The Yes Men
The Yes Men are a group of culture jamming activists who practice what they call "identity correction". They pretend to be powerful people and spokespersons for prominent organizations, accepting invitations received on their websites to appear at symposiums and TV shows. They use their newfound authority to express the idea that corporations and governmental organizations often act in dehumanizing ways toward the public. Elaborate props are sometimes part of the ruse.
Their method is often satire: posing as corporate or government spokespeople, they might make shocking denigrating comments about workers and consumers, then point out what appears to be a lack of shock or anger in the response to their prank, with no one realizing the reactionary rhetoric was only a joke. 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.
The Yes Men have posed as spokespeople for The World Trade Organization, McDonald's, 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 as well as the book The Yes Men: The True Story of the End of the World Trade Organization (ISBN 0-9729529-9-3).
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. In front of an audience mostly composed 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.
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?"
The fictitious Oswin also announced that the big oil companies would chip in some of their record profits to rebuild the damaged levees to the height needed to prevent the city from being drowned by future hurricanes.
The Yes Men's most famous prank is placing a "corrected" WTO website at gatt.org. The fake site began to receive real emails from confused visitors, including invitations to address various elite groups on behalf of the WTO, which they obligingly took up.
Showing up 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. And they claimed that people should listen to the WTO, not the facts.
One of The Yes Men's first pranks was the satirical website www.gwbush.com, 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."
In 2004, The Yes Men went on tour posing as the group "Yes, Bush Can!" encouraging 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.
On December 3, 2004, the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, Andy Bichlbaum 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, 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.
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.