The Yes Men
dir. Ollman, Price, & Smith
Opens Fri Oct 15
Artist activists Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum--AKA the Yes Men--specialize in what they call "identity correction." It began when they collaborated on satirical websites, particularly one mocking the World Trade Organization's. Their WTO site looked so similar to the real thing that Bonanno and Bichlbaum began receiving requests to appear at lectures and conferences around the world--which, of course, they accepted.
Armed with suits from thrift stores, talented friends and helpers, and cleverly rendered PowerPoint videos, the Yes Men set off to represent what they felt were the true motives of the organization they were impersonating. Astonishingly, they were met with overwhelming approval by the business elite, despite the absurd and horrendous statements they made (for instance: that third world hunger could be solved by recycling feces into hamburgers, or that corporations should reinstate slavery to help their bottom line). And they kept taking it further.
The Yes Men documents their hilariously theatrical (yet always serious) exploits, and encourages those inspired by their successes to join the Yes Men movement. The Mercury caught up with Bichlbaum to find out what's shakin' in the world of creative activism.
What were you hoping to gain with this documentary?
We approached the filmmakers right after the first [stunt appearance] we did in Salzburg. We thought that [the businessmen] would react badly to our speech, and that maybe we'd get arrested or whatever. When nothing happened at all, and we got two more invitations, we realized this was bigger than us and it was too much to handle all by ourselves.
When they didn't react, we had to do something with it. We sent out a press release on what we'd done, and it got a lot of news coverage... but with a movie, you can sit people down for an hour and a half and make them listen to you or watch you do ridiculous things.
Was the lack of reaction depressing?
I always thought the point we were making isn't that these people are stupid, but rather that the policies we were satirizing are actually just as grotesque as our versions of them. And that's kind of why people weren't reacting--there isn't that much of a distinction between them. We just sort of mastered the theory that these people live by, and so when we would propose these things it wasn't just in their language, but [correct] according to the basic ways these people think. So they just didn't notice the details were wrong.
Do you think your playful, creative strategy gives you a guerilla advantage over the stereotypical rigidity of "The Man"?
Ridicule is very powerful. You can just ridicule these people, 'cause they are ridiculous. If you can see that for a second--how absurd it all is--it's tragic, but it's also hysterical. You just have to laugh. If you can get people to laugh, it conveys quickly how wrong it is... I think.
Well, they say that people laugh at what makes them uncomfortable.
Yeah. Boy, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I mean, I guess starvation and being bombed and all that--that's a form of discomfort.