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Yes Men Offer Plenty of Problems, No Solutions

The Yes Men Fix the World is an interesting setup. The film basically charts the exploits of two self-righteous hoaxters (who call themselves "The Yes Men"), as they con their way into speaking events and news broadcasts while posing as everyone from spokesmen for Fortune 500 companies to high ranking government officials, all in the name of supposedly "raising awareness" for problems they see in the world.

The film begins as the two are preparing to appear on a BBC news broadcast, with one posing as a Dow Chemical spokesman named "Jude". The man's real name is Adam, and it is immediately revealed that he defrauded the news network to get there, and is about to lie to 300 million people live on the air. After the broadcast takes place, it is quickly discovered by the media that the whole interview was a farce, and the men are called back to the station to explain why they perpetuated the scam. After you've seen this first segment of the film, you've basically seen the entire movie. This is no exaggeration. The film is literally nothing more than following these two men around as the defraud organizations for invitations to speak at events, and then lie to whatever crowd is in attendance.

It is made obvious from early in the film that these men aren't just jokesters looking for cheap thrills, but actually self-important ideologues with a political agenda...Basically younger versions of Michael Moore, or Bill O'Reilly. In fact, much of their tactics appear to be lifted from Moore's own on-screen antics.

There is nothing wrong with presenting one's views. I don't even have a problem with someone doing so in an unconventional or even provocative way. But "The Yes Men" have no interest in honestly or directly presenting a point of view. Like Michael Moore (and to a lesser extent, O'Reilly) they are more interested in characterizing and then attacking those they disagree with. The film is nearly 90 minutes long, and in all of that time we are presented with no concrete point of view, let alone a solution for any of the problems they draw attention to. Again the vast majority of the film is the two men posing as people they disagree with, and then doing ridiculous and/or dishonest things.

When they pretended to be representatives of Dow Chemical, and stated the company was giving $12 Billion to the people of Bhopal, "The Yes Men" claimed they were saying the things they'd like the company to say. When they pretended to be ExxonMobil and handed out candles they claimed were made from the human remains of a dead Exxon employee, they claimed they were trying to "wake up" or "shock" the "establishment". It's made very evident the two subscribe unabashedly to an "ends justify the means" philosophy...Which in essence, boils down to "as long as your intentions are good, it doesn't really matter what you do to try and get there."

My problem with such a philosophy is the question of just how far such a person is willing to go. We all know of a famous road paved with good intentions. These "Yes Men" are obviously willing to defraud and lie to people. Are they willing to harm property? Perhaps riot a little? How about killing people? Skinning a few dissenters if it meant their message got out more? Really, if the ends justify the means, is there no "means" off the table? Is this truly "by any means necessary?" Where do you draw that line, and how is that even determined? Is it just by an arbitrary decision of whatever you personally believe isn't "going too far"? I'm not really sure anyone has the answer to those questions. And if you can't even answer that, I don't exactly see how you can justify dishonest means in the first place. And neither do a few others...

Early on the implication is that "greed" is the problem, and that a free market has allowed greed to create the bad things in the world we see...for example, Exxon "speeding up global warming" and causing Hurricane Katrina. (A cause and effect actually implied in the film.) So there is a slight mention of more regulation being necessary. However, we quickly see that the government itself is on the hit list as well, culminating in yet another fraudulent impersonation...this time of a deputy secretary to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The filmmakers point the finger at the federal government (the very federal government that is supposed to be the answer to all this "greed" โ€” because for some reason politicians aren't greedy) and "The Yes Men" admit how it is the people's very own government who has prevented them (in many cases by law) from returning to their homes in New Orleans to rebuild and repair. It is the federal government who set up housing projects, created a class of people dependent on such programs, and then closed the projects down. Yet somehow again, this is called a result of the "free market".

So, as lying to people is apparently all "The Yes Men" are good at, one of the pair presents himself as a HUD official and claims that all the housing projects will be reopened. He even asserts that ExxonMobil issued a statement saying the company was contributing $8.6 billion in restoration efforts, to assure the company "never again has a hand in destroying a large American city." (Still talking about Hurricane Katrina). And again, this was supposed to be something the filmmakers "would like" to hear these people say.

The film ends with the crew printing up and distributing copies of a phony edition of The New York Times newspaper, again filled with headlines they'd like to see (such as: "Maximum wage law has succeeded" and "Nationalized oil to fund climate change efforts"). Favorable reactions from locals reading the paper are shown, with one woman calling it "a dream newspaper".

Of course, it is not hard to imagine New Yorkers being in favor of what amounts to bigger government and socialist policies โ€” which is not an epithet, as there's really no other word for it...maximum wage and nationalized industries, those by definition are aspects of a socialist system. (But, as a side note, one also has to wonder how many people they had to film to get the reactions they wanted). And while a fake newspaper is very clever and a fun way to get people's attention, here again all we're left with is an amusing stunt, and no real articulation of a root of any specific problem, nor any actual proposed course or solution. If free markets aren't the answer, and if regulated markets aren't the answer and require more regulation, and if big government isn't the answer...what exactly is it the filmmakers are advocating?

It is here The Yes Men Fix the World finds itself in the very same predicament as all other films of this kind...hunting for something it never ends up finding, and holding conflicting beliefs simultaneously in a kind of Orwellian doublethink sort of way...demanding more government controls over the economy while at the same time demonstrating that government is largely captured by private special interests. As another writer said about another such film: "They are reduced to looking for ghosts and wishing upon stars."

Ultimately the filmmakers do not wish to present their point of view in an honest and straightforward way, nor suggest any actual prescriptions for improving anything. My personal guess is because they simply don't have any โ€” they don't have any real notion of what causes the problems they complain about, let alone ways to improve on them. They simply see things they don't like and want someone to blame for it. Their only goal with the film seems to be to point fingers and create caricatures of those they disagree with...so that it's easier to point fingers. I would call it a propaganda piece, but it's more like a "watch us play around while we do things that make us feel like we're better than other people" film.

Again I don't have a problem with polarized view points and using unconventional methods to say what you have to say. My biggest problem with this film is that "The Yes Men" don't really seem to have anything honest or concrete to say. The closest we got to that was the implication that economic freedom is a bad thing and that government is just as bad...and this non-message was relayed by defrauding and lying to people, and characterizing individuals (like Milton Friedman) who were not afforded an honest presentation of their point of view. "The ends justify the means" has to be one of the most dangerous philosophies ever conceived, and "If you won't tell the truth because it's bad for the cause, then the cause becomes a fiction".

I give it two stars because 1 star is the lowest rating allowed (there is no zero stars), and from a purely entertainment point of view, it was interesting to see how relatively easy it is to illegitimately give a speech at an event. Other than that, the film is utterly useless.

Added by JackJot
9 years ago on 17 September 2011 10:53