THE YES MEN (USA)
The Yes Men Fix the World, 2009
The Yes Men is a group of American netartists and activists who, often concealing their real identity, practice so-called guerrilla communication. The work of the group is based on the subversion of the communication strategies of institutions and multinational corporations. It springs from an encounter between the cross-contamination of different media, enquiry into the manipulation of information, and artistic performance.
In their various projects and actions the Yes Men gain access to events such as international conferences or to information channels such as television networks or websites by presenting themselves as the representatives of institutions or companies. While potentially credible, by making strikingly exaggerated or totally absurd statements and claims they turn into caricatures of the roles they are impersonating, thus subverting the credibility of the institutions they pretend to be representing.
In 1999, the two founders of the group, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, acquired international fame by setting up a fake website of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which promoted the development of a modern slave trade between Africa and Western multinational corporations. A revealing episode in the Yes Men's career occurred on 3 December 2004, when Andy Bichlbaum appeared in front of BBC cameras in the role of Jude Finisterra, a fictional spokesmen for Dow Chemical - the multinational corporation that owns Union Carbide, the company responsible for the chemical disaster that took place in the area around the city of Bhopal in India. On the night between 2 and 3 December 1984, an abandoned pesticide plant that had never been properly dismantled and purified released a cloud of toxic gas that caused 3,000 deaths in the immediate aftermath of the accident and 120,000 over the course of the following years, as well as very serious long-term environmental damage.
In the interview the BBC conducted on the day of the twentieth anniversary of the catastrophe, the phony Dow Chemical spokesmen announced that his company was finally willing to offer compensation to all the victims of the disaster in India, for a total of around twelve billion dollars. While the company immediately denied these statements, in the twenty minutes that followed the interview Dow's stocks lost 4% of their value. Besides, the action also helped to bring the Bhopal disaster into the spotlight again and to once more draw the attention of the public on the matter. It is estimated that since 2004, partly because of this action organized by the Yes Men, Dow's stock has declined in value by two billion dollars.
The Yes Men's challenging of power is based on the principles of counter-information. Their guerrilla communication is rooted in subversive strategies of political activism that may be compared to those of the Situationists of the 1950s and of computer hackers in the 1980s and 1990s. By launching fake press campaigns on various media - and primarily the Internet - in order to circulate false statements, the group challenges companies and governments, marring their public reputation.
Their action proves more effective than other protest strategies, as modern corporations, institutions and political bodies base their own credibility, and hence power, on the well-planned construction of a positive public image. In the contemporary society of images, attacks against the power of an economic or political authority will prove more effective if they are directed against its façade as opposed to its internal mechanisms.