By impersonating major business figures, the comedy duo the Yes Men
are truly threat to the system. These gonzo activists land speaking engagements, where they present a deranged vision of the capitalist system. During a stunt at a textile convention, that meant donning a gold full-body suit with a phallic appendage, and explaining that it was a tool to help managers oversee their workers. They also mentioned that a candle can be made out of a corpse.
The group's upcoming documentary "The Yes Men Fix the World"
spotlights a monumental hoax. In 1984, the Union Carbide chemical company was responsible for a major environmental tragedy in Bhopal, India
. Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum was invited on the BBC, posing as "Jude Finisterra," a representative of Dow Chemical, who had purchased Union Carbide. On the anniversary of the catastrophe, "Finisterra" publicly accepted Dow's responsibility, and vowed to put billions toward a relief effort. Dow's stock instantly went off a cliff. It was all part of proving the Yes Men's philosophy: a system that rewards injustice is doomed.
We spoke with Yes Men Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno about how to pass the time in prison, the art of shoving fish down your pants, and why Gandhi is the most accomplished media hoaxster in history.
Fake It 'Til You Make It
How did the Yes Men end up on the BBC, speaking to millions of people as the supposed mouthpiece of Dow Chemical? It was simple: They built a fake Dow Web site, www.dowethics.com, and waited until the URL made its way into search engines. Then the BBC contacted them, and the rest was media history. Legal Web site fraud is an easy proposition -- no programming knowledge required -- thanks to shareware programs that are widely available. The Yes Men used Pagesucker
for their Dow site. "You suck down the site, get rid of some pages, simplify it, change the words. It takes like an hour to copy a Web site," Andy says. (Dear readers: please, no faux-Asylum.coms. We will find you
But oftentimes staging a hoax is even simpler. The Yes Men recommend Googling "speaking opportunities." There are endless corporate conferences out there, eager to court high-profile presenters. "You register a domain," Andy explains, which gives you personalized email. (The Yes Men once scored halliburtoncontracts.com.) "There's an even easier way: register a name that looks like a PR agency. Then you go and send an email, 'Hey, our client, who's an extremely important person at Exxon, wants to come speak at your oil conference ...'"
Pranking, Free of Charge
"We've never tried to ask for money," Mike says. "They're usually surprised and excited when you don't. 'We're going to send this important person for free,' they're all over that. If they don't have to pay fifty grand to get the former CEO of Exxon to show up at their conference, they're like, 'Wow! Score.'"
Do No Real Harm
We know what you're thinking: Isn't this sort of comic fraud a bit, well, illegal
Companies can sue -- they just tend not to bother. "They're called SLAPP suits
," Andy says. "It's a serious thing that they do to silence community activists. Companies are ready to sue, they just calculate if they think they're going to get anything out of it. With us, I think they know they won't."
And in most cases, there's no real damage done. It's true that when Andy's alter ego announced Dow's responsibility for Bhopal, the company's stock was pulverized. (It swiftly rebounded after the lie was exposed.) Yet no one was truly ruined by the prank.
The Yes Men recently invented a wearable device called the Survivaball, designed to protect its well-heeled inhabitant after the inevitable meltdown of the planet. While showcasing the Survivaball in New York, Andy was arrested on the decidedly un-badass charge of an outstanding bicycle ticket. He spent 26 hours in jail, but that hasn't deterred the Yes Men from planning an ongoing, cross-country protest movement, dubbed "Balls Across America."
The Yes Men don't hate American businessmen, per se. They understand that the system itself is severely broken, and that people are caught up in crooked game. "There is an inherent evil in the way companies are structured," explains Mike. "They're designed to promote profit and growth above all else. They're psychos, and we need to fix them."
"We will never make Dow do the right thing," Andy clarifies. "We will never make Halliburton stop profiting from disaster. The only way that can happen is we change the laws that regulate them. We've got to change the way we run society, or this kind of s**t is going to always happen, no matter what."