Notorious political pranksters the Yes Men have made a career out of impersonating henchmen from major companies, including Exxon, Dow Chemical and McDonald’s– and getting away with it. Their methodology, which includes setting up faux websites that copy graphics and type styles from corporate materials, had never, until recently, met with any legal repercussions.
Just before the late-October release of their latest film, The Yes Men Fix the World, The Nation sat down with the two chameleon-like stuntmen, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (real names Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos), to talk current affairs, progressive engagement and the prospects of activism transforming the dimensions of daily life. When asked about potential copyright infringement issues in the pair’s past work, Bichlbaum remarked somewhat cavalierly, “Whatever. They’re not going to come after us. If they come after us, they have more to lose than they have to gain.”
In late October, the Yes Men found themselves slapped with a lawsuit. Following a fake press conference in which the duo, purporting to be representatives from the US Chamber of Commerce, announced a total reversal of the Chamber’s retrograde position on climate-change legislation. The Chamber is pursuing a copyright infringement case against the Yes Men and their fake Chamber website, asserting that the Yes Men’s hijinks obfuscate the truth. But the Yes Men say that they practice “identity correction,” elucidating the truth behind corporate positions.
Meanwhile, a slow exodus of companies from the Chamber in opposition to its stance on climate change illustrates its vulnerability. And the Chamber’s lawsuit suggests that the Yes Men are more than mere court jesters on the political stage. Bonanno said that the Chamber “is lashing out like a cornered animal.” “The Chamber really is under attack,” Bichlbaum added. “Why they’re choosing to say they’re under attack by the Yes Men is a whole other question. All we did was a little skit. Any high school drama club could have done it. All we did was raise a little more attention for the issue.”
The following is an edited transcript of an interview with the Yes Men:
Shakthi Jothianandan: In the film you imitate corporate and government representatives, recant their positions and act as you believe such institutions should act. You complicate the contention that corporations can’t ever do the right thing, versus doing the lucrative thing. Yet your own film suggests that demonstrating that corporations can act in the interest of humanity is pointless. The market punishes corporations for making responsible choices, and the media vilify you, the Yes Men, claiming that your hoaxes inspire false hope among those who stand to benefit tremendously from ethical corporate behavior. Do you expect in the future that corporations will ever do the right thing?
: They will, once we create a framework by which they are forced to. But that’s the only way to make it happen. Right now the corporate bottom line is defined as profit and growth, and we need to have a corporate bottom line that is defined as being a benefit to people and the environment, and that necessarily is going to eliminate the imperative for endless growth and the imperative for endless profit.