Yes men Yes Men Fix the World ©2009 The Yes Men. All Rights Reserved. Illustrations by Packard Jennings

The 'Fix' is in

Things are never what they seem when ‘Yes Men Fix the World’

By Jana J. Monji 11/12/2009

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The Yes Men dig up the dirty pasts of big businesses, delight and aggravate news organizations and have fueled more than one urban legend.

If you haven’t heard of them, you’ve probably heard about their high jinks:

One Yes Man, posing as a spokesman from Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide, gave an interview to the BBC in which he promised a huge monetary compensation to the victims of the 1984 Union Carbide insecticide explosion in Bhopal, India. The fallout made enough impact to send Dow stock into a tailspin.

The Yes Men also once staged a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, announcing the US Chamber of Commerce was going to reverse its stand on global warming. The only problem was the USCC was making no change in its opposition to pollution regulations to control global warming.

The documentary, “The Yes Men Fix the World,” directed and produced by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano and opening Friday at Pasadena’s Laemmle Playhouse 7 Theatre, follows Bichlbaum and Bonnano as they set up phony corporate Web sites to attract invitations to make presentations, where they attempt to shock big business reps, but are sometimes seen as “refreshing” by these same people for their honesty.

That seems especially odd, considering Bichlbaum and Bonnano are actually pseudonyms — Bonnano is really international multimedia artist Igor Vamos, a 2003 Guggenheim Fellow and a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, and  Bichlbaum is Jacques Servin, a professor at Parsons in New York.

 Like two other recent documentaries, “Yes Men Fix the World” shows how the Internet can be used to build fame and fortune. The 2009 documentary “No Impact Man,” for instance, followed Colin Beavan as he attempted to live one year in Manhattan while having as little impact as possible on the environment. The blog he kept was actually part of a book deal. The movie, made by friends, came as a bonus.

Then there was Pasadena-based Ondi Timoner’s documentary, “We Live in Public,” following the rise and fall of Internet television pioneer Josh Harris, who financed an art project in which a closed community was filmed by Web cams around the clock. Ondi’s film won a Grand Jury Prize win at Sundance.

While “We Live in Public” showed almost too much about Harris, “Yes Men Fix the World” doesn’t show us enough about Bichlbaum and Bonnano. Like Beavan, we don’t know what they are concealing or why.

If “No Impact Man” had a lack of critical distance because the filmmakers were personal friends, how much more does “Yes Men Fix the World” suffer because they’ve essentially made themselves stars and heroes? Both documentaries are used as a means of selling books, although “Yes Men Fix the World” — preceded by “Yes Men” in 2003 —doesn’t seem to have begun that way.

For social activists, “Yes Men Fix the World” may serve as an inspiration for nonviolent protest. Think of it: What might students at Caltech, JPL or Art Center College of Design do with such a concept?

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