World Economic Forum, Take Two

19 Feb 2010

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When it comes to "improving the state of the world" - the goal of the World Economic Forum - CEOs and politicians have been known to disappoint. But, prankster filmmakers found a solution that helps them say all the right things, writes Brook Jarvis.

Each year, political and business leaders travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to discuss “improving the state of the world.” The Yes Men (the prankster duo that has been re-writing corporate history since the '90s) and the filmmakers behind The End of Poverty? felt those leaders weren't taking that mandate seriously—for if they were, they'd surely be saying very different things. 

"We felt that the world leaders should be doing something more drastic to end poverty than just giving lip service to the issue," says Beth Portello, the producer of the film.

So the pranksters decided to help them do more. Beginning with real videos, the filmmakers—with the help, says Portello, of "the magic of editing software" and some "crafty scripters"—dubbed in alternative messages in which Nicholas Sarkozy of France, agribusiness giant Arthur Daniels Midland CEO Patricia Woertz, Queen Elizabeth II, and others own up to wrongdoings or promise to behave better in the future. The cadence may be a bit unusual, but it looks like the queen is admitting that the source of Britain's wealth "was the financial plundering of the Southern Hemisphere."

In another video, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has allowed development of the Athabasca tar sands, promises: "We're going to tone back our weak subservience to dirty oil."

The videos are part of a website that closely mimics that of the real World Economic Forum (the site address is off by one character). At first glance, the navigation tabs on both sites are the same, but they differ dramatically in details.

For example, while the real WEF website includes an initiative called "Agriculture and Food Security," the other site links to one called "Food Sovereignty." On the real site, visitors can "watch Patricia Woertz from ADM speak about the New Vision for Agriculture," while visitors to the ersatz version are invited to watch Woertz discussing "some of the problems with global agribusiness, and her company in particular." (In fact, they no longer can—ADM made a copyright claim, which forced YouTube to remove the dubbed video, in which Woertz appeared to call her company an "insidious agricultural syndicate.") The prank site proposes land redistribution and a worldwide subsidy for organic agriculture.

In fact, all of the WEF's initiatives have been replaced with links to real organizations taking what the pranksters consider to be more productive approaches to improving the world—in the agricultural example, visitors are directed to La Via Campesina and Movimento Sem Terra, peasant movements for land reform. Organizations working toward debt relief, taxes on financial speculation, the closing of tax havens, and local governance of natural resources are also highlighted. 

"All the crises we're facing are rooted in massive inequality and poverty," says Philippe Diaz, the director of The End of Poverty?. "If these leaders really wanted to make a difference, they would work toward ending poverty, however uncomfortable that might be for business."

But, says Potrello, "it’s easier to remove funny videos from YouTube."

By Brooke Jarvis. This article was originally published by Yes Magazine

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