Activism without the austerity

The Yes Men bridge the divide between art and activism in ‘extreme,  creative ways’

Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno - The Yes Men.
The Yes Men. If you know what’s going on in this photo, then mister, you’re a better man than I.

Naomi Klein calls them “the Jonathan Swift of the Jackass generation,” university activists may call them genius and big business has surely labeled them as muckraking scourges. Acclaimed political activist-pranksters The Yes Men will be rolling into the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) Tuesday, Mar. 3 to discuss their latest film The Yes Men Fix the World.

The masterminds behind The Yes Men are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. Together they infiltrate corporate conferences posing as powerful decision makers and with large portions of wit and satire expose the dehumanizing ways in which big business behaves.

One such stunt saw The Yes Men pose as ExxonMobil and National Petroleum Council representatives at the Go-Expo energy conference in Calgary where they pitched an idea to over 300 oil executives that the casualties caused from the results of climate change can be processed as a source of oil. The Yes Men, who are invited to these events by creating an intricate body of fake websites, call this “Identity Correction.”

Jonah Corne, a film professor at the University of Manitoba, said that he organized this event with Plug In art gallery and the WAG because he believes in what The Yes Men are doing.
“I think that they’re really important artists and political activists and [are] people who bridge that divide between art and doing activism in extreme, creative ways,” Corne said. “I just think that there’s a very solid activism community in Winnipeg as well as a very solid arts community and this is something I think people will be very interested in.”

Both Bichlbaum and Bonanno will present and discuss footage from The Yes Men Fix the World. Local filmmaker Noam Gonnick will interview Bichlbaum and Bonanno afterwards and audience members will have a chance to ask The Yes Men questions.

Corne said that he is not worried about fellow or even counter-pranksters showing up at the event.

The Yes Men expose [the evils of big business] in a way that is at once politically effective and also creative and smart.

Jonah Corne, film professor

“Anything in the spirit would be flattering to [The Yes Men]…So yes, I extend the call to all pranksters,” he said.

In November 2008, The Yes Men struck again, handing out 1.2 million fake editions of The New York Times with headlines that read “War in Iraq ends,” and “Nation sets its sights on building a sane economy.” The Times’ famous motto, “All the news that’s fit to print” was changed to “All the news we hope to print.”

In an interview with Bill Moyers on PBS in 2007, Bichlbaum said that he sees their tactics as a “collaboration with journalists.”

“A lot of the issues that we address journalists want to cover. But…in many situations, editorial control won’t let them unless there’s a good little hook behind it. And so, we’ve found a way to create funny spectacles that give journalists the excuse to cover [certain] issues.”

Despite the increase in media attention and infamy, The Yes Men continue to pull off high profile stunts and acts of protest without being arrested and while simultaneously educating and entertaining their audience.

“The Yes Men expose [the evils of big business] in a way that is at once politically effective and also creative and smart,” Corne said. “They manage to be activists while [ridding activism] of its aura of total austerity.”

See The Yes Men at the Muriel Richardson Auditorium in the WAG at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Mar. 3.

Published in Volume 63, Number 21 of The Uniter (February 26, 2009)

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