This is a list of questions that the Yes Men have been asked at least once, or by reporters writing articles about us, or by people watching lectures, or by friends scratching heads.
Other questions, more practical ones, are answered at destructables.org.
Other questions, more personal ones, are compiled at reddit.com.
Who are you?
The Yes Men are a group who use any means necessary to agree their way into the fortified compounds of commerce, and then smuggle out the stories of their undercover escapades to provide a public glimpse at the behind-the-scenes world of big business. The stories are often both shocking and hilarious. They have been called "the Jonathan Swift of the Jackass generation" by author Naomi Klein. The Yes Men have impersonated World Trade Organization, Dow Chemical Corporation, and Bush administration spokesmen on TV and at business conferences around the world. They do this (a) in order to demonstrate some of the mechanisms that keep bad people and ideas in power, and (b) because it's absurdly fun. Their main goal is to focus attention on the dangers of economic policies that place the rights of capital before the needs of people and the environment. Right now they're focused on passing carbon emissions laws in the USA.
That sucked. How about another one?
We're The Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. Two guys who couldn't hold down a job until they became representatives of Exxon, Halliburton, Dow Chemical, and the U.S. federal government. As the Yes Men, they use humor, truth and lunacy to bring media attention to the crimes of their unwilling employers. Their second film, The Yes Men Fix the World, won the audience award at this year's Berlin Film Festival, the Grierson Award for Most Entertaining Documentary, and went on to become a smash box-office sensation, only just barely surpassed by Avatar. We introduce ourselves in this film, The Yes Men, directed by other people, but starring us.
What would you tell someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps? Any lessons to pass on?
As for footsteps, you might want to find your own footsteps, but please do borrow any of ours that you like. For example: Be funny! Be revolting! More specifically, one fun exercise when you're taking on some evildoer is to really pretend to be them, and actually defend their (insane) cause as they might have to if they were just a little more conscious of and up-front about their insanity. A lot of jokes will automatically come out.
I really want to change things! What's the best way to do that?
Awesome. The secret is simple: meet up with like-minded folks and brainstorm ways of having an effect. We're getting ready to kick off a revolting social network called the Action Switchboard! Join our database here to get involved as soon as possible. Another way is to visit beyondtalk.net and enroll in the civil disobedience database.
How can I get a press kit for your next movie?
Download our The Yes Men Are Revolting press kit here.
I'm a journalist and need some clips and stuff.
Great! For clips, extras, and more information, go here for our movie press page. Hi-res pictures and stills can be found here and here. You can find a bunch of articles about us here.
How can I get updates on the Yes Men's activities?
To keep up with what the Yes Men are up to, visit our "join" page and fill in your details. You can also keep up with us on:
You guys should really go after [insert entity name here].
Thanks for the suggestion! That's a really fantastic idea. Good luck with it! Find some like-minded folks, and go for it! Visit destructables.org to learn some of our tricks (more coming soon!)—and go for it! Please rip us off.
Also, we're currently devoting the bulk of our time to running the Yes Lab, which is all about enabling organizations and individuals to carry out exciting identity-correction projects on their own. If you can, please donate to help make it happen. If you can't do that, please help us spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. And if you can't do that—and, really, the best thing of all you can do—please just go out and do something cool. Thanks!
If you still think we, rather than you, should go after [insert entity name here], then please do all the legwork, so that we can just waltz in and claim credit! And a whole lot of legwork is what it takes. Just saying.
Where can I get the DVD of The Yes Men Fix the World?
Please visit our store!
I'm a teacher, and I want to use your new movie as a teaching aid.
Great! We will soon have study guides, and we already have a poster. Visit our movie website's teachers page for updates!
How do you guys decide who to go after?
When we were making our movie, we would find ourselves trying to do something about issue X (because issue X followed issue Y in the movie) and then hunting down conferences where issue X was prominent. When we're not making a movie, and when we're not distributing a movie either we go after the most obvious target, or the one that falls into our lap.
Why don't you guys get sued/arrested?
Our targets, while horrible, aren't entirely stupid. They've probably heard of the McLibel case.
How does a person turn into a Yes Man?
A person (male or female) becomes a Yes Man by exposing, perhaps deviously, the nastiness of powerful evildoers. If this describes what you do, or want to do (the exposing, not the evildoing), please visit challenge.theyesmen.org.
More precisely, there are all kinds of ways of doing what we call "Identity Correction." Soon, we'll post a little list of some ways that we've thought of. There are plenty of ways that we haven't thought of, too.
What benefits does mischief have over more traditional protest?
None! For chrissakes. This is like asking if the bangles in the cake's icing are better than the mustard. (Who asked this question anyhow?) Even if we were the bangles (we are not), we would look like crap without the icing. If we were the mustard (we are not), we would taste like crap minus the lollipop. And so on. Traditional forms of action are more important than ever today: street protest, direct action, rallies, politics, lawsuits, letter-writing… All this and more is needed for change to happen. Plus, what we do is traditional!
Do you think what you are doing is making a difference?
When people ask us whether what we're doing makes a difference, or ask what we accomplish, we say that mainly, we see our work as a contributing to a cumulative movement that does effect change. If it weren't for decades of struggle by all kinds of people in all kinds of movements, we'd be in far, far worse shape than we are.
More specifically: People in Bhopal have been fighting for 25 years to hold Dow accountable, and set a global precedent. When 600 articles in the were published in the US press connecting Dow and Bhopal in the wake of our BBC appearance as Dow, we felt like we'd contributed a little bit to their struggle - which will, incidentally, succeed in the long run.
In any case, it's certainly better than sitting on our asses waiting for the world to change on its own. Don't you think?
As for immediate, concrete changes - they can indeed happen. Take Tim DeChristopher, who walked into a Utah oil and gas auction - Bush's parting gift to the oil and gas industry - and began bidding on leases to pristine Utah land. DeChristopher was arrested, the auction was suspended, and when Obama took office, the auction was cancelled. DeChristopher had single-handedly saved thousands of acres!
Now that Barack Obama is President of these United States, does your work make any sense anymore? Also, aren't you a bit disappointed by how he's turned out?
When the Bush cartel was in office, there was not a whole lot of hope of creating actual change. It was more a matter of keeping spirits up and hope alive.
During the Great Depression, it was only massive pressure from citizens, often including civil disobedience, that allowed Roosevelt to create the New Deal.
Abolition, too, depended on a roughly sympathetic President supported by a huge movement.
For Obama's election to bear real fruit, we need public outrage. That's the missing ingredient, a crucial part of democracy. There's nothing mysterious about it: when Obama finds himself cornered by industrial lobbyists, he needs to be able to point out the window (or at CNN) and say "Sorry, I can't do what you're asking me to - those people won't let me."
So in a word, it's now that people who want change can really make it happen.
Wait a second. That sounds like you're calling for civil disobedience!!
Well, non-violent civil disobedience has been at the forefront of almost every successful campaign for change. Especially in America, and especially today, we need to push our leaders hard to stand up to industry lobbyists and make the sorts of changes we need.
Again, Roosevelt would never have been able to push through the New Deal if people hadn’t taken to the streets, occupied factories, and demanded it. The election of Obama is still a huge opportunity – but only if we give him the pressure he needs to be who we elected him to be.
OK, back to your other stuff. Why haven't you been fed to bear, or at least arrested? Isn't what you do illegal?
Perhaps it is! And we don't know! Bears would be too good for us, but our targets don't want the risk. At least that's our theory. Anytime anyone has done something about us—saying they "deplore" us, complaining that we're a Political Action Committee, whatever—they've looked ridiculous to the press.
On the other hand, what we do might not be illegal. Lawyers don't seem to know; the ones we've asked can't point to such-and-such a law that means we're in trouble. But then the law is pretty irrelevant, as far as corporations are concerned—if they want you silenced, they just throw a totally bogus lawsuit at you, that invariably gets thrown out, and in the meantime ties you up in red tape. That's called a SLAPP suit, and it's the main way corporations silence community activists whose causes aren't sexy enough for the mainstream media to follow.
Like the corporations you target, it appears that you go jetsetting all over the place. Where do you get your funding?
Think of it as weird vacationing—eek-o-tourism, maybe. The stress is quadrupled and the scenery is for shit, but it gives us a nice emotion just like vacationing ought. If we can afford to take a vacation once a year or so, we can afford to take a weird vacation too.
As for the money to build our Survivaball and other props, and to print up the fake New York Times ($6000 for 80,000 copies), it came from our mailing list, to which we sent calls asking for help. Today, a fundraising platform like Kickstarter could do pretty much the same thing.
What's your opinion of the mainstream media's response to your actions?
Very nice. Mainstream journalists almost always get our serious points, and transmit it to the journalism-consuming consumer. A lot of these people (journalists) really want to write about important things—but in the U.S. at least, you can't cover the WTO or the Bhopal anniversary just because they're tremendously important. We can provide the fodder, sometimes, that lets these subjects get covered.
What people and/or events inspired you to get started as the Yes Men? What would you tell someone who wishes to follow in your footsteps? Any lessons to pass on?
ACT-UP had something to do with it. As for footsteps, you might want to find your own footsteps, but please do borrow any of ours that you like. For example: Be funny! Be revolting! More specifically, one fun exercise when you're taking on some evildoer is to really pretend to be them, and actually defend their (insane) cause as they might have to if they were just a little more conscious of and up-front about their insanity. A lot of jokes will automatically come out.
Speaking of Bhopal—didn't you create false hopes in Bhopal with your latest Dow stunt?
No. For 20 years, the victims of Bhopal falsely hoped that Dow and Union Carbide would do something to ease the suffering that they'd caused: a hope that was, apparently, completely false and unreasonable. What we did on December 3 was create false certainties: those who heard our announcement didn't falsely hope, they were falsely certain that their suffering was at long last over.
Well, okay, we stand corrected. Regardless, don't you feel bad about it? You should!
If you think we hurt the Bhopalis, then do something about it! If the deaths, debilities, organ failure, brain damage, tumors, breathing problems, and sundry other forms of permanent damage caused by Dow and Union Carbide aren't enough to arouse your pity, and the hour of "false hopes" we caused is—fantastic, we won! Go straight to Bhopal.net and make a donation.
Why don't you feel bad about it?
A few reasons:
- It didn't happen. The Bhopali activists we've spoken to are very happy we did what we did, and were happy about it the very same day, as soon as they saw the results (see #2). Why would we care about what anyone else thinks? The UK media (and only the UK media) emphasized the "false hopes" because they needed a story line; in the U.S., the media needed to explain what Bhopal was in the first place.
- Our intention was to get news about Bhopal into the U.S., where most people don't even know what happened there in 1984, let alone that a person still dies every day from residual pollution that has never been cleaned up. Right there in Dow's headquarters—Midland, Michigan—most people don't realize that Dow still refuses to do the slightest thing to repair the damage they are responsible for. In getting the news to these folks, we succeeded wonderfully: hundreds of articles about the event made it into the U.S. press, whereas on most anniversaries of the accident, it hasn't even found its way into one mainstream source. (Note: Whereas much of the UK press focussed on the "false hopes" angle, almost none of the US press did, perhaps because they had to spend the column-inches explaining what Bhopal was in the first place. Since the UK wasn't our target—almost everyone in the UK had heard plenty about Bhopal in the media—the coverage there just didn't matter.)
- We're not trying to win a popularity contest.
How did you end up working with movements?
Over the last 10 years, our activism has gotten much more group-oriented and movement-oriented. Of course, right from the beginning, it was spurred by what was being called "the movement of movements," the anti-globalization movement. And it was spurred by Seattle, which really put anti-globalization on the map of the First World. It had been big in Mexico and elsewhere in the developing world, where the effects of globalization were already very strong. But Seattle really put it on our map.
It was out of that big action that we stumbled into our weird form of activism. Then, for a while we were happy to do hits making fun of the WTO. And then, at a certain point, in 2003, somebody wrote to us who was involved in the Bhopal struggle and said, "OK, you've made a lot of comments about the WTO and the way corporate globalization hurts people. Now maybe you could actually try to make a difference to a specific struggle involving thousands of people who are very directly hurt."
We decided to try to do something that would matter to the Bhopal struggle. We set up a fake Dow website at dowethics.com. The rest is history. We got invited as Dow onto the BBC, where we got our chance to make this big announcement that resulted in 600 articles in the U.S. press about the Bhopal situation. This was a huge success for us—getting that much attention for an on-the-ground struggle. Since then we've continued to work with different activist groups.
If Kerry had won against Bush back in 2004, would the Yes Men have gone after him?
Kerry is part of Western civilization. His intention isn't to smash the state and destroy the government; his sole real concern for this world isn't the profitability of the mighty; his concept of justice and right doesn't come from another world altogether, one in which earthly laws and concerns have no relevance. The fundamentalist terrorist who seemingly won the election is very different in all three respects.
If Kerry had won, we who care about people might have had some hope of affecting his approach, perhaps second- or third-hand, via those who have his ear. With Bush, we have to focus on the preliminary step of getting this plague out of office.
This is getting way heavy. Let's get back to the WTO stuff. What themes have the Yes Men presented at conferences, and how were they received?
Eat, destroy, swallow, devour, gobble, despoil, maraud, munch, slay, smash. Hurrah, cheers, kudos, honor, exalt, extol, salute.
In more detail?
When we went to the International Legal Studies Conference in Salzburg, we delivered a speech that we thought would make people think twice about WTO policies. We suggested that the siesta in Spain be made illegal because it gets in the way of work. We suggested that a "free market" be established in the realm of democratic government by allowing the buying and selling of votes... we even showed them a website that could make the process very efficient.
All of these ideas simply follow the free market philosophy at the core of the WTO to its logical extreme, which is of course quite illogical when you look at the facts. And the facts are that in the last 25 years the poor of the world have gotten even poorer... while the rich have gotten astronomically richer. And all that during the implementation of policies that the WTO claim will help the poor. Of course, these kinds of twisted ideas of what is right for the weak or the poor are not new—there was a bizarre logic that supported colonialism too. Unfortunately, our current religion of free-trade is so strong that despite our best efforts to satirize the logic, the various audiences we spoke to simply agreed with every sinister, corrupt, and disgusting idea that the "WTO" could muster. So we learned exactly how frightening this reality is.
The first time, there in Salzburg, did you fear physical violence?
Yes. Before setting off from the States, we had tried to anticipate what might happen to us in the city of Mozart. Never having addressed an audience of international lawyers before, we had no idea how they would react. They had invited us thinking that we were ordinary trade functionaries. They expected a garden-variety trade-conference lecture—not WTO dogma carried through to conclusions that are better left unstated in polite company. We were sure to be confronted with outrage. But would we face physical danger?
During the US Civil War, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina was so offended by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner’s proposals that he beat Sumner senseless on the floor of the Senate. As Brooks later explained:
If I desired to kill the Senator, why did not I do it? You all admit that I had him in my power.... It was expressly to avoid taking life that I used an ordinary cane, presented to me by a friend in Baltimore, nearly three months before its application to the ‘bare head’ of the Massachusetts Senator. I went to work very deliberately—as I am charged and this is admitted—and speculated somewhat as to whether I should employ a horsewhip or a cowhide; but knowing that the Senator was my superior in strength, it occurred to me that he might wrest it from my hand, and then—for I never attempt any thing I do not perform—I might have been compelled to do that which I would have regretted the balance of my natural life. (July 21, 1856,The Congressional Globe.)
Even worse reactions were possible! Had not mere ballets resulted in riots, with death and destruction ensuing? "When The Rite Of Spring was performed in Paris in 1913," composer Jim Steinman recounts, "it caused one of the major riots in history. The entire audience tore the Paris Opera House apart and it had to be rebuilt. Police were called in, three people were killed, it was amazing." (“The Julia Child of Rock 'n Roll," Sound Magazine, June 1978.)
Well, perhaps not. And perhaps our lurid imaginings were enhanced by our family histories—both of us having lost forebears to those of our hosts just sixty years earlier. Yet even if our audience maintained its civility, might they not choose, in all civility, to have us imprisoned? At a certain point, realizing our imposture, disappointed and outraged, they would call the police; what the Austrian justice system might have to say about impersonating the WTO, even for the sake of honesty, was anyone’s guess.
But your accounts suggest the audiences in fact make virtually no response at the time of the presentations—no booing, heckling, or tearing apart of opera houses; not even questions, just polite applause. Mightn't this be better interpreted as a sign of incomprehension than of acquiescence? Was anyone listening?
Oh, they were listening. In Salzburg, we went to elaborate (and tasteless) lengths to make sure. And in Finland, we spent a lot of time in the enclave, afterwards, speaking with people in various environments—at lunch, seated at the table of honor at dinner, and so on and so forth. Always people understood what the lecture had been about. Always people said it was not offensive. Under other circumstances they might have found it offensive, but because it was the WTO saying these things, and because the "WTO" was hewing to the basic idea of neoliberalism, they could easily overlook the hideous details that the rest of us would have been appalled by.
Of course, the frightening thing is that the real WTO (and IMF and so on) are constantly saying stuff that's every bit as horrific as what we were. But they don't report it as satire, so not many people find out.
What do you think these responses indicate about the mindset of the corporate man?
Ready to goosestep. Fully in sync with the bottom line of the commanding operation. And not just the corporate man: the corporate woman, the academic man, the political woman, the alcoholic child. Many, many people, regardless of education, are easy prey for the ideas of the corporate decision-makers. Present them with a decision, they will accept it! This is why it is important for citizens to decide what sorts of corporate decisions are and are not acceptable. It is never possible to count on the highly educated to filter the okay from the rotten. It is not possible to expect that Ph.D.s will always be on the lookout for the fascist and murderous.
On CNBC, you got very vicious. Instead of satirical schemes, you talk mostly about how might makes right and all that. Why?
Well, you might think of us as surgeons in a funhouse.
A clever surgeon, having failed to affect the heart by poking at the appendix, spleen, lungs and colon, will then try poking straight at the heart. Because of the faith of our Salzburg audience in the one true neoliberal theory, every derivation of that theory—from the extreme to the morbidly extreme—had failed to get much reaction. With just three TV minutes rather than twenty, why not try poking right at the heart? Why not speak about neoliberal theory itself, the object of faith, rather than its various implications?
Daniel Defoe, like us, had suggested an action item deriving from faith: not the selling of votes to large corporations, but the execution of all non-Anglicans. What if, instead, Defoe had described the basis of the Anglicans’ theory? What if, instead of urging “the gallows instead of the fine” for Protestants, whose perfidy was entirely well established, Defoe had instead examined how it was that this perfidy was so well established?
The Protestants, those nether insects, are of course entirely correct when they claim there is no evidence they are different from us. Of course there is not! But let us look at ‘evidence’ in a relative way. There is, on the one hand, the evidence of fact, eyes, and science—with which the Protestants, that generally ragtag bunch, are so obsessed—and there is the evidence of the great assumptions of Anglicanism, which we—with the highest Anglican educations, and the greatest Anglican knowledge—know with the certainest certainty to be certain. This is how we can be sure that a Protestant, although scientifically the same as an Anglican, is as different from him as the miniature hound of Megiddo [a 17th-century English expression for "cockroach"] is distinct from the sun! And furthermore—if the evidence of books cannot sway you—is it not true that in the entire history of Egypt and subsequent civilizations up to our own, there was not a single Protestant ruler?
Might this kind of speech have spurred second thoughts among at least some of the radical Anglicans, when even the most horrible applications of the theory could not?
This was our theory, and why we decided to be frank and straightforward on satellite television.
How far do you think you can go before someone began questioning? What do you generally think it would take to startle or even shock these people?
Perhaps a rumpled suit would help. Milgram's study suggests that.
Your speakers presumably circulate among the delegates after their presentations. What sort of reception do they get?
Very friendly! Apple wine and pretzels! Hearty handshakes! Sometimes, great earnestness and desire to continue relations into the future between our camp and yours. Do you have a card? Here is mine. Let us read one another's position papers! I like you!
Can you describe how these events function or how they are run?
Quite nicely. Each is accompanied by a (free) tasty lunch and always some wine. They are in the rich part of town, so you can walk around in a suit without raising eyebrows.
Why are you called the Yes Men?
You know how a funhouse mirror exaggerates your most hideous features? We do that kind of exaggeration operation, but with ideas. We agree with people—turning up the volume on their ideas as we talk, until they can see their ideas distorted in our funhouse mirror. Or that's what we try to do, anyhow—but as it turns out, the image always seems to look normal to them.
What are your ideas and ideals?
We are your standard-issue revolutionaries. For example, we would hope that our impostures so shame Messrs. Cheney and Bush that they crumble into regime dust along with their motley assortment of clever-ass thugs.
How does this work in reality?
We are not sure. So far the above has not happened, but it will.
Do you consider your work art?
Here are some articles with interviews that discuss this.
- Corporate Aesthetics: The Yes Men Revolt (Art in America)
- Occupying Corporate Hype: The Strategic Satire of The Yes Men
- The Yes Men by Steven Lambert (BOMB - Artists in Conversation)
How has electronic media and communication aided your work?
Here are some articles and online books that may answer your question:
- The Yes Men's Bichlbaum Discusses Ethics of Wikileaks (PBS SoCal)
- Shell Oil's Social Media Nightmare Continues, Thanks To Skilled Pranksters Behind @ShellisPrepared (Forbes)
- Google Book: Digital Currents: How Technology and the Public are Shaping TV News
- Google Book: Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times
What's your favorite action, among the ones that you've done?
You know the last scene in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator? Mistaken for Hitler at the border of Austria, the Jewish barber makes a speech to the soldiers waiting to start the Anschluss:
Greed has poisoned men's souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.... Even now my voice is reaching millions... victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.... Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you.... Soldiers! Don't fight for slavery, fight for liberty.
The soldiers cheer wildly and call off the Anschluss. That's our favorite. Hunh? What do you mean, we didn't do that?
What are your principal methods?
Principally the broad back-and-forth, or, for difficult stains, rapid-fire circular motions. After all, a clean suit is an absolute prerequisite for successful imposture. The suit can be gotten in your average thrift store for around 20 USD (16 euros, 2000 yen).
Who and what inspired the Yes Men?
Both the methods and the goals of the Yes Men are as hoarily ancient as, say, lemonade. Criticizing those in power with a smile and a middle finger happens in literature from Aristophanes to Shakespeare, in mythologies from the Volga to the Mississippi, in movements from the Diggers to the Situationists... and of course in lemonade. ACT-UP also had something to do with it.
Who and what inspires your targets—say, the lawyers in Salzburg? Surely it's not greed that makes them agree with such lunacy.
Right: it's mostly faith.
The power of faith to transcend the most obvious logic is a well-established phenomenon. When the Crusaders discovered themselves in pitched battle against Christians they had travelled thousands of miles to save, they refused to amend their theory that these Christians needed their help. Faith!
Faith, likewise, spurred thirty-nine web developers to don Nikes and swallow poison, on the theory—not backed by much solid evidence—that they’d shortly meet up on the Hale-Bopp Comet. (The “Heaven’s Gate” suicide was remarkable among mass suicides for its interface with observational astronomy.) And when Appalachian snake handlers insist on dancing with poisonous critters, despite not-so-rare deaths and lost limbs, it is from faith in the theory that God is protecting them. (The basis for this often-contradicted theory is two Biblical verses: “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them”—Mark 16:18—and “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions”—Luke 10:19.)
Similarly, our audience of lawyers in Salzburg had a theory—that the free market could bring happiness to the world at large—and they had the deepest possible faith in it. We had imagined that if we pushed our proposals into the outer limits of ugliness, we could horrify our audience into objecting. But the nature of their faith was such that so long as our proposals derived from the one true theory, there was no way they would ever see anything wrong with them.
We weren’t the first sloppy satirists to make the mistake. In 1703, a troublemaker named Daniel Defoe, seeking to show the absurdity of a bill forbidding non-Anglicans to hold public office, had suggested in a widely-published pamphlet that barring the scoundrels from office was a big waste of time, and that it would be much more efficient to simply execute them:
It is cruelty to kill a snake or a toad in cold blood, but the poison of their nature makes it a charity to our neighbours, to destroy those creatures! not for any personal injury received, but for prevention; not for the evil they have done, but the evil they may do!.... How many millions of future souls, [shall] we save from infection and delusion, if the present race of Poisoned Spirits were purged from the face of the land!... The light foolish handling of them by mulcts, fines, etc.; 'tis their glory and their advantage! If the Gallows instead of the Counter, and the galleys instead of the fine were the reward of going to [non-Anglican churches], there would not be so many... As Scipio said of Carthage, Delenda est Carthago! ... Let Us Crucify The Thieves!
[Note: Defoe was no scholar: it was Cato who pronounced Carthage deletable—Scipio merely did the deleting.]
Defoe, to his shock, found his histrionic, inaccurate, and profoundly ridiculous words taken seriously. A large number of radical Anglicans, thinking one of them had authored the screed, came out loudly in favor of execution; this solution, after all, was quite clearly consistent with the widely accepted theory that only Anglicans had any virtue, and that all others were “Poisoned Spirits” in the body politic.
We too discovered that once a premise is laid—whether it be the toxicity of dissenters or the friendliness of free markets—there is no way to push the implications enough to shake off believers. Why should international trade lawyers, presented with logical conclusions of a theory they deeply believe and practice each day, be any different from snake handlers,Crusaders, or radical Anglicans?
Since we hadn’t read Defoe, we were condemned to repeat him. At least we found ourselves just somewhat poorer, rather than, like Defoe, rotting in jail awaiting the pillory....
What is the difference between www.WTO.org and www.GATT.org?
One of them belongs to impostors who pretend to know something about world trade and how it can benefit humanity, and the other belongs to us.
Is claiming to be a WTO official a passport into any obscure corporate trade meeting? Can anyone do it?
Sure! But the WTO's identity is not necessarily the best one to adopt—it's also just as interesting to pass as any old nonexistent worker or manager, or even a right-wing ideologue. To do so you can just dress up real splendid-like and make up a history—no one ever asks for proof of identity at most things, and when you're in the food and drinks are free. It's like this urban exploration thing, where you climb into tunnels and go through buildings and so on, where you're not supposed to, so that you get a sense of what's behind things—you get a sense of how strange things are, a sense that most of those who are actually within the environment, no matter how smart they are, rarely get, because they're used to it.
How do you keep from cracking up when you are being the WTO?
It’s not very funny to stand in front of audiences of suits spouting the most hideous ideas imaginable! It might be funny for someone else to watch, but for us it’s kind of scary.
Then how do you keep from being too scared to function?
Well, if reading a prepared speech, it helps to just read the damn speech. If conversing with people over cocktails, the cocktails help. Then it's like suddenly having license to be as stupid and crazy as you ever wanted to be at a party.
Has the WTO ever responded to you?
They wrote a press release about us when we first set up GATT.org. Neither we nor anyone else noticed, so they wrote to us directly and told us about it. They said "Hey, look what you made us do, you deplorable dimwits!" So we told 20,000 of our closest friends. That got the WTO a bit of ridicule in the press, which they augmented by telling at least two reporters (from Transfert, and from the New York Times) that they "deplore" us. "Deplore"! Well, we deplore them! Those dumb-asses! Also, in Transfert, they suggested we should wear masks of Mike Moore's face and run around yelling angry epithets about him. That would be funny, they said. Can you imagine? Of course, over time they really warmed up to us, and after the lecture in Sydney, where we shut down them down, they were much, much nicer. Getting shut down was just what they needed.
What makes you sure there are so many other Yes Men?
Well, after spending two days recently with 650 supposedly right-wing supposed zealots, at the "Heritage Foundation's" annual "Resource Bank," we determined that most of these people had to be fake. I mean come on—Pentecostalism is the free-market religion?
What would you like most to say to the WTO?
Nothing! They wouldn’t listen anyhow. We'd like to say to everyone else: look what's going on here. Look what the WTO is doing. Or rather, look what big corporations are doing via the WTO and the WTO member governments.
Why do you think they wouldn't listen? Have you tried, or do you just prefer discrediting the WTO rather than speaking to them directly?
Yes and yes. We have tried to speak to them directly, like when we asked them to let us into the Cancún Ministerial. They like totally brushed us off. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise—even some WTO member countries (the poor ones) have limited or no access to the decision-making process. We aren’t even a poor country.
Do you ever think people are catching on?
All the time, but that's paranoia. You really have to whack them over the head. Nominating Ed Meese for President isn't enough, nor is inflating a 3-foot golden penis. The trick is to avoid talking to students or other people of active curiosity.
Now that you're gaining some fame, what with the movie and all, will you have to revise your approach?
The movie will make it harder for the two of us on the poster to show our regular faces in certain places. But we have plenty of irregular faces that we've saved up over the years. And there are countless Yes Men about whom a movie has not lately been made, so it's not really a problem anyhow.
How did those of you who are in the movie meet?
Andy and Mike met a number of years ago under harrowing circumstances too lengthy and, well, harrowing to describe on the internet. The full story, with color pictures for those of firm constitution, is featured in our book. As for the others, they were part of a longterm project to make the two of us more intelligent.
What inspired the design for the golden phallus (most obvious answer please to not be included)?
OK, most obvious answer will not be included. Second most obvious answer: the male anatomy.
In Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed one of the forms of Theatre of the Oppressed is Invisible Theatre, its main aim being to make invisible oppression visible. Would you regard what you do to be Invisible Theatre?
Some people believe that Invisible Theatre is just trickery, others would see what you do as trickery too. Are you guys liars, or what?
We need to be devious in order to achieve a condition of honesty. This is very different from "guerrilla marketing," where companies are devious in order to achieve a condition of real criminality, sometimes. But we certainly won't stoop to actual lying, despite what you might think.
How do you feel about adding new falsehoods to the news environment?
The news is already full of hoaxes; the only reason ours stand out is that we don't do them for profit.
Aren't you afraid of being co-opted by CNN etc., or even incorporated into ad campaigns? Doesn't that invalidate what you do? You're just furnishing entertainment or worse!
What, you have a paradise to sell us? So what if we get co-opted - we've done a lot of co-opting ourselves.
What's your main tool?
The press release. Which also happens to be one of the tools that corporations use to sneak their crazy and/or nefarious messages into the media.
Wasn't that Post thing kind of depressing?
Nope. In this case we really wanted to communicate real news - there's so much of it that doesn't get reported, especially by the likes of the NY Post. It's idealistic in a way: saying that if they wanted to, even the Post could report the real news in an entertaining way.
Are you afraid of being recognized?
The world's largest industrial disaster (Bhopal) is still not recognized by many - so how would we be?
Seriously, isn't it getting difficult to pull off your corrections as the Yes Men become more of a known quantity?
No. Conference organizers aren't really our audience. And there are thousands of conferences. But anyways, it's not rocket science. We're giving away all our secrets.