After Michael Moore’s bland and predictable Capitalism: A Love Story, watching The Yes Men Fix The World is like inhaling a breath of fresh, unpolluted air. Starring the merry pranksters better known as Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, and co-directed by them alongside Kurt Engfehr (better known as Michael Moore’s editor on The Awful Truth, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11), the doc is a thrilling travelogue through the global free enterprise system. That our guides Bichlbaum and Bonnano happen to be both hilariously subversive and downright ingenious in their tactics (“What we do is pass ourselves off as representatives of big corporations we don’t like. We make fake websites, then wait for people to accidentally invite us to conferences,” declares one of the Yes Men at the start) exposes not just corporate malfeasance but their colleague Moore’s own small-mindedness. While Moore with his one-dimensional thinking is content to point the finger, sit back and assign blame in lieu of doing the tough job of searching for workable solutions, the Yes Men—with their shock-and-awe, 3D-animated fake presentations—are proactive Robin Hoods. And, bouncing about in their “Halliburton SurvivaBall” suits, they’re a hell of a lot more entertaining.
Beginning with a montage of both their previous stunts and the media reactions to them, what quickly becomes apparent is how the Yes Men have harnessed the power of technology to uncover injustice in a way that the mainstream Moore hasn’t. In addition to the fake websites, their main weapons in the fight against an unethical economic system include sleek computer-generated projections and even pyrotechnics at corporate conferences. The razzle-and-dazzle effect that allows technology to obscure truth—corporate titans will swallow a SurvivaBall, an absurd inflatable suit at an absurdly inflated price, if it’s wrapped in slick packaging—is turned on its head by the Yes Men’s revealing that this emperor has no clothes (or balls for that matter).
With delightful wit, the Yes Men are saying, “Yes, we can!” to the making of a better world, doing what’s right on behalf of the corporations that do so much wrong. Instead of the Moore strategy of passively shaming, they actively participate in change, as when Bichlbaum, in the guise of a Dow Chemical spokesman, goes on the BBC in front of 300 million viewers to announce that the Bhopal catastrophe, the largest industrial accident in history, will finally be cleaned up by his employer. This simple act is a million times more radical and risk-taking than Moore’s noisily wielding a bullhorn in front of AIG headquarters. Moore may be responsible for the highest grossing documentary of all time, but not one of his films ever led to a two billion dollar drop in share prices in 23 minutes as this Yes Men stunt did! Where Moore is all bark and no bite, the Yes Men slyly bite. “I wouldn’t say it’s a hoax. It’s an honest representation of what Dow should be doing,” Bichlbaum responds when finally caught by the media. He then accurately goes on to accuse Dow of creating the real hoax in their claiming there’s nothing they can do for Bhopal while compensating lawsuit-happy Americans in Texas immediately after the accident!
And the Yes Men don’t stop there, digging ever deeper than Moore to actually investigate why it is that corporations can’t do the right thing without risking their bottom line—why the free market seems to work against good deeds. They interview the talking head acolytes of economic guru Milton Friedman, sometimes in strikingly silly ways. Asked what image he’d like to appear on the blue screen behind him, one guy clumsily suggests a picture of free men doing what their hearts’ desire—which leads to his pontificating in front of a Tom of Finland physique pictorial. They go down to New Orleans where Bichlbaum, posing as a HUD rep, announces a reopening of all public housing projects—and gets applause even from the contractors who stand to lose money! This is the opposite of Moore’s cynical, “folks are greedy” supposition. The Yes Men reveal that people do want to do the right thing—and will if they feel it’s sanctioned (just like they’ll buy a ridiculous, Python-esque SurvivaBall if everyone else is buying one). They expose the truth of the herd mentality, the fact that people feel safest in numbers and that fear is the real barrier to change. (This also knocks down Moore’s knee-jerk, evil plutocracy conspiracy theory in the process.) By the time the film ends with the distribution of the fake NY Times world-as-it-should-be edition, the Yes Men’s visionary thinking has come to fruition. Fixing the world won’t happen from easy confrontation via bullhorn, but by sparking the collective public consciousness with substantive alternative ideas.