Fool Me Once…The Yes Men’s Career

October 19: The Yes Men — those political activists and pranksters — have gained fame by impersonating corporate flacks and government bureaucrats. Their most recent headline-making prank was the Chamber of Commerce hoax, in which Andy Bichlbaum, a member of the Yes Men, posed as a Chamber of Commerce spokesman to announce a dramatic change in policy: The Chamber of Commerce was supporting climate change legislation. The real Chamber of Commerce spokesman stood up and yelled “This is fraudulent!” — but to no avail. Several news organizations, including Reuters, were taken in by the hoax.

Pictured here, the Yes Men continued their campaign the next day by chasing Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) outside the Dirksen Senate Building. The Yes Men dressed as the “Survivaballs” — which they said humanity would need to survive in a globally-warmed world.

Newscom/Roll Call Pix

On November 12, 2008, the Yes Men took to Times Square to distribute their version of The New York Times.

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June 14 2007: Stampede Park in Calgary, Canada was the site of Canada’s largest oil conference, GO-EXPO. There, Exxon “executives” delivered news of a big breakthrough: though climate change would be responsible for thousands of fatalities, oil executives could still profit — by turning dead bodies into oil. Apparently because people used to make oil from whales, ‘Shepard Wolff’ (Andy Bichlbaum again) declared: “We need something like whales — but infinitely more abundant.” And so he announced the policy to render human flesh into oil, a product that would be called “Vivoleum.” Conference attendees were then invited to light commemorative candles, which they were then told was Vivoleum made from an “Exxon janitor.” After speaking with reporters, security guards hauled Bichlbaum away.

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November 11, 2006: Wharton Business School held a conference on Africa and business. WTO representative “Hanniford Schmidt” had an explosive suggestion: “full private stewardry of labor” — or privatizing people. Schmidt’s fellow panelists listened respectfully to his talk, which included gems like, “This is what free trade’s all about. It’s about the freedom to buy and sell anything — even people.”

Creative Commons: The Yes Men

April 28, 2005: You’ve heard of a golden parachute, but perhaps not a golden skeleton, which Dow Chemical representative “Erastus Hamm” unveiled to a conference of London bankers. He suggested that the golden skeleton would be issued to companies that met the “industry standard” for the acceptable number of deaths relative to profit.

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August 28, 2006: Mayor Ray Nagin sits with HUD Official “Rene Oswin,” (Andy Bichlbaum again, right), who details a new policy for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: Instead of demolishing public housing and building middle-income housing in its place, HUD was simply going to leave 5,000 units of “perfectly good housing.” Afterward, a HUD flyer advertised a ribbon-cutting ceremony for public housing, with free lunch provided. This did not materialize. Equity International President William Loiry, sponsor of the conference, called the hoax “cruel and disgusting” due to the “many people still in need” who might have believed the speech.

Creative Commons: The Yes Men

December 3, 2004: On the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster — in which the release of toxic gas at a Union Carbide plant in India killed thousands — “Jude Finisterra” (Bichlbaum) took to the air on BBC World to admit Dow Chemical’s responsibility for the disaster — after decades of denials. Simultaneously, he unveiled the website “Dow Ethics,” which featured headlines like “What every company must know: disaster is often prosperity by another name.”

Creative Commons: The Yes Men