The Yes Men Fix the World at the Dryden

I left the show a little early to get to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) for a screening of The Yes Men Fix the World. I had been aware of some of the … umm … pranks? stunts? performance-art pieces? … created by The Yes Men for some time. I had recorded a segment on Democracy Now! back when I had satellite where they had convinced BBC News that they represented Dow Chemical and wanted to help fix the ongoing disaster created by their then-recently-purchased subsidiary, Union Carbide in Bhopal, India in 1984. The movie goes behind the scenes of how they got on the air and announced that in honor of the 20th anniversary of the disaster, Dow was committing billions of dollars (US$12 billion, if I remember correctly [and indeed, upon reviewing my copy of the interview on Democracy Now!, it was]) to help the people and clean up the site. By the end of the day, the hoax was revealed, and the largest complaint was not that Dow didn't step forward and do what was right and just (i.e. commit resources and fix things) but that the hoax cost Dow shareholders US$2 billion.

And that's essentially what The Yes Men are continually asking: why can't we make a world where corporations do the right thing? Their method of asking that question is to enter situations where they present themselves as members of corporations and announce that they are going to do the right thing.

I spent most of the movie saddened that these pranks never seem to have any effect: corporations continue to do the wrong thing, claiming that the increased profits are worth more than any real benefit.

But then I realized that no one person (or even large a group) can instantly make change. Rather, it is through the constant pressure of good that makes the world better. So when I left, I got on my tall bike (which, believe it or not, I made just over 5 years ago) and realized that we all need to make the world a better place. Even little things matter because all there is is little things.

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Doubt at the Little

Ali and I went to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see Doubt. It's a fascinating film which, although obviously different from the play (which neither of us saw), is extremely strong. I suppose it could only help that the film was written and directed by the original playwright, John Patrick Shanley. The story primarily follows Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the minister of St. Nicholas in the Bronx in 1964, and Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the principal of the affiliated school. Flynn takes an interest in one of the students: Donald Muller — a black boy in an otherwise all-white school. Sister Aloysius fully believes Flynn molested Donald and intends to ensure he [Flynn — duh] is punished.

The audience is left to their own beliefs to ascertain whether Flynn molested Donald. I found this fascinating, as I maintained his innocence throughout the film but realized afterward that I could experience the film again completely differently by believing he was guilty.

Sister Aloysius is someone who would act to destroy based on their beliefs. I think it's a particular kind of logic that permits this: believing that one's belief alone is more true than having no factual basis — perhaps a manifestation of the nature of faith (although in the case of religious faith, it's more about filling a gap in that which is knowable). The trouble is, there is an element of circular justification: if she succeeds in destroying Flynn's reputation, she feels justified, but by putting her own reputation on the line in making such an accusation, she has no choice but to fight to destroy Flynn's reputation no matter whether he was guilty or not.

Sister James, meanwhile, acts as a foil to Sister Aloysius by believing in the kindness of others. Sister Aloysius' long-time experience as disciplinarian provides her only with evidence of sin and wrongdoing. So is it Sister James' naiveté or Sister Aloysius' limited perspective that is at fault?

For myself, I find that when factual evidence is not available, belief in kindness is the more fruitful path. As is the case with Sister Aloysius, believing more in evil makes you a destructive force in the world whereas believing more in good opens up the possibility of being constructive.

But equally important is that it makes you happier to believe that people are generally kind.

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