The Pranksters Against the Bankers

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Review of 'The Yes Men', directors Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith

Economists are suckers. They'll buy into anything: marginal utility, monetarism, the invisible hand... Those people you see yakking away on the morning news, discussing financial developments, have even less of an idea about what's going on than you do. You might as well consult a shaman or a fortune cookie.

Perhaps it's not that surprising that Finnish dignitaries will listen to a lecture from a man dressed in a gold jumpsuit. Capitalism is so decadent and farcical, maybe a TV controlled through 'posterior implants' mounted in a plastic phallus could reverse the general decline in the rate of profit, who knows?

Such is the premise of the film The Yes Men. The Yes Men (and women, presumably) are a federation of prankster/activists. The founder members and stars of the film are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. The film shows them on a mission of 'identity correction', struggling to make the World Trade Organisation (WTO) honest.

In 1999 the pair stitched up George Bush. After claiming the domain name gwbush.com, they mimicked the official Bush campaign website, only this time uncovering his hypocrisy and lunatic policies. When asked about the site Bush grumbled, 'There ought to be limits to freedom.'

They were then offered the domain gatt.org to do a similar job on the WTO. Not everyone caught on to the spoof. Before long people were sending the Yes Men questions about trade, thinking they were the WTO.

The Yes Men took the opportunity to expose the world's corporations. We first see them heading off to Austria, where 'Dr Andreas Bichlbauer' gives a lecture on how to 'streamline the grotesquely inefficient system of elections' by letting voters sell their ballots to the highest bidder.

Bichlbauer reappears as 'Granweth Hulatberi' on CBNC's Market Wrap Europe, peddling crapulous assertions like, 'Shouldn't those with the power make the decisions?' What's wrong with that?

The 'Re-Burger' stunt is interesting. A group of unsuspecting American students are introduced to representatives of the WTO and McDonald's. After distributing free burgers to the audience, they show the students how 'post-consumer waste recycling' can feed the world and make a profit.

The students were the only audience to respond to the Yes Men angrily. When confronted by the reality of capitalism, poverty, war, and the fact that they'd make burgers out of shit if they thought could get away with it, more often than not people become furious and defiant.

The political focus of the film being fair trade versus free trade, combined with the sight of relatively affluent, computer literate men going round the world tackling the corporations on our behalf, set some distant, sectarian alarm bells ringing. But the slightly futile gesture of outwitting corporate no-marks is more than offset by the final scene.

The team travel to Australia to give a lecture on the textile industry. The lecture is changed at the last minute. Instead they announce the winding up of the WTO. They list the organisation's many failures: deepening poverty, widening inequality, stagnation and environmental degradation.

The delegates are interviewed afterwards. They are pleasantly surprised. They find the arguments 'compelling'. 'Even in Australia' they noticed how 'the strong are getting stronger and the weak weaker'. They agree that things 'cannot go on as they are'.

But, of course, they have. The WTO still exists, as does capitalism, as well as poverty and war and crappy burgers.

The delegates may have warm words, the issue may even be debated by the Canadian parliament, but capitalism is still capitalism. The bourgeoisie will give up their civilisation before they willingly give up their power. In the next few years our movement should go from exposing to deposing capitalism.