For years Culture Jammers have taken a creative approach to the anti-corporate message. In the 1980s it was the clever defacement of cigarette advertisements, in the 1990s it was the era of the mass corproate protest, but what is it in the 2000s? If The Yes Men is any guide, the next step is sophisticated identity theft. The Yes Men is the latest in a growing collection of hip, streetwise, lefty documentaries, and even has the obligatory talking head of Michael Moore for no good reason other than the fact that his name on the poster sells tickets and give credibility (for some unknown reason) to any cause left of centre.
In this doco (or docu, to be more linguistically-correct), three spaced out young Americans travel around the world pretending to be representatives of the World Trade Organisation. The caper started out through a bogus website which was convincingly similar to the real one, and takes on a life of its own as our three protaganists head to conferences in Austria, Finland, the US and Australia. The film works well on one level - it takes the piss out of wanky Powerpoint inspired corporate presentations in a way that is highly perceptive and and some points downright hilarious. It's a challenge for anyone to sit through one particular sequence without sqirming - our chief "I can't believe it's not the WTO" speaker fronts a conference in Finland and starts by justifying slavery and ends in a very phallic gold lycra suit. Comic gold. Literally.
On another level, though, the film is monumentally frustrating. Hip and cool as our lycra-dressing corporate drop-out friends are, they seem to have an alarmingly superficial perspective on world trade. The trio spend the film speaking in vague generalities of the horrors of free trade, parodying those free-marketeers who might actually have some interest in trading with the third world. For our protaganists, the world is divided into the angellically good (those who wear skivvies and t-shirts) and the demonically bad (those who wear a neck-tie), and there's little ambiguity as to which side they believe we should be on. Am I being simplistic? Perhaps, but the 'what's around your neck' test is remarkably easy to apply is this film.
As a side note, this rather pedestrian documentary has had tremendous success at film festivals around the world. As a film, it lacks punch. The audio quality is so poor that at times subtitles are needed, despite running only 80 minutes it still manages to feel tedious, the film ends with a wimper rather than a bang. If it wasn't for the likeability of the three lead guys, the film would be a complete dud. Somehow, The Yes Men has managed to make the Official Selections at Sundance, the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals, as well as the US Comedy Arts Festival (I've never heard of it either). Much like the hyped response Farenheit 911 received at Cannes last year, this is further evidence of how the political sympathies of the judges have overriden artistic judgement. What a shame.