The activist in middle age

0
67
In their third film, the Yes Men, aka Mike Bonnano (left) and Andy Bichlbaum, reconcile their mischevious activist urges with the pressures of growing older.

by Brian Clarey

It’s a love story of sorts, a buddy pic, a documentary and a call to action. And it’s way funnier than An Inconvenient Truth.

As the Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano managed some of the most outrageous and socially conscious pranks ever perpetrated on unsuspecting corporations.

The film documents the guys sending a flotilla of “survivaballs” —  giant, inflatable suits that will protect humans against the effects of global warming — underneath the Manhattan Bridge towards a climate change conference at the United Nations. Posing as a member of the US Chamber of Commerce, one of their actors endorses President Obama’s renewable energy bill, closing the announcement with, “Mother Nature means business, and so do we.” The announcement got picked up as breaking news by three major television networks before it was revealed as a hoax. At the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009, they staged a fake press conference calling on developed nations to pay off their “climate debt.” That one didn’t go so well.

“It’s not the way most people protest,” Bichlbaum says.

The Yes Men Are Revolting begins its run at A/perture Cinema on Friday. See aperturecinema.com for showtimes, or theyesmenarerevolting.com for more on the film.

Much of the team’s pranktivist antics were covered in the first two Yes Men films, The Yes Men from back in 2003 and 2009’s The Yes Men Save the World. But this effort, five years later, find the men older, with more responsibilities and less time for their activities, the effectiveness of which they are starting to question.

Their target this time around is climate change, with a few short primers on what’s causing it and how it will play out. A visit with a Ugandan activist exposes the effects of climate change on a people who face starvation if the crop fails. Closer to home, a sludge pile on Native American land in Oakland grows from the residue of tar-sand oil refining.

When the Copenhagen hoax fails, the men go their separate ways. Bonnano moves to Scotland with his family, and Bichlbaum stays in New York, where he hooks up with a crew from Greenpeace to pull a caper against Shell Oil, which had teamed with Russian oil giant Gazprom to exploit resources in the Arctic Circle.

That prank, involving a life-size polar-bear suit, a marching band and a Russian actor with very little English, was also a giant bust.

Here is where the story veers towards the relationship between the men, their decades of friendship strained by familial responsibilities and lifestyles. Each grew up as children of Holocaust survivors; both played in industrial ruins as children. And as they age they note that though each prank escalates in scale and scope, nothing has ever really changed.

“I would think, This is gonna be the one that changes everything,” Bichlbaum says.

Arab Spring and the Occupy movement provide the deus ex machine for the plot here, re-energizing the Yes Men’s efforts as they join the fray in Zucotti Park.

At one point they lure a crew of policemen to follow them in a march on Wall Street, and when they get near the cameras, Bonnano and Bichlbaum flip their signs, exposing the message: “Brokers and police for the occupation.”

That one got picked up by the Daily News.

After the police crackdown on Zucotti Park, they note that the Occupy people came in to give aid after Hurricane Sandy, which had just decimated the New York and New Jersey coast. And in Bichlbaum’s 19th floor apartment during the blackout that ensued, the old friends have a real moment of reconciliation, and also an epiphany that leads them to their next plot.

This one involves Colin Powell, an awful silver wig and a roomful of defense contractors wearing headbands and dancing in a circle around a room. This one is meant to unite rather than to shame, and it may be their most subversive yet.