Fahrenheit 9/11 and the contemporary onslaught of political documentaries have demonstrated that it’s invitingly easy to demonize Bush on-screen, but how to deal with abstract acronyms like the WTO and IMF? The Take and The Yes Men—tardy but spirited sprinters in the agit-doc marathon—find ways to tackle the subject of international regulatory orgs, bringing clear-eyed cogency to their expected underpinnings of capitalist-critiquing zeal. Each crafts its arguments in quite different emotional registers: the first as tragedy; the second, farce.
Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’s The Take opens with shots of a woman in threadbare designer clothes picking through garbage on a graffiti-encrusted thoroughfare, illustrating the message that Argentina was not a historically poor country, but a once prosperous nation impoverished by the IMF-recommended diddlings of its president, Carlos Menem. After Argentina’s economy tanks in late 2001, shoving half the population under the poverty line and prompting corporate nabobs to hie their cash elsewhere, manufacturing plants become abandoned. In response, workers spawn a socialist wet-dream movement: tile cutters, seamstresses, and other assembly-liners simply walk back to work and start running the businesses themselves. Combining the common-sense lucidity of Klein’s No Logo with an undertone of melancholy doggedness (there are more men crying than in most baseball films), The Take follows its characters through a national election that feels like an antipodean doppelgänger of our own: As one Argentine is quoted: “We are the mirror to look into, the mistake to avoid.”
Yippie antics for the Punk’d generation, The Yes Men follows pranksters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, who pose as WTO apparatchiks to infiltrate a variety of conferences and events, giving an increasingly absurd succession of mock presentations. In Finland, Bichlbaum ends a pro-slavery speech in a gold suit with head-high inflatable phallus (a prototype equipped with screen to keep track of workers); to a group of students, they unveil a plan to recycle McDonald’s hamburgers from human excrement to feed the developing world. Though at times the film is snortingly funny, too much of the humor here rests on presupposed opinion about globalization. Still, The Yes Men provides a therapeutic laugh for liberal audiences whose mouth corners have long been turned downward by the plumb bobs of reality.