Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 28, 2009

“The Yes Men Fix the World”; “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 3:15 pm

I received this comment on my “Brüno” review:

http://theyesmenfixtheworld.com/ may be more to your liking. I imagine you’re familiar with these, shall we say, more principled pranksters. Looks like a little bigger budget than the last one about them.

Thanks for a good review. I saw it a few nights ago for similar reasons, and had pretty much the same reaction. Juvenile gross-out jokes and shooting fat fish in a barrel. yawn.

Almost on cue, “The Yes Men Fix the World” aired last night on HBO. The Yes Men are a collective of about 300 people led by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno who have been doing for the past 15 years or so what Sasha Baron Cohen only does on occasion and only lamely: using false identities to expose the rich and the powerful. Here’s the trailer for “Yes Men Fix the World”:

They are best known for setting up a phony website for Dow Chemical, which had recently absorbed Union Carbide, the chemical company responsible for the deaths of over 5000 people in Bhopal, India. Despite its obvious phoniness (“What every company must know: disaster is often prosperity by another name”), the website served as a lure for people in the communications business to get Dow’s side of the story, including a BBC interview that reached over 300 million viewers worldwide.

The BBC’s worldwide reputation for accuracy took a blow yesterday after it broadcast an interview with a hoaxer who claimed to offer a $ 12bn settlement to the 120,000 surviving victims of the Bhopal disaster.

Hopes were raised in India when the BBC’s international news channel, BBC World, interviewed a man identified as a representative of Dow Chemical, which now runs the Bhopal plant after taking over Union Carbide.

He said Dow accepted full responsibility for the world’s worst industrial disaster, which has claimed the lives of 20,000 people over the past 20 years, and left many more with chronic health problems.

But it soon emerged that Jude Finisterra was a hoaxer who has targeted Dow Chemical in the past. His interview, which was picked up and reported internationally, was shown twice on BBC World, and on BBC television and radio in Britain, before it was pulled.

“Today I am very, very happy to announce that today, for the first time Dow is accepting full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe. This is a momentous occasion,” he said in the live interview. In public, the BBC said it had moved “swiftly” to correct the mistake and stressed it had been the victim of an “elaborate” hoax.

It condemned the actions of Mr Finisterra as a “tasteless publicity stunt”. But in private, some BBC journalists expressed surprise that the hoax was not identified more quickly: the apology seemed extraordinary because Dow maintains that it has “no responsibility” for Bhopal.

–Guardian, December 4, 2004

“The Yes Men Fix the World” is not yet available in home video and is scheduled for general theatrical release later in the year. But you can rent their 2003 documentary “The Yes Men” that has a lot of the same material, I am sure. Here’s the Youtube trailer for that flick:

* * * *

I caught “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?” on the Sundance Channel just before the HBO Yes Men flick aired. This 2007 documentary, available from Netflix, tells the story of Teri Horton, a retired 73 year old truck driver who lived in a California trailer park, and who bought a painting from a thrift shop for $5 that may be have been a Jackson Pollock.

All in all, she reminded me of the grandmother in “Napoleon Dynamite,” a feisty, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed survivor of poverty and family tragedy who could not be more different from the art world aristocracy that insisted that the painting was a fraud. Timothy Hoving, the former curator at the Metropolitan Museum and an insufferable snob, keeps insisting that the painting is not the real thing since it lacks “provenance”. For those who watch “Antique Roadshow” on PBS, the term will be familiar. It means documents–such as a bill of sale–that establish an artwork or antique’s pedigree. In the case of Teri Horton’s painting, there is none.

That is, none except for a thumbprint on the canvas that turns out to be identical to one that is found in Pollock’s studio on Long Island. This was discovered by a forensics expert hired by Horton. The art aristocracy refuses to accept the legitimacy of the thumbprint, even though it might have been sufficient to land somebody in prison for the commission of a crime. The art world seems to live by its own standards—that is really the message of this movie.

A NY Times profile on Horton concludes with this highly revealing exchange:

Interviewed over drinks in the back booth of a bar near her hotel on Tuesday, Ms. Horton was clearly having fun in her now-enlarged role as self-appointed scourge of high-dollar high culture, which she calls “the art-world conglomerate conspiracy.” She said, though, that she remained completely confident that she would see herself vindicated, and that she would sell her painting at her price — no less than $50 million — within her lifetime.

And if that does not happen?

She clicked a long, lacquered fingernail on the tabletop.

“Before I let them take advantage of me,” she said, smiling broadly, “I’ll burn that son of a bitch.”


  1. Great post. The Pollock movie is very good. Also check out Orson Welles’ “F For Fake” on the subject of art and authenticity.

    Comment by Fred — July 28, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  2. HA! Love that quote at the end. I’ve seen that doc on her and her painting. It does a great job of puncturing some of the absurdities of The Art World. The insular, wealth-obsessed fetishizing that goes on that world gets exposed to some degree for the sickening masquerade it so often is.

    Comment by macon d — July 28, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

  3. I was a fan of the first “Yes Men” movie. I saw “In The Loop” yesterday, which was brilliant. BBC series have really gone down hill, but “In the thick of it” and “State of Play” are two notable exceptions.

    Comment by Bhaskar — July 29, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  4. Hi

    You can actually watch the brand new trailer for The Yes Men Fix The World here

    Comment by Wez Merchant — July 30, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

  5. New trailer for The Yes Men Fix the World!

    Comment by Andy B. — August 4, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

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