July 20, 2007
Bill Moyers gets in on the joke with two impersonators who use satire to make serious points about media consolidation, journalism, business ethics, and separating fact from fiction in a world of spin.
The Yes Men are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, two impersonators who use satire to bring media attention to issues that otherwise might be overlooked.
“We actually see this as a form of journalism. Or perhaps more precisely, the form of collaboration of journalists,” explains Bichlbaum in his interview with Bill Moyers.
“A lot of the issues that we address journalists want to cover. But…in many situations, editorial control won’t let them unless there’s a good little hook behind it. And so, we’ve found a way to create funny spectacles that give journalists the excuse to cover issues.”
The Yes Men have impersonated representatives from Halliburton, Dow Chemical, Exxon, and others, giving public presentations aimed at exposing what they believe to be discrepancies between how these groups want to be seen and how they really act. They call this process, “identity correction.”
While some criticize them for deception and call their hijinx unethical, they argue “these kinds of [corporate and political] wrongdoings are at such a scale – they’re so vast compared to our white lies that we think it’s ethical.”
What do you think about the Yes Men’s methods? Take our poll.
Mike and Andy released their first film in 2004 entitled, “The Yes Men,” as well as a book, THE YES MEN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE END OF THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION. They plan on releasing a new film shortly.
Here is a look at some of the Yes Men’s more famous “identity corrections”:
When Dow Chemical bought out Union Carbide in 2001, they became one of the world’s largest chemical corporations. However, some believe they also inherited a connection to the Bhopal Disaster, which occurred in 1984 when a Union Carbide pesticide plant released an estimated 40 tones of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, immediately killing nearly 3,000 people with thousands more experiencing partial or permanent disabilities. The victims of the disaster have been fighting Union Carbide for years for reparations for the tragedy, but Dow has claimed that since they purchased the company after an Indian Supreme Court approved a $470 million settlement agreement by Union Carbide, the responsibility is not theirs.
So the Yes Men set up a fake website, www.dowethics.com, which was very similar to Dow’s official site. They then emailed a press release to newspapers and media outlets across the country stating Dow would never take responsibility for damages from the Bhopal gas disaster because they were only beholden to shareholders.
After Dow denied these accusations, they worked to get the original Yes Men site shut down. The Yes Men in turn set up an alternate fake site, which the BBC found and sent an invitation for a “Dow official” to appear on the show. Not knowing that he was an impostor, the BBC broadcasted an interview with Bichlbaum posing as Dow Chemical “spokesman” Jude Finisterra, where he claimed Dow would mark the 20th anniversary of the lethal gas leak in Bhopal, India by paying out $12 billion to the survivors, “simply because it is the right thing to do.” Within a few hours, the real Dow unmasked Bichlbaum as an impostor.
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
When the Gulf Coast Reconstruction and Hurricane Preparedness Summit was being organized in Louisiana, the Yes Men saw an opportunity for a hoax on the housing situation in New Orleans. They contacted those in charge of the summit, claiming to be from the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton who was representing the Housing and Urban Development secretary. They claimed to have a major announcement to make at the summit.
Following Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, Bichlbaum rose to the podium under the alias of Rene Oswin, an official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and delivered a speech in which he claimed the HUD would reverse its plans to demolish 5,000 units of perfectly good public housing in order to help fix the housing crisis in New Orleans. He also claimed that Wal-Mart would withdraw its stores from the area to encourage local competition, and that ExonnMobil and Shell promised to spend $8.6 billion to finance wetlands rebuilding due to their record high profits from the past year.
Officials on all sides of the hoax worked to expose Bichlbaum as an impostor, denying all the claims he made while calling him insensitive and cruel. However, Annie Chen, media coordinator for Survivors Village, a tent-city protest for the reopening of public housing in New Orleans, told CNN, “Right now, a lie is better than the truth.”
Catastrophic Loss Conference
The Yes Men performed a prank at the Catastrophic Loss conference hosted by the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. Posing as Halliburton executives, the Yes Men donned their new product, the SurvivaBall, which was designed to “save corporate executives from the effects of global warming.” Setting the price tag at $100M, the Yes Men called the SurvivaBall a “gated community for one,” which could “protect managers from natural or cultural disturbances of any intensity or duration.”
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