Evan Marczynski/The AS Review
Every once in a while, someone comes along and does something so incredibly gutsy we are left with no other reaction than to simply stare in amazement and ask: how in the world did they get away with that?
Take for example the escapades of the Yes Men, a group of anti-corporate activists who have engaged in pranks such as impersonating spokespeople from companies like Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil on international television, creating phony websites for George W. Bush and the World Trade Organization that fooled many visitors and even sending out tens of thousands of fake copies of the New York Times.
At 7 and 9 p.m. on April 23 in Viking Union 552, ASP Civil Controversy, along with ASP Films and the AS Environmental Center, will show “The Yes Men Fix the World,” a new film that showcases the shenanigans of Yes Men creators Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. The showing is free.
Bichlbaum will also be speaking on the PAC Mainstage at 7 p.m. on April 24. He will talk about the Yes Men and how people can get involved in fighting corporate and government power. The event is the capstone of Western’s Earth Week celebration, which runs from April 19 to 24. The event is free.
Before his appearance Bichlbaum will have dinner with 15 students who will have the opportunity to ask him questions about the things that he does as part of the Yes Men and engage in dialogue with him on the issues he tries to draw attention to through his activism.
Civil Controversy Coordinator Jessica Sele said each spot at the dinner with Bichlbaum will be raffled off during the April 22 film showing and other Earth Week events, as well as during radio giveaways on KUGS 89.3.
Sele said she first heard about the Yes Men during a World Issues Forum class at Fairhaven and also through an interview Bichlbaum gave to the independent news program “Democracy Now!”.
“I was just really intrigued with his creative and fun way of being an activist,” Sele said.
It was the Yes Men’s focus on issues dealing with the scandals of several multinational corporations that drew her to them, Sele said.
“The issues they deal with are such huge, global issues that seem so out of control and out of reach that they bring it down to a level where they can grasp what’s going on in an unintimidating way and also make it funny,” she said.
The prankster activities the Yes Men engage in are a form of activism known as “culture jamming,” which targets mainstream corporate or institutional entities to expose questionable practices and assumptions that the public is not always fully aware of.
In December of 2004, Bichlbaum posed as “Jude Finisterra,” a spokesperson for the Dow Chemical Company, on the BBC World television network to accept responsibility on behalf of Dow for the Bhopal Disaster in India, something that Dow had refused to acknowledge.
The Yes Men have also posed as executives from other large corporations at conferences and industry trade shows, giving presentations on outlandish and ridiculous inventions which poke fun at the concerns and issues of the corporate world.
Back in 2001, they posed as representatives from the World Trade Organization and attended a textile-industry conference in Finland. There, the Yes Men unveiled their answer for managers who use sweatshop labor but have a hard time keeping tabs on their underpaid workers and still having time to enjoy leisure activities. After a short presentation, Bichlbaum ripped away the suit he was wearing to reveal a skin-tight, shiny gold unitard complete with a three-foot-long phallic appendage which would be equipped with video monitors and controls, allowing managers to oversee and interact with their factories when away from the office.
The group later said the goal of the prank was to show people “how dangerous it is to equate human freedom with a free market.”
AS Environmental and Sustainability Programs Associate Director Kayla Henson said the most amazing thing about watching the Yes Men’s pranks is the lack of reaction from the audiences they make their phony presentations to.
“It’s amazing that when people watch those presentations they go up to them afterwards and shake their hands and want to talk business,” Henson said. “They’re so involved in this weird business field they don’t even realize that it’s a joke.”
Henson said she thinks the group’s tactics are effective, and although they may not be the only methods of activism necessary to enact the kind of cultural change the Yes Men advocate for, there is certainly a place for them.
“I think that there’s a place for it everywhere,” she said. “Whether you’re getting on BBC or just bringing about awareness in your city, there’s a huge place for it.”