The Netflix Report

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Monday, April 17, 2006

The Yes Men

Yes, man... I was laughing out loud during this documentary. The film chronicles a small group of guys who pursue socio-political activism through a combination of practical jokes and possibly illegal deception and misrepresentation. The documentary briefly touches on some of their early work, lampooning George W. Bush’s campaign web site during his first presidential race (they used a domain name with a very close sounding URL and modeled it to look like the real one).

But the real story is their adventures passing themselves off as representatives of GATT and the WTO (that’s the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs and the World Trade Organization). They did the website trick again (you can still see it online at www.gatt.org and compare it to the real one at www.wto.org) and when they got a few requests for representatives of the WTO to speak at conferences, they helpfully sent along their men to deliver the pitch that they thought the WTO should be making. They appeared on news/opinion shows, lectured in classes, and delivered startling and completely capricious press announcements.

This is a kind of outrage and approach to rebelling that only seems to interest the under-35 crowd and there were times when I did not at all approve of their methods. Having set up conferences in my business past, I thought it was simply mean to coerce an organization in Australia to reschedule and coordinate an entire press event for them after the original event was canceled due to low turnout. That’s a huge outlay of time, money, and goodwill where the victim is an innocent sponsoring organization… not the big bad WTO that is the boys’ target.

Still, I loved their ability to structure a formal presentation to start out innocuously and rationally, gradually progressing to more and more outlandish and controversial statements showing their opinion of what the WTO really thinks and stands for. The only people who ever reacted to their outrageous statements were college students. The professional groups and journalists simply took in the presentations and went along with their loony declarations. Rather sad, really. These are the people either formulating policy or disseminating information to the rest of us. And they have no filters whatsoever.

The humor is purely academic and conceptual. You have to really listen to the flow of the words and the progression from erudite to absurd in their presentations. I’m a word man, so I loved it.

The production values are nil (usually single handheld cameras following the guys around). There are no parental advisories, but kids will be bored by the content and lack of action sequences. Still, they can be playing in the room while you watch. Recommended as a thoughtful comedy with a message.

Oh, you’ll be enraged by the guys if you have any belief in the sanctity of trademarks and copyrights. They violate them right and left.

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