Daily Nexus: First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
No problem. Thanks for taking the time to call.
DN: How would you describe the “Yes Men” to someone who had never heard of the group before?
We are activists who impersonate people in power and infiltrate their business meetings in order to give theatrical interventions that ridicule them in some way. It’s to make a political point, of course, and it might be considered a cross between Michael Moore and Borat.
DN: You and Andy Bichlbaum have successfully impersonated officials from a number of high-profile companies, ranging from McDonald’s to Dow Chemical Company. How exactly do you pick your targets?
How do we pick our targets? Good question. Well, it differs. Sometimes it’s just a matter of it being the biggest and the baddest. So, it’s really obvious. We did target ExxonMobil — and they’re both the biggest and the baddest, so it was easy. They have the largest profits for about five years running of any corporation. So, you know, in many ways, in that way, they were behind a lot of the sort of anti-climate activist campaigns and, basically, they were funding a lot of the climate change denial. They’ve stopped a lot of that now after it came out, but there were obvious reasons for targeting them.
Increasingly over the years, we’ve worked with organizations who have been working on an issue for a long time and they say, “Hey, can you help us by targeting, for example, Dow Chemical because they haven’t cleaned up the mess in Bhopal and we don’t want it to become a precedent that, since they bought Union Carbide and then tried to wash their hands of it.”
DN: Do you consider what you do to be “high-profile pranks” or is there another term that you prefer?
We usually call them “actions.” They’re always intended to have political impact. We say “actions” because they’re events or spectacles. … The problem with “pranks” is that it often makes one think that they’re basically meant to be silly. … The other thing about pranks is that they’re often targeted at friends. When somebody describes a prank, they’re often thinking about Ashton Kutcher’s “Punk’d” or friends playing tricks on each other or the practical joke. So, we do, when we can, stay away from the word for that reason. We do think of what we do as having serious intent regardless of how funny or strange it is.
DN: In your opinion, what are some of the most notable actions that the Yes Men have taken to date?
Let’s see, probably one of the best publicized was when we printed an entire fake edition of the New York Times and we distributed 100,000 copies on the streets of New York along with volunteers from our mailing list. It was a New York Times that was full of good news, basically a lot of hopeful news. It came out about a week after Obama was elected and the message of it all was to keep pushing people to keep pushing after the election, not to just stop. Which, unfortunately, is in some ways what’s come to pass.
So, that was pretty notable. But, last year, we impersonated the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest lobbying organization in the world, and we announced that they were changing their position on climate change. And that resulted in not only a huge amount of media attention, but a lawsuit. We’re currently facing that suit and we think that that was widely successful. Not only because we’re being sued, but because them suing us indicates that maybe we’re attacking them where it counts.
[media-credit name=”Photo Courtesy of www.yesmenfixtheworld.com” align=”alignright” width=”250″][/media-credit]DN: Can you tell me more about the lawsuit that the Chamber of Commerce has pressed and if there are any updates on that situation?
They are still suing us. There’s not really much going on with it. Right now, there’s been a motion to dismiss by our lawyers…and the judge is reviewing it, and has been for many months. We don’t know exactly when we’ll hear the next thing, but that’s where we’re at right now. Of course, if the judge doesn’t dismiss it and the Chamber continues to press it, then eventually we could end up in court.
I think that, overall though, the Chamber’s claims are totally ludicrous. I think if we end up in court, they’ll have a lot more to answer for then we do. Because they spend almost half a million dollars every day lobbying, not to mention what they do during elections. Now that there’s no limits on what third parties can spend, the Chambers running tons of advertising for candidates who are super duper business friendly and are basically all Republican candidates.
DN: So, essentially, are they accusing the Yes Men as a whole of committing fraudulent activities?
…If you look at the lawsuit, which you can on the [Electronic Frontier Foundation] Web site [www.eff.org], what they’re actually claiming is that we were doing things, basically, as a form of advertising and that we’re trying to make money off of their trademark. I think it’s a really funny assumption that we were in a press conference where we impersonated them, we made direct political statements and then, afterward, our follow-up press releases were all about the content and the issues. It’s hard to understand how they think that we can make a business out of that or make money out of that somehow. It’s a misunderstanding that makes sense for people who only think of business. All they think is that the only reason for existence is making money.
[media-credit name=”Photo Courtesy of www.theyesmenfixtheworld.com” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]DN: Now that you’ve achieved a certain level of fame both from the films and the Chamber lawsuit, do you think you and Andy will start to encounter any issues trying to pose as top officials or spokesmen?
We don’t really know. We haven’t experienced any massive problems yet. There have been a few events where people have recognized us, usually they’re just a few people in the audience, and they don’t say anything to the conference organizers right then and there because they want to see what’s going to happen.
DN: On your Web site there’s a page called the “Fix the World Challenge.” Can you tell me more about that and how the Yes Men are encouraging individuals to become more politically involved?
Well, the “Fix the World Challenge” was an attempt to create a sort of social network game where people would contribute and discuss their own political pranks and their own creative activist actions…Right now, we’re focusing more on what we call the “Yes Lab,” which is a way for us to help organizations do more projects themselves. There’s a series of workshops that we offer for organizations that have an idea for a project and those that simply want to brainstorm a project and learn all of our tricks. So, that’s kind of where we are right now, but the idea is to kind of spread the joy and make it possible for all kinds of groups to leverage some of the techniques we’ve developed over the years for their own purposes.
DN: In conclusion, tell me about what you have planned for the Oct. 15 event at UCSB?
Yeah, well, I mean our plans are to come and talk to people about what we do, what we’ve been doing. We’ll show a show and tell. We’ll show some of the things we have and maybe we’ll lead the audience in a little brain storming session. That’s it, we don’t have any special tricks up our sleeve for Santa Barbara, but we may if it seems like it’s what the audience wants. We will be showing video clips that nobody’s seen before, at least no human[s] other than the Yes Men.
We’ll be there to answer questions or, if you prefer, we can give you rotten fruit and vegetables to throw at us. But that has to be arranged in advance. So make sure to e-mail us so we can bring some.