The Yes Men are informational saboteurs and cyberspace pranksters using guerilla-style, improv comedy tactics to give the abusively rich and powerful a solid reality check.
Their usual methodology is to pose as executives of a corporation and attend a business conference, delivering a satirical exposition about the companies true intent, using shocking imagery and brutally honest language (much to the astonishment of their audience) who may never figure out those business executives were actually the Yes Men.
Where did you get the idea for the Yes Men?
Andy and Mike were interested in politics and wanted to make a change. They couldn’t get involved in the WTO protests in Seattle, but they wanted to do something. They got the idea to set up the WTO website and when they were invited to several conferences, they just went with it to see how far they could go. It was almost accidental.
Were there any early Yes Men attempts that failed horribly?
I wouldn’t say it failed horribly, but there was one that didn’t achieve anything. During the Bush campaign the Yes Men put together a Bush campaign bus. They tried to pretend to be Bush organizers, to pose as the uber Bush, but it was more on the harmless side.
It seems to me that the worse case scenario is when nobody notices. The college students that got angry in the first film didn’t seem to like who the Yes Men were pretending to be. They were mad, but they were paying attention.
The reaction of the college students in the film, while disfavorable, was at least a reaction. The impact is more about getting media attention around an issue. We have these big, powerful corporations doing criminal things, and if nobody sees anything the system is not going to work.
Are there any organizations or corporations you don’t want to go after?
I don’t think these choices are ever made…if a group is doing something wrong, we’ll consider it. Targets are chosen based on other activists taking interest. When we went after the Chamber of Commerce, it was because it was connected to activists working on climate change. There are many targets, but only so many hours in a day.
So even if it was the CIA, NSA or Blackwater, you’ll go after them?
Of course. If a group is subverting democracy we’ll go after them. We just have a style of activism, but we encourage everyone to speak out against abuses. Everyone should challenge greedy, criminal behavior…but I doubt if the CIA or the NSA is concerned about The Yes Men.
Is it getting more difficult to pull off your pranks?
No…it’s actually getting easier. There are thousands of business conferences every year. It’s a big conference, and things are so bland they aren’t even paying attention. Once you put on a suit and tie it’s generally assumed you are supposed to be there.
What advice do you have for other groups who would like to emulate The Yes Men?
We would encourage them. the Yes Men have a certain style, a certain approach. Civil disobedience is one way, but there has to be activism and activity to make a change. Organizing is what led to civil rights changes. If you go to our website, you’ll get plenty of advice.
Have any organizations threatened you with civil or criminal action?
Yes, in fact. It’s almost never happened, but recently the Chamber of Commerce threatened the Yes Men with civil action, which is ironic considering they attempt to reform frivolous lawsuits. We are getting sued by them, but we are represented by lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation so we’ll beat them.
Have you guys received any threats of violence?
No. They have a lot of money to spend on suing people, and that’s what they do. But their lawsuits are more for scaring people.
It seems that most corporations and organizations don’t “get” the joke and treat you with some measure of politeness, while the college students from your first film got upset. Is this common?
I think that it’s the format. Hopefully universities are going to promote critical thought and critical thinking. But business conferences just presume that people with suits and ties are supposed to be there. But business conference people are much more bored, I guess. In that environment they are just going to be more opportunities.
Which organizations out there really need a Yes Men-style attack?
The big banks that are trying to thwart financial reform. The health insurance companies…even with the new bill that’s going to give them more customers. They all need a Yes Men intervention. We need a lot more rabble rousing. The banks were just left off the hook.
Has anyone tried to pull a similar Yes Men-style attack on you guys?
There was the Glenn Beck show. They emailed us during the Chamber of Commerce prank, and tried to invite us to the show. We think they were trying to get us there to serve us legal papers.
Tell me about your new film.
There’s a lot of rundowns of some of the biggest Yes Men pranks. One was the Dow catastrophe that killed so many people…Andy went on BBC and said that Dow would take responsibility for their actions and reimburse the victims. It got a lot of interest going and the media covered it for a while. Normally, people don’t talk about that disaster.
Another one is the Yes Men impersonated Exxon Mobile and went to an oil conference in Canada and then we had another one where we printed a dream edition of the New York Times announcing the Iraq War was over and Bush was being accused of treason.
So the Yes Men are worldwide?
Oh yes. The work we do is complimentary and it’s helpful to the organizations to get their story out. Especially with climate change, there are numerous organizations who want to help us. And we want to help them.