Is the term "business ethics" becoming an oxymoron? The Yes Men, a delightful new documentary directed by American Movie's Chris Smith and Sarah Price with Dan Ollman, suggests so. The film affectionately chronicles the comic misadventures of Andy and Mike, a pair of leftist performance artists who started the World Trade Organization parody web site gatt.org, which was so convincing that they began receiving invitations to represent the WTO's viewpoint at business conferences around the world. Tickled by the prospect of spreading righteous misinformation and impersonating their doppelgängers, the duo masqueraded as WTO spokesmen and delivered deadpan presentations taking the heartlessness of free-market economics to its horrifically logical extreme.
The Yes Men primarily focuses on two brilliantly conceived and executed stunts. The first presentation introduces a revolutionary suit with what appears to be a giant inflatable gold phallus built in. The screen at the phallus' tip would allow busy executives to conduct surveillance on their employees, administering strategic electrical shocks as needed. The second presentation, delivered to a contingent of understandably outraged college students, revolves around a purported McDonald's plan to recycle First World waste into hamburgers for Third World consumption. Their straight-faced presentation uses hilarious 3D animation to show how waste becomes food, mercilessly skewering the inanity of branding by inserting Ronald McDonald's beaming mug and the Golden Arches all over the whole unsavory process.
Such ghoulish notions should, of course, instantly be booed offstage. But in a business world that accepts and justifies environmental abuses, sweatshops, and child labor as the unfortunate but necessary cost of free trade, the Yes Men's outrageous burlesques of globalism seem disturbingly plausible. In passing as representatives of the business elite, it helps that Andy and Mike look the part. Corporations expect agitation and freewheeling prankishness from hippies, not clean-cut, suited men who've mastered the can-do patter of the businessman shilling his wares.
The Yes Men's brilliant lies unlock explosive satirical truths, but the film runs out of steam a bit toward the end, as the duo decides to take its project to an inevitable conclusion by pretending to disband the WTO, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons. After the corrosive blasts of irony preceding it, the sincerity of the Yes Men's mock dissolution of their bête noire rings false. After all, shit sandwiches and long-distance electroshock are all well and good. But a businessman talking earnestly about putting people above profits? That's too far-fetched to swallow, even in The Yes Men's skewed universe.