The Yes Men Fix “Inception”

I was swimming through the air in my dream, popping in and out of television screens, the coolest talking head since David Byrne. Then all of a sudden, holy shit — things blowing up for no apparent reason, car chases, gunfire, clouds of poison gas choking people in their beds. Nobody who isn’t a psychopath has dreams like this! Except, right, you’re dreaming in service to a corporate titan in order to take down his rival, and we know from The Corporation that corporations behave exactly like psychopaths.

But wouldn’t this movie have been a lot cooler if you were using your idea-implanting superpowers for good rather than for evil, and targeting, say, Dow Chemical on behalf of the victims of Bhopal? Shouldn’t you really have contacted the Yes Men? After all, they share your fondness for abandoned warehouses and scenes with lots of floating and flailing about. They are masters at assuming new identities and making lies seem more attractive than the debilitating truth.

They dream big, too. They had hundreds of oil and gas executives lighting candles ostensibly made from human flesh, and convinced a conference hall full of New Orleans building contractors that doing the right thing was more important than maximizing profits. They embarassed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce into reversing its position on global warming. They led an effort at mass inception in Manhattan that involved printing and distributing an edition of the New York Times from six months in the future, which got over 100,000 people contemplating a world without war and hunger, and how really doable and ordinary that could be.

But you professional dreamers — what do you do? In your matroyshka-doll world of a dream within a dream within a dream, where was the green space among all those brutal modernist highrises? I didn’t spot a single park, not even a tree. You grew old together in the company of phantasms, living only for each other, as self-centered and cut off from the real world as the plutocrats whose yes-men you later became. And then to die without dying — what a fix!

Such an interesting word, fix. It’s what a junkie craves. When the fix is on in a movie about the mob, you know things are about to go horribly awry. A fix is a fundamental alteration, but not necessarily for the better — just ask a dog that’s been fixed. The Yes Men might be out to mend the world themselves, but when they interview a gaggle of free-market economists to see if they’ll say anything revealing on camera, they choose this more ambiguous word: How would you fix the world? And then, more mischievously: How would you like the world to appear on the blue screen behind your head? Which is tantamount to saying: Show us your dreams.

The Yes Men Fix the World was, to my mind, everything that Inception was not: droll, witty, thought-provoking and inspiring. Inception, a movie about the possibility of planting ideas in another person’s imagination, was really rather dull. There wasn’t any laughter in it. Where in the one movie, mud and grunge and empty suits are a source of comic relief, in the other they are mere fixtures, signifiers of seriousness for the director’s fundamentally unserious and impoverished imagination.

If you haven’t seen Inception yet, save your money. If you haven’t seen The Yes Men Fix the World, it’s available for free online. Go watch. And then, if you like, join up. This is one effort at collective imagination that doesn’t need to stop when the theater lights go up.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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  1. I liked Inception, but it was like an interesting puzzle…I didn’t care all that much about the characters, because I was too busy trying to figure things out. It did have that whole snow-covered mountaintop scenario, so there was *some* nature. But now that you pointed it out, it is interesting that the “limbo” world that was supposedly dreary and barren turned out to be a rather lovely rocky beach, and that the characters felt the need to build a whole city there.

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    1. Yeah, it was the limbo world I found particularly alienating. The snowy peak was definitely cool. And I must admit I liked the initial shot of the limbo world where the buildings were sand castles crumbling into the sea, as obvious a metaphor as that is. And you’re right, how one feels about Inception probably depends on how much one enjoys solving puzzles. If it would’ve included characters one could care about, it would’ve been great.

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  2. I saw the 1st Yes Men movie a few years ago and it killed me. Didn’t know they’d done another. I will definitely check it out.

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  3. Likewise enjoyed the original Yes Men flick, so will try this one as well. Have avoided Inception, as I do all blockbusters. I prefer quieter films

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  4. Dave, I totally agree with you about Inception. I found it boring, confusing, noisy, needlessly full of explosions and car chases and I couldn’t wait to get out of the cinema. As soon as I left I couldn’t remember a thing about it. The concept might have been interesting if handled more intelligently and with more originality but they made a dog’s dinner of it. Will have a look at the Yes Men link.

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    1. “they made a dog’s dinner of it”
      Is that a standard British expression? I love it!

      I watched that Yes Men movie at archive.org — it’s one of the options near the bottom of the linked page.

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