One of the more humorous touches were interviews the film makers interspersed throughout with corporate talking heads who are unknowingly being blue screened with outrageous back-drops. And hovering over all of this is the "evil" Milton Friedman (who they labeled "The Guru of Greed"), the Nobel Prize winner who championed free-market economics (who died in 2006).

How effective all this is in the grand scheme of things is left up to the viewer. For me, it was a hoot just watching their intended targets deal with the absurdities of their own actions. We can only hope and pray that a new kind of revolution can be realized to truly institute global change suggested by the antics of The Yes Men.


At the Q&A, the first question was the most obvious: how were these guys not sued out the Yin Yang or even thrown in jail for their shenanigans. Mike calmly stated that none of what they did was actually illegal-especially compared to what these corporations were doing which , in most instances, were so much more morally criminal. When asked about an update on the end result of the New Orleans Lafitte Housing Project, Mike revealed that HUD moved the residents back in for 3 months, only to move them out and tear it down. Unbelievable. Mike announced that, after many screenings at festivals around the country including its premier at Sundance, this was his last public appearance promoting the film.

Concluding the Q&A, an auction was held to benefit the Maryland Chapter of the Physicians for a National Health Care Program, an organization of over 15,000 physicians, medical students and health professionals who support single-payer national health insurance. Representing the group was Margaret Flowers M.D who was present to explain their national "improved Medicare for all" campaign and the Maryland state single payer bill. To raise money a couple of "Reggie Candles" were auctioned off by Mike (he said they were the last of the lot) and several copies of their New York Times special edition were made available for purchase.

The film is now available on DVD.

Yes Man Mike Bonnano

Producer Jennifer Lopez, Margaret Flowers M.D, & dir. Mike Bonnano

No comments: