Yes Men

“WE HAVE TO CHANGE THE ECONOMIC RULES”

Photo: Corbis

The Yes Men: The social activists conning the world for the better

Red Bulletin Rebel Special - Meet the inspiring game changers doing things their own way - and saving the world. The Yes Men are featured in the “Rebel Yell” special in July’s The Red Bulletin Magazine.  

Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos have already held a number of jobs: press spokesmen for Dow Chemical, product developers for Exxon-Mobil, publishers of the New York Times. Except that the companies had no idea they were employing them. Servin (also known as Andy Bichlbaum) and Vamos (aka Mike Bonanno) are The Yes Men.

They raise awareness about social issues by creating satire, but a lot of people don’t always recognise it, mistakenly believing that the corporations and political figures they’re portraying are the real thing.

THE RED BULLETIN: You’ve pulled off a number of incredible satirical stunts in recent years. How come people suck it all up? 

JACQUES SERVIN: “When we made the announcement as representatives of Dow Chemical that we were going to do the right thing and accept liability for the Bhopal disaster, it was a positive declaration. People wanted to believe the news because it tallied with their sense of justice. It was a classic story about catharsis.”

What about the eerier, more macabre stunts?

IGOR VAMOS: “Something else is at play there. People tend to believe supposed authorities and experts. Plus there are always terrible things happening in the world, which makes it easier to believe that another terrible thing has happened, even if it’s completely absurd.”

The two social activists are trying to save the world in a very special way

You attack the rules of the economic system we live under. What needs to change?

JACQUES SERVIN: “We have to change the economic rule that short-term profit is placed above all else. Capitalism needs three per cent growth to prevent collapse. But we only have one planet and finite resources. We have to change the rules so that the economy isn’t harmful to the environment and the poorest people.” 

Aren’t your victims somehow rebels too? Because they get away with your scams in real life. 

JACQUES SERVIN: Not at all. Of course we’re rebels. Our satires get uncovered very quickly, but public relations departments lie to us every day and don’t get found out. That’s what we’re protesting against.

The Yes Men acting as Dow Chemical announces $12 billion apology to people of Bhopal, India for chemical leak in 1984.

THE YES MEN’S HIT HOAXES

2004 
On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical leak in India in which thousands of people were poisoned, a Dow Chemical spokesperson accepted “full liability” for the accident on TV. Dow Chemical’s share price plummeted.

2007 
Two reps from ExxonMobil presented the company’s new oil: Vivoleum, made from human corpses. 

2008 
An issue of the New York Times was distributed a week after Barack Obama’s election victory. The front page read: IRAQ WAR ENDS. Inside, George W Bush accused himself of treason.

Can you still pull off stunts or do you get recognised too often?

IGOR VAMOS: It still works, and when we do get recognised it’s even funnier seeing how some people try to intervene. In our new film, The Yes Men Are Revolting, Jacques is disguised. It is the worst disguise in the world. 

How have your stunts changed in the 15 years since you started?

JACQUES SERVIN: At the start we just improvised for the hell of it and because we wanted to draw attention to important subjects. Now we come up with better strategies so we can support larger political movements.

What’s the best motivation for a rebellion?

JACQUES and IGOR: Love!

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07 2015 THE RED BULLETIN

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