January 7, 2001
In January of 2001, the organizers of a “Textiles of the Future” conference in Tampere, Finland send an e-mail to GATT.org asking for a WTO representative to deliver their keynote address. Andy and Mike are glad to oblige, and the organizers are delighted.
This time, Mike and Andy decide to cook up more drastic fare. The lawyers in Salzburg and the TV producers of “CNBC Marketwrap Europe” hadn’t noticed anything wrong with a clearly berserk WTO; these people clearly need something more visual that will demonstrate without words what the WTO is about.
Mike’s friend Sal, a custumer to the stars, loves a challenge, and is willing to work for a significantly substandard wage, just this once….
Arriving in Tampere, Finland (having relied on the kindness of Helsinki activists to cheapen the costs of the trip), Andy and Mike suddenly find out they have completely forgotten about time zones. They get to the conference just as their session is due to begin; they race to the bathroom and frantically change Andy into Sal’s elaborate costume, over which they carefully zip up a velcro-seamed business suit.
In his keynote address, Andy presents a short history of their field to the textiles scientists, engineers, and managers in attendance. First he describes how the US Civil War—fought over the textile, cotton—was a great waste of money, because slavery would have been replaced by its infinitely more efficient version: remote sweatshop labor, such as we have today. He then goes on to call Gandhi’s spin-your-own-clothing revolts misguided and naive, but he places equal blame on the British: if they had only seen that the Indians craved homespun fibers, they could have included that in their product line.
The only problem still remaining with the efficiency of today’s sweatshops, Andy continues, is a lack of control over workers. A manager in New York cannot constantly monitor workers in Rangoon. But there is a technological answer. He spreads his arms out, and Mike rips off Andy’s breakaway business suit to reveal the management solution of the future: a shimmering golden leotard—which, when Andy pulls a rip-cord in his crotch, sports a three-foot-long golden phallus.
Andy explains that this tool, the “Employee Visualization Appendage,” will allow the manager of the future to watch and control far-off workers while engaging in healthful leisure activities.
The goal of this performance, of course, is to clarify how dangerous it is to equate human freedom with a free market. Demonstrating visually the logical conclusion of neoliberalism, Mike and Andy hope to make their audience think twice.
Instead, the audience rewards Andy with a healthy round of applause, but no questions. A reporter takes photos. The conference leader thanks the WTO for its presentation three times in public, and seats Andy at the table of honor, right across from his daughter. All day, in fact, Mike and Andy come up again and again against a blank wall: a couple of people admit being mystified by the appendage, but no one is bothered by the content of the speech, including when they’re reminded about the slavery issue. Finally they find one woman who admits being terribly offended—because Andy’s “Appendage” implies that only men can be factory managers too.
If the conference attendees blithely followed the Yes Men down such nightmarish paths, real business leaders must be able to convince these “experts” of anything. Which is exactly what they have done…