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The Yes Men|
featuring: Andy Bichlbaum, and Mike Bonnano
directors: Dan Ollman, Sarah Price, and Chris Smith
81 minutes (tbc) 2003
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano don't look like art terrorists. One tall, greying and
distinguished, the other small, dark and intense, they look completely normal, fading
into the background of any crowd. However, between them they are responsible for two
of the most famous anarchist pranks of the last ten years. Bonnano led the 'Barbie
Liberation Organisation' a group who broke into Toymaster, swapped the voice chips in
GI Joe and Barbie dolls then repackaged them. When this was made public, Bonnano appeared
on TV claiming that he and his group were less radical than Santa Claus because they
at least didn't break into people's homes.
Bichlbaum for his part is responsible for hacking Sim Copter, an early 1990s'
instalment in the hugely successful Sim series that had the player flying a
helicopter around simulated cities, carrying out various tasks. Thanks to Bichlbaum,
the inhabitants of the city were transformed into trunks-clad gay musclemen every Friday
13th and the game was withdrawn.
With this sort of elaborate prank under their belts, it only made sense for the two
men to get together and as a result, 'The Yes Men' were born. Bonnano and Bichlbaum
were given www.gatt.org - the domain name of the World Trade Organisation's predecessor.
They created a site that closely resembled the WTO's own but was openly critical of
their practices, and left it at that.
Then the emails started.
Periodically, people searching for the WTO website found www.gatt.org and emailed them,
assuming they were the WTO. Bichlbaum and Bonnano decided to play on, and the end result
is somewhere between Mission: Impossible and direct action protests. Simply put,
they became the public face of an organisation they fundamentally opposed.
You'd be forgiven for thinking this is less than gripping stuff but it becomes clear
within the opening credits, as we see Bichlbaum frantically try and get into a gold
body-stocking at a meeting, that this is not your usual documentary. Both these men
are naturally funny and the situations they create are genuinely extraordinary to watch.
What really makes this is the polite way in which their increasingly outlandish ideas
are received. The first third of the film deals with their presentation of a 'leisure
suit', complete with immense phallus-shaped monitoring device that would allow managers
to remote manage workers from a great distance.
The response is polite silence. That night, Hank Hardy Unruh, Bichlbaum's alias, is
invited to sit at one of the top tables of the conference. What becomes clear very
early on is that the Yes Men are either slightly too clever for their audiences or fit
in a little too well. The polite interest with which they're greeted is both funny and
slightly frightening. In fact, much of the film has a bleak feel, offset only by their
dry run for a presentation on recycled food. Complete with some astonishingly poor taste
graphics provided by a friend, they put the idea of recycling burgers that have already
been eaten into third world foodstuffs. When they're booed off stage they seem genuinely
relieved that someone at least is paying attention to what they're saying.
The Yes Men is an audacious and very funny look at two men's assault on globalisation.
Whilst at times they go for easy targets, The Yes Men never fail to make their point
and are a continual thorn in the side of global corporate culture. Activism has never
been funnier and the WTO has never looked sillier. More power to them.