The Yes Men Fix The World
The Yes Men
The Yes Men
For the last 20 years, notorious activists the Yes Men have staged outrageous and hilarious hoaxes to draw international attention to the practices of corporations and governments and to the effects of these practices on individuals, communities and the environment. Armed with nothing but quick wits and thrift-store suits, these iconoclastic revolutionaries impersonate corporate officials to bluff their way into business events and government functions to expose the dangers of neo-liberal capitalism.
The Yes Men’s interventions at business events and government functions, on the internet, television, and in the streets form the basis of three feature-length documentaries, The Yes Men (2003), The Yes Men Fix The World (2009) and The Yes Men Are Revolting (2014).
The Yes Men’s work has been shown in the Whitney Biennial, the Venice Biennale, Ars Electronica, and many other art exhibitions. The Yes Men are the recipients of numerous awards, including Creative Time’s Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change, Grierson Documentary Award, Berlinale Panorama Audience Award, the United Nations Association Film Festival Grand Jury Award, Best Documentary Award at HBO Comedy Arts Festival, and the Audience Award at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam. They are the authors of several books, articles, and they lecture internationally on art and social change. These days, they are focusing all their energy on a nonprofit, the Yes Lab, and the Action Switchboard, an online platform for generating real-life direct actions in the service of social movements.
In their own words
Who are you? The Yes Men are a group who use any means necessary to agree their way into the fortified compounds of commerce, and then smuggle out the stories of their undercover escapades to provide a public glimpse at the behind-the-scenes world of big business. The stories are often both shocking and hilarious. They have been called “the Jonathan Swift of the Jackass generation” by author Naomi Klein. The Yes Men have impersonated World Trade Organization, Dow Chemical Corporation, and Bush administration spokesmen on TV and at business conferences around the world. They do this (a) in order to demonstrate some of the mechanisms that keep bad people and ideas in power, and (b) because it’s absurdly fun. Their main goal is to focus attention on the dangers of economic policies that place the rights of capital before the needs of people and the environment. Right now they’re focused on passing carbon emissions laws in the USA.
That sucked. How about another one? We’re The Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. Two guys who couldn’t hold down a job until they became representatives of Exxon, Halliburton, Dow Chemical, and the U.S. federal government. As the Yes Men, they use humor, truth and lunacy to bring media attention to the crimes of their unwilling employers. Their second film, The Yes Men Fix the World, won the audience award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, the Grierson Award for Most Entertaining Documentary, and went on to become a smash box-office sensation, only just barely surpassed by Avatar. We introduce ourselves in this film, The Yes Men, directed by other people, but starring us.
Q & A continues here.
A Few Yes Men Resources
Yes Lab – “a series of brainstorms and trainings to help activist groups carry out media-getting creative actions, focused on their own campaign goals. It’s a way for social justice organizations to take advantage of all that we Yes Men have learned – not only about our own ways of doing things, but those we’ve come in contact with over the decade and a half we’ve been doing this sort of thing.” Find out more here.
Action Switchboard – The Yes Men’s online platform where you can propose an action idea, receive Yes Lab feedback, and solicit help (and funding) from others.
Destructables – “a DIY site for projects of protest and creative dissent. Share what you know…” [here].
Electronic Frontier Foundation – “the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.” Find out more here.
Beyond Talk – “was initially created for the sole purpose of environmental activism, especially with regards to promoting affirmative political action against climate change. Despite signs of greater consensus and urgency among major global economies of the need to tackle this problem, climate change remains a challenging global issue that requires great political will and concerted effort on the part of world leaders.” Find out more here.
Beautiful Trouble – “a book, web toolbox and international network of artist-activist trainers whose mission is to make grassroots movements more creative and more effective. A collaborative effort by 70 artist-activists-strategists and 10+ leading creative campaign organizations including the YesMen/YesLab, Ruckus Society, Other 98% and others.” Find out more here.
How David Beats Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, 2009
Actipedia – an open-access, community-generated wiki to document, share, and inspire Creative Activism.
Cease and Desist Letter – “A cease and desist letter, also known as “infringement letter” or “demand letter,” is a document sent to an individual or business to halt purportedly unlawful activity (“cease”) and not take it up again later (“desist”). The letter may warn that if the recipient by deadlines set in the letter does not cease and desist specified conduct, or take certain actions, that party may be sued.” Source Wikipedia.
Jude Finisterra – Dow Chemical spokesperson who announced on BBC World News Dow’s acceptance of responsibility for the Bhopal disaster.
Gilda – gilded skelton used by The Yes Men in 2005 presentation to demonstrate Dow Chemical’s new risk management system.
Hank Hardy Unruh – name used by The Yes Men when speaking at the WTO conference in Finland in 2001.
Identity Correction – editing corporate press releases and presentations to make them sane.
McLibel Trial – go here.
SLAPP Suit – “A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.” Source Wikipedia.
Yes Man – “a person of unquestioning obedience. Stooge, flunkey, flunky, follower – a person who accepts the leadership of another. Pushover.” Source The Yes Men.
One final question
What’s your favourite action, among the ones that you’ve done? “You know the last scene in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator? Mistaken for Hitler at the border of Austria, the Jewish barber makes a speech to the soldiers waiting to start the Anschluss:
Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed… Even now my voice is reaching millions… victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison people… Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you… Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty.
The soldiers cheer wildly and call off the Anschluss. That’s our favorite. Hunh? What do you mean, we didn’t do that?” The Yes Men.