Interviews

What Would a Revolution Look Like for the Yes Men?

by Ben Valentine on October 29, 2012

The Yes Men are running a Kickstarter campaign for their planned film, “The Yes Men Art Revolting.” (image from yesmen.org)

The Yes Men are among my favorite groups of activists/artists. If you are an artist interested in using your work to create real change in the world, knowing about the Yes Men could be considered a requisite. The Yes Men is headed by Jacques Servin (aka Andy Bichlbaum), who is an assistant professor of Communication, Design, and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design, in New York City, and Igor Vamos (aka Mike Bonanno), who is an associate professor of Media Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, NY. To borrow from an article where I briefly describe them:

… the Yes Men, whose work — “Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them” — I have always enjoyed. By making fake corporate websites and agreeing to public presentations to an unwitting audience, the Yes Men have managed to bring a wide audience face to face with corporate branding and responsibility in a most literal way. In late 2004, one of the Yes Men made it onto BBC News, pretending to be a Dow Chemical representative and issuing a long-delayed apology for Dow Chemical’s responsibility for the Bhobal disaster, the worst industrial disaster in history.

What followed was Dow Chemical had to publicly call the apology a hoax, thereby drawing more attention to the company’s continued inaction and denial of its heinous negligence. The power was that through a lie, the Yes Men reveal a much darker truth: that everyone is lying, and some lies are much, much worse.

Now, the Yes Men are asking for our help to finish and launch their planned documentary, The Yes Men Are Revolting, with a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter video begins with the need for the film.

“We’ve got climate change, we’ve got huge inequity, and we have governments that can’t do anything about it,” Mike Bonanno says. “This film will be about our last resort, what we need to do to take democracy back.” Andy Bichlbaum finishes that thought by adding: “This film is about revolution.” After backing the project myself, I asked Bonanno a couple questions over email to expand a little on the project.

*    *    *

Screen capture from the Yes Men’s Kickstarter campaign.

Ben Valentine: Al Gore said that the Yes Men aren’t responsible for the US Chamber of Commerce reversing its opinion of climate change. What do you say to Al Gore and to America?

Mike Bonanno: Ever wonder why Al Gore had to leave office in order to do something useful about climate change? Our government is broken, and nobody should know that better than Al f-ing Gore! However, in this case, Al Gore is absolutely right. The US Chamber of Commerce did not change its position because of the Yes Men. They changed their position because of a wave of activist pressure that had many, many people and groups — including big power companies — putting pressure on them. If this had been a ball game, 350.org, Avaaz, etc., were putting people on base. We were just lucky to be there at the right time to make a cleanup hit.

BV: Besides the US Chamber of Commerce hoax, what are some other stunts, actions, and demonstrations that will be featured in this film, and will they all be by the Yes Men?

MB: We have dozens of actions from the past few years, and as we’re still cutting we don’t know yet exactly what we will choose. What we do know is that we’ll be adding new clips as updates to our Kickstarter page. So today we added a story that we cooked up with US Uncut in the spring of 2011, when we announced on behalf of GE that they were going to give back their huge tax handout. Check it out!

BV: You say that this film is about revolution. What would a revolution look like for the Yes Men?

MB: There are two versions: the utopian and the pragmatic. Utopian is ground-up anarchism! True freedom (not chaos anarchy, but ground-up government). Then there is the version that can happen right now: dumping money out of politics and making some decisions that favor a future, like incentives for sustainable options and big-time taxes/punishments for practices that are messing everything up. But with that one we keep much of the structure that works; we just change the priorities from profit and growth to preservation and happiness!

BV: What do you say to those cynics who think that the Occupy Movement is over, and that maybe this film missed its window of opportunity?

MB: Movements don’t happen overnight. They take years, and sometimes decades. Many people would have perceived women’s suffrage not to be happening for the decades, despite eruptions many times over the years. Same for the civil rights movement. Same for most movements! This struggle won’t go away — because we are facing what could possibly the crisis to end all crisis. The only way to overcome the bloated, corrupt, inept, and dysfunctional corporatocracy that is holding us hostage to “progress” and climate change is to make a huge movement happen. It can not be over — whether it is called “occupy” anymore or not.

BV: Mike Bonanno, thanks so much for taking some time to answer these questions. Good luck on the campaign. Are there any last words you want to share?

MB: YES! We really need help to make this film and action platform. Please kick in on Kickstarter!

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  • justsoyouknow

    Great piece–but there is an error! Jacques Servin does not work at The New School; he is a professor of Performance Studies at New York University.

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