More (or less) ‘alternative’ current affairs commentary from the anti-corporate pranksters.
Fix Up, Look Blunt. Film review – Tom Jennings
The second showcase for these intrepid anti-capitalist stuntmen chronicles frontmen Bichlbaum and Bonnano’s surprisingly successful infiltrations of global media and business circles – starting with a mortal threat to corporate bottom lines in 2004. Fooling the BBC with a lookalike website, a shiny-suited Yes Man broadcasts to the world Dow Chemical’s decision to pay billions in compensation for the 1984 poison-gas catastrophe in Bhopal, India (caused by subsidiary Union Carbide’s negligence, never previously admitted). The hoax is soon nailed, but not before share prices fleetingly plummet – suggesting that more than moralising mileage might transpire from brand-naming and shaming monopoly power. Subsequent Swiftian spoofs parody conglomerates’ callous glee exploiting miseries they create and exacerbate – Halliburton’s SurvivaBall suit to ‘Protect and Survive’ against ‘natural’ disaster and Exxon-Mobil quantitatively easing fossil fuel shortages by flogging body fat rendered from those killed by industrial pollution.
April Merl’s accomplished editing bowls the tragicomic action along with ultra-low budget visual aesthetics – despite more secure funding (including from Channel 4). Such miniscule mendacity may mirror the titular ambiguity (to ‘fix’ as rig and/or mend), but also hints at deeper problems with their paradigm of performance art activism than the group seem prepared to countenance – beyond, that is, the diminishing returns accruing when outsider dissidence births celebrity (as with diverse jokers like Michael Moore, Mark Thomas and Sacha Baron Cohen). Nevertheless the inventive wit and critical spirit of the Yes Men satisfyingly demonstrates the patent absurdity of expecting anything of ‘ethical capitalism’ – except in mediated, bandwagon-jumping, virtual PR domains. And there’s the rub – their opposition is also mired in spectacular imagery, their actions and end-products equidistant from real-life pragmatic struggle incubating the praxis to transcend static resistance.
The debut documentary (The Yes Men; see Freedom review, 9th April 2005) mentioned no possible repercussions of the duo’s jolly japes for those directly affected by the corporate excesses lambasted and lampooned. The new film shows them appropriately agonising, debriefing Bhopal and Hurricane Katrina survivors before conveniently concluding that re-engaging public attention is broadly welcomed. However, the latter disgrace – with institutional floods of do-gooders and -badders belatedly parachuting into New Orleans, adding insult to meteorological injury – underscores that radical strategy should start from such perspectives rather than being improvised later. Yet the gentrification feeding-frenzy of Louisiana real-estate clearances is righteously denounced via Bichlbaum’s fake Housing and Urban Development official blithely announcing that poor former residents can reclaim their houses after all. Furthermore, final confirmation that their tactics merely ape ‘alternative’ top-down benevolence arrives in the exhilarating results of the Yes Men’s most ambitious collaboration, mobilising vast resources among swathes of soft-left liberals across the US. A meticulously designed simulacrum of the New York Times coinciding with Obama’s election causes momentary consternation among millions – raising prospects of an end to poverty and war while apparently reproducing illusions of good leaders (electoral or editorial) making the difference.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 70, No. 22, November 2009.
For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see: