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Yes! The Yes Men Fix the World

Judith Mahoney Pasternak Oct 13

The Yes Men Fix the World
A Film by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno
Co-Directed by Kurt Engfehr
A Shadow Distribution and Fix the World Release, 2009

Calling Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno pranksters or hoaxters is like calling the Pope a priest.  They’re the height of hoaxters, the popes of pranks. They’re so audacious that if you didn’t see their acts with your own eyes, you wouldn’t believe them.

But millions did see them with their own eyes. Millions believed them. And if they can be believed, then anything can be believed—including the wildest, craziest idea of all: That it’s possible, despite everything, to fix the world.

Andy and Mike are two of the Yes Men, a loose conglomeration of merry women and men dedicated to showing unleashed capitalism for what it really is. They have their own website (www.theyesmen.org) but have created fake ones as needed; they’ve published eerily convincing imitations of The New York Times and the New York Post; they’ve persuaded a roomful of high-level bankers that it’s possible to measure scientifically “acceptable risk”—how many human lives can be lost to an environmental or industrial danger before the danger becomes unprofitable.

Andy and Mike have pulled off the Yes Men’s most daring cons. The Yes Men Fix the World travels along with them on their hilarious and often shocking journeys.

• In November, 2004, 300 million British Broadcasting viewers worldwide watched as Andy, posing as a representative of Dow Chemical, announced that, having bought Union Carbide, Dow was taking full responsibility for the 1984 Union Carbide plant explosion in Bhopal, India, and would pay $12 billion in reparations to the people of Bhopal.

• After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and left thousands homeless, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shut down undamaged low-income housing projects and planned to demolish them. Andy impersonated a HUD undersecretary at a 2006 Gulf Coast Reconstruction Conference, announcing that HUD was going to re-open the projects, starting with Lafitte Houses, and inviting civic officials and residents to a ribbon-cutting ceremony later that day.

• At GO-EXPO, an oil industry conference in Calgary, Alberta, in 2007, Andy and Mike, claiming to be Exxon executives, delivered the conference’s keynote speech at a $50-per-plate luncheon; they announced that Exxon had developed a new “bio-fuel” called Vivoleum, made from human corpses. They presented supposed Vivoleum candles to every table in the room, and stood at the podium while the candles (which didn’t contain dead bodies but did contain substantial amounts of human hair) were lit. The smell emptied the room.

Repeatedly, when their real identities are revealed, the two have been called—by their corporate dupes and by the media—“cruel” and “heartless.” With deep humility, they have attempted to find out whether the true victims of the disasters they’re talking about were hurt by, or resentful of, their deceptions, traveling as far as Bhopal. From New Orleans to Bhopal, members of the injured communities applauded Mike and Andy’s efforts to shine a light on their crises.

At the end of the film, Andy and Mike admit mournfully that they haven’t yet fixed the world. But of course we knew all along that it would take more than two guys to do that, no matter how audacious and funny they are.

As a former resident of the Lafitte Houses says in the film, “They took the struggle to the next level.” Now, he suggests, it’s our turn.

For more about The Yes Men Fix the World, see here.

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