Friday :: Sep 24, 2004

The Yes Men Of The WTO

by pessimist

In the spirit of Michael Moore, Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum seek to spread the truth through the use of satire and comedy. Sometimes, they encountered some frightening truths. Bonanno talks about this in a Buzzflash interview

In 1999, we set up a web site at the domain, and that stands for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the predecessor to the WTO.

A lot of people went to this site and, surprisingly enough, didnít read the satire that was there, and instead immediately sent us messages thinking we were the real WTO. Some of them even invited us to their conferences and meetings, thinking that we were the WTO. So we showed up and gave them sort of a more-honest-than-usual vision of WTO policy.

And they found out that honesty isn't always the policy at the WTO!

We never had anybody question who we were, which was actually shocking because we went there intending to get arrested or to at least raise the ire of the conference participants. We thought that they would recognize that we werenít the WTO because we werenít staying on message with what the WTO would usually say about their policies. We were keeping with the logic of the WTO -- the logic of free trade -- but we were saying things that they would never be able to say themselves. We were basically saying what we imagined the WTO would say if they were honest. For example, if they had to be honest about how their policies were making the rich richer and the poor poorer, instead of the other way around, where they say that their policies are going to eventually enrich the poor, then things would be a little bit different.

For the first event that we did, for example, in Salzburg, Austria, at a conference on international trade law, we introduced ideas like outlawing the siesta in Spain because it got in the way of work, and outlawing the long lunch in Italy because, of course, it also gets in the way of work. The end of the lecture was when we suggested that a free market in democracy be opened up by allowing corporations to sell votes to the highest bidder. We basically followed free-trade logic to its extreme.

Probably what shocked us was the first time when we went and lectured and nobody reacted to what Dr. Bicklebarrow was saying. When you can stand in front of an audience of trade law experts and nobody sees a problem with selling votes to the highest bidder as a way to create a free market and democracy, then thereís got to be a huge problem.

I think that was the most shocking moment -- when we realized that either people werenít listening to us, or they were listening and they were tacitly agreeing with these terrible ideas simply because they were in line with this philosophy of free trade. Free trade is a deeply held, almost-religious belief, that freedom of trade can somehow benefit people and increase democracy.

Later in the conference, nobody really had a problem with the concept of a device for administering electric shocks to workers in sweatshops. It was also posed as a way to solve the distance problem: managers in the First World want to stay on the beach in the Riviera, while the workers continue to work in the sweatshops. The managers donít have good enough communication skills, so they need this tool, like a tele-presence tool, that would allow them to give electric shocks for workers. And people accepted that idea as well, which was shocking for us.

Bonanno wants to use such extreme propositiions to awaken people, something they have had some success with on a tour in which they perform as Bu$h campaigners along the lines of their WTO act - putting into other words the positions of George Warmonger Bu$h. But he can see that the problem goes deeper than the choice of words used in a campaign position. It really goes much deeper than it looks:

One thing thatís really difficult is that part of the problem is that we have to unlearn so much. I went to public school here in America, and I grew up thinking that the idea of freedom was basically synonymous with being able to buy and sell what you wanted, where you wanted. In fact, thatís a very different concept of freedom than most people would have.

It's a very different concept of freedom that most people SHOULD have. But when one looks at the words of George Warmonger Bu$h, and compares it to all of his known actions in Iraq that benefit American Multinationals, then maybe Bonanno is on to something. Maybe the actions of buying and selling ARE what Bu$h believes to be freedom. Maybe his strongest supporters do as well.

It would explain a lot.

Go see their movie:

The Yes Men opens in New York and Los Angeles September 24th.

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pessimist :: 3:42 AM :: Comments (1) :: Digg It!