For more than a decade, The Yes Men have been attacking big business and irresponsible governments, but not in a conventional manner.
Rather than holding protests or passing out pamphlets, they raise awareness through comedy.
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The Yes Men (aka Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno) create personas to pose as corporate and government representatives at conferences and deliver satirical addresses.
In their first stunt, they proposed that corporations buy votes directly from citizens instead of through campaign financing and it got some hilariously positive responses.
Since then, they’ve pulled off similar hoaxes around the world (most recently releasing a fake press release as the Canadian environment minister at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference to draw attention to our country’s carbon admission problems) and have created two documentaries showcasing their work. Their most recent effort, The Yes Men Fix The World, opens Friday.
“We try to use to humour to get our message across to as many people as possible,” Andy Bichlbaum told Metro. “Like the Canadian press release flurry. That was a funny and silly thing to do, but it was also covered all over Canada. A lot of people found about the tar sands that way and we were thrilled to get our point across to such a large audience.”
Their latest film features such ambitious stunts as appearing on BBC World News as a representative for DOW Chemical claiming that they would be donating $12 billion to the victims of the infamous Bhopal disaster from the ’80s. The stunt caused a $2-billion drop in Dow’s stocks and brought attention to the disaster for the first time in 20 years.
The Yes Men’s work has grown more ambitious over the years, but they have never faced any significant obstacles.
Their stunts have garnered international recognition, but no real flak until this year. “We’re currently being sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” revealed Bichlbaum. “It’s the first time after 12 years that anyone has ever dared to take legal action against us, but it shouldn’t go very far. Hopefully, it will set a precedent that will help other people realize that they can do this without fear.”
Bichlbaum and Bonanno are hoping that other comedians and activists will take their lead and use similar methods to draw attention to important issues.
In fact, they’re opening their own training centre, “We’re trying to create what we’re calling a ‘Yes Lab,’ which is a forum for people to come and brainstorm these sorts of projects. We’ll give away our secrets and hopefully other people will start doing similar things as well.”