Airing on HBO over the next month is the documentary about the fabled pranksters the Yes Men. I first heard about them late in 2004 when one of the two Yes Men posed as a Dow spokesman, apologizing for the Bhopal disaster and promising $12 billion in relief for the still ravaged area. By taking responsibility for the disaster, the Yes Men put Dow in the position of having to deny they were apologizing or trying to recompense for the toxic event, exacerbating its image as a heartless, market-obsessed corporation. It was a brilliant combination of politics and theater.
Since then, I've learned much more about the Yes Men, and the actions they've pulled. This documentary, made by the Yes Men themselves (Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno), shows firsthand the japes they've accomplished over the past few years.
The film takes you inside the Dow action, from the hoax itself, to the Yes Men's subsequent visit to Bhopal to investigate the ramifications of their actions.
Other actions in the film include poking fun at Halliburton's ability to profit from disasters. The two impersonate Halliburton officials, unveiling at a conference an absurd "survivaball" designed to thwart almost any potential catastrophe.
Another elaborate hoax features Bichlbaum posing as a HUD undersecretary speaking in New Orleans, announcing to contractors and politicians (including Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco) that Exxon and Shell are investing billions in restoring wetlands.
The film culminates in a segment on the publication of 80,000 copies of a fabricated issue of The New York Times
that presented a number of fanciful stories, including the ending of the war in Iraq and the prosecution of George W. Bush for high treason.
You might think we can only dream about such things, but the film is designed to take us beyond the dream stage and into reality -- a reality that could exist if corporations acted responsibly, and not just for the bottom line. It's inspiring, really. All it takes are sense of humor, some courage and the ability to create fake Web sites, and you could be your own Yes Men or Yes Women group. Let the Yes movement begin.
The documentary, currently showing on HBO, repeats 9 a.m. on Aug. 2, 12:05 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 8, 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 11 and 11 a.m. on Aug. 14.
For more on the Yes Men: www.theyesmen.org.
For HBO: www.hbo.org.