Ironically, irony is not dead: The success of Fahrenheit 9/11 has seen to that, raising the ante on artistic political expression. Parody, satire, and pranksterism are all the fashion in creative activism – at least on the left – and as masters of the form, the canny, politicized performing artists in the eponymous documentary The Yes Men are the ones to beat. Fronted by protean jesters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, this band of brainy tricksters follows an arresting notion of ”identity correction” best explained in their own words: ”Unlike identity theft, where a criminal uses your identity in order to steal something, we thought, ?We’re going to target the biggest criminals and we’re going to steal their identity to make them more honest.’ And so we impersonate them to make them more honest.” Among the perturbed: A parody website they created in 2000 to mess with George W. Bush’s presidential campaign inspired the then candidate to state, ”There ought to be limits to freedom.”
When they’re good, the Yes Men are astonishing, anarchic sights to behold. The documentary follows Bichlbaum and Bonanno as they travel the world impersonating representatives of the World Trade Organization while skewering the WTO’s globalizing, free-market aims. Of course, how funny (versus funny at the expense of others) one finds this is a matter of taste, political sentiment, and tolerance for the snark of American Movie director Chris Smith (a leader in the field of docu fun at the expense of others), who codirects with Dan Ollman and Sarah Price. It’s also a matter of how much Michael Moore one considers too much, since the now ubiquitous filmmaker adds a few unnecessary sound bites, as he did in The Corporation – a Mother Jonesy seal of approval.
Although the value of disrupting a dull trade conference in Finland is debatable – the punchline is something about demonstrating the merits of a gold-lamé managerial ”leisure suit” attached to a giant inflatable phallus with a built-in camera that can track employee productivity – the two score an ideal success on a college campus. As Bichlbaum lectures donnishly on the benefits of recycling human waste into McDonald’s-quality hamburgers for Third World countries, the students evolve from bored to confused to horrified to angry…to potential activists themselves – a supersize political achievement.