The Yes Men

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The Yes Men are a group of culture jamming activists who practice what they call "identity correction" by pretending to be powerful people and spokespersons for prominent organizations. They create and maintain fake websites similar to ones they want to spoof, and then they accept invitations received on their websites to appear at conferences, symposia, and TV shows. Their newfound, self-proclaimed authority to express the idea that corporations and governmental organizations often act in dehumanizing ways toward the public has met both positively and negatively with political overtones. Elaborate props are sometimes part of the ruse, as shown in their 2003 DVD release The Yes Men.

Their method is often satire: posing as corporate or government spokespeople, they often make shocking comments which they believe to be the real meaning of the organisation's ideology being hidden by spin, or extrapolate what they feel is the organisation's ideology in a 'reductio ad absurdum' to come out with outrageous conclusions, such as that it should be possible to sell your vote or that the poor should eat recycled human waste. On most occasions no shock or anger has been registered in the response to their prank, with no one realizing they were imposters. Sometimes, the Yes Men's phony spokesperson makes announcements that represent dream scenarios for the anti-globalization movement or opponents of corporate crime. The result is false news reports of the demise of the WTO, or Dow paying for a Union Carbide cleanup, which the Yes Men intend to provide publicity for what they see as problems in the current situation.

The Yes Men have posed as spokespeople for The World Trade Organization, McDonalds, Dow Chemical, and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The two leading members of The Yes Men are known by a number of aliases, most recently, and in film, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. Their real names are Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos, respectively. Servin is an author of experimental fiction, and was known for being the man who inserted images of men kissing in the computer game SimCopter. Vamos is an assistant professor of media arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York. They are assisted by numerous people across the globe.

Their experiences were documented in the film The Yes Men, distributed by United Artists, the film documentary info wars, and the book The Yes Men: The True Story of the End of the World Trade Organization (ISBN 0-9729529-9-3). Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno also directed a 2009 film entitled The Yes Men Fix the World, which premiered at Sundance.


[edit] Pranks

[edit] George W. Bush

One of The Yes Men's first pranks was the satirical website, established for the 2000 presidential election to draw attention to alleged hypocrisies on Bush's actual website. When asked about the site in a press conference on May 21, 1999, Bush responded that the website had gone too far in criticizing him, and that "there ought to be limits to freedom."[1][2][3]

In 2004, The Yes Men went on tour posing as the group "Yes, Bush Can!" and encouraged supporters to sign a "Patriot Pledge" agreeing to keep nuclear waste in their backyard and send their children off to war. They appeared at the 2004 Republican National Convention and drove across the country at first in an RV with a George W. Bush body wrap, and then in a painted van.

[edit] Dow Chemical

Andy Bichlbaum, a member of The Yes Men, appears on BBC World to take full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster.

On December 3, 2004, the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, Andy Bichlbaum[4] appeared on BBC World as "Jude Finisterra", a Dow Chemical spokesman. Dow is the owner of Union Carbide, the company responsible for the chemical disaster which killed thousands and left over 120,000 requiring lifelong care.

On their fake Dow Chemical website,[5] the Yes Men first said as clearly and emphatically as possible that Dow Chemical Company had no intention whatsoever of repairing the damage. The real company received considerable backlash, and both the real Dow and the phony Dow denied the statements, but Dow took no real action.

The Yes Men decided to pressure Dow further, so as "Finisterra" went on the news to claim that Dow planned to liquidate Union Carbide and use the resulting $12 billion to pay for medical care, clean up the site, and fund research into the hazards of other Dow products. After two hours of wide coverage, Dow issued a press release denying the statement, ensuring even greater coverage of the phony news of a cleanup.

After the original interview was revealed as a hoax, Bichlbaum appeared in a follow-up interview on the United Kingdom's Channel 4 news (video). During the interview he was repeatedly asked if he had considered the emotions and reaction of the people of Bhopal when producing the hoax. According to the interviewer, "there were many people in tears" upon having learned of the hoax. Each time, Bichlbaum said that, in comparison, what distress he had caused the people was minimal to that for which Dow was responsible. The Yes Men claim on their website that they have been told by contacts in Bhopal that once they had got over their disappointment that it wasn't real, they were pleased about the stunt and thought it had helped to raise awareness of their plight.

At the International Payments Conference on April 28, 2005, 'Dow representative' "Erastus Hamm" unveiled Acceptable Risk, the Acceptable Risk Calculator, and the Acceptable Risk mascot — a life-sized golden skeleton named Gilda — to an audience of about 70 banking professionals.

[edit] WTO

The Yes Men's most famous prank is placing a "corrected" WTO website at (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). The fake site began to receive real emails from confused visitors, including invitations to address various elite groups on behalf of the WTO, to which they responded as if they were the actual WTO.

Appearing in newly purchased suits, The Yes Men gave speeches encouraging corporations to buy votes directly from citizens. They argued that the US Civil War was a waste of money because Third World countries now willingly supply equivalent slaves. They also urged people to listen to the WTO, not the facts.

[edit] New Orleans and HUD

The Yes Men appeared on August 28, 2006 at a "Housing Summit" in New Orleans, taking the stage along with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Before an audience composed mostly of real estate developers, one of the Yes Men gave a speech in which he claimed to be Rene Oswin, a fictitious "assistant under-secretary" at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In his speech he claimed that HUD would reopen public housing facilities that had been closed since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. He said that HUD had changed its mind about tearing down the undamaged housing units, and would not tear down the housing projects, as they had planned to do in order to replace them with mixed-income development.[6]

HUD has called this prank, which brought attention to the lack of affordable housing, a "cruel hoax." HUD spokeswoman Donna White said no one named "Rene Oswin" works for the department. White commented, "I'm like, who the heck is that?"[7]

The fictitious Oswin also announced that the big oil companies would contribute some of their record profits to rebuild the wetlands destroyed by the construction of oil tanker canals to prevent the city from being inundated by future hurricanes.

[edit] ExxonMobil

On June 14, 2007, the Yes Men acted during Canada's largest oil conference in Calgary, Alberta, posing as ExxonMobil and National Petroleum Council (NPC) representatives. In front of more than 300 oilmen, the NPC was expected to deliver the long-awaited conclusions of a study commissioned by U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. The NPC is headed by former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, who is also the chair of the study.[8]

In the actual speech, the "NPC rep" announced that current U.S. and Canadian energy policies (notably the massive, carbon-intensive exploitation of Alberta's oil sands, and the development of liquid coal) are increasing the chances of huge global calamities. But he reassured the audience that in the worst case scenario, the oil industry could "keep fuel flowing" by transforming the billions of people who would die into oil.[9]

The project, called Vivoleum, would work in perfect synergy with the continued expansion of fossil fuel production. The oilmen listened to the lecture with attention, and then lit "commemorative candles". At this point, event security recognized the Yes Men and bundled them off stage, and the 'punchline' - that the candles were made of Vivoleum obtained from the flesh of an "Exxon janitor" who died as a result of cleaning up a toxic spill - was not delivered to the audience, but only to reporters.[10]

[edit] Cato Institute

Not all actions succeed. In July 2007 an attempt to pretend to film a documentary about Milton Friedman in order to obtain interviews with right wing think tanks was foiled by the Cato Institute when their cover story did not work out. Paint was thrown on them by Bureaucrash, the Competitive Enterprise Institute supported culture jammers, on their way out.[11]

[edit] BP

On March 10, 2008, the Yes Men responded to a letter from BP accusing them of copyright violation, with a letter apologizing[12] for having forgotten BP with the spoof site half-completed and that "BP does every bit as much damage to this planet as does Exxon, Halliburton, or any other more obviously nefarious company" and deserves its own properly completed spoof site.[13]

[edit] Captain Euro

In 1999, the Yes Men visited the offices of Twelve Star Communications, creators of the Eurofederalist superhero Captain Euro, "a comic book character designed to promote European unification with young children. Inside, the imposters [sic] discover the hidden, dark truth about European Unification."[14]

[edit] New York Times

The Yes Men also claimed partial responsibility for a prank on November 12, 2008 where approximately 80,000 copies[15] of a fake edition of the July 4, 2009 edition of the New York Times were handed out on the streets of New York and Los Angeles.[16] The fake edition shows their ideas for a better future with headlines such as Iraq War Ends and Nation Sets Its Sights On Building A Sane Economy. The front page contained a spoofed motto, "All the news we hope to print" from the famous phrase "All the news that's fit to print".[17] Articles in the paper announce dozens of new initiatives, including an establishment of national health care, a maximum wage for C.E.O.s and an article wherein George W. Bush accuses himself of treason for his actions during his years as president. A full PDF version of the paper is available from Der Spiegel. There is also a Reuters photo of the fake cover page[18][19][20] and a fake website,

Alex S. Jones, a former Times reporter and media scholar, said of the paper, "I would say if you’ve got one, hold on to will probably be a collector’s item. I’m just glad someone thinks The New York Times print edition is worthy of an elaborate hoax. A Web spoof would have been infinitely easier. But creating a print newspaper and handing it out at subway stations? That takes a lot of effort."[21]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ Terry M. Neal (1999-11-29). "Satirical Web Site Poses Political Test". Washington Post. 
  2. ^ Wayne Slater (1999-05-22). "Bush criticizes Web site as malicious". The Dallas Morning News. 
  3. ^ "The Yes Men: Bush". 
  4. ^ "YouTube: Bhopal Disaster - BBC - The Yes Men". BBC World News. 
  5. ^ "Dow Ethics website". 
  6. ^ "Oops: Impostor scams Louisiana officials". CNN. 2006-08-28. 
  7. ^ Justin Rood (2006-08-28). "Fake HUD Official Punk'd Louisiana Pols". TPM Muckraker. 
  8. ^ "What's At Stake? Don't Let Exxon Decide Our Energy future!". The Exxpose Exxon campaign. 
  9. ^ The Yes Men (2007-06-15). Exxon Proposes Burning Humanity for Fuel. Press release. 
  10. ^ Norvall Scott (2007-06-15). "Pranksters disrupt oil patch conference". The Globe and Mail. 
  11. ^ Richard Morrison (July 13, 2007). "Just Say No to the Yes Men". 
  12. ^ letter
  13. ^ BP spoof site
  14. ^ "Making Europe Fun and Interesting". 2000. Retrieved on 2008-07-24. 
  15. ^
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[edit] External links

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