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New “Yes Men” movie a must-see

I had the good fortune of being able to catch Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno’s new film, “The Yes Men Fix the World,” when it aired on HBO a couple months ago, and thought it was fantastic.

If you weren’t able to catch it then, however, and you live in New York City, you’re in luck.  The film opened at the Film Forum last week and is currently scheduled to run for two weeks. Over the next month or two, it is set to open in other cities across the country as well. Check out the film’s site to see if it’s coming to a theater near you. (And if it does really well now – if my limited understanding of these things is correct – it has the potential to make it on to many more screens.)

For those not familiar with the Yes Men, their M.O. is to finagle their way into business conferences or onto major media outlets posing as representatives of major corporations – such as Exxon Mobil and Halliburton – or U.S. government officials. They then give speeches that either take the free-market thinking to it’s logical extreme, revealing its absurdity in the process, or make altruistic announcements for government or business action that we would only see if they were moral entities. For example:

In the film’s opening scene, Bichlbaum, purporting to be a Dow Chemical representative, goes on the BBC to announce that after 20 years of denial, his company will finally clean up India’s toxic Bhopal plant and compensate all the victims of the industrial disaster that occurred there. As people connected to the issue celebrate the news, Dow’s stock plummets.

Pundits ask whether the duo perpetrated a cruel joke by giving Bhopal survivors false hope, so Bichlbaum and Bonanno travel to India to ask residents for their reactions. Some say they were disappointed to learn of the fraud, but others seem pleased that the prank called attention to the shameful neglect of big business and government.

I think the Yes Men’s actions hilarious and at times incredibly poignant indictments of a system that thrives on greed and is – in an absolutely literal way – destroying the earth.

While some will undoubtedly see their nonviolent tactics as deceitful and distasteful, I was moved by Bichlbaum’s explanation of their work to someone confronting him after one of their pranks. What they are doing, he said, is “truth-telling where there would normally be lies.” And the lies of the powerful few have profound repercussions on billions of lives at the bottom that they see as worthless, or at least not of enough value to do anything to help.

One exciting new direction that the Yes Men are heading in, which the movie only touches on briefly, are pulling off stunts that require the collaboration of thousands of people – such as the creation and release of nearly a million copies of a fake New York Post last month that focused on what needs to be done to avert the worst effects of climate change.  The more people can be drawn in to participate in these types of creative actions, the more hope we can all have for the future.