The ends justify the means, say The Yes Men, but only as long as you’re going after the right people.
The duo’s latest movie The Yes Men Fix The World, out on DVD April 1, chronicles the real-life efforts of anti-globalization activists Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum to expose corporate malfeasance in unorthodox ways.
“What we do is pass ourselves off as representatives of big corporations we don’t like,” Bonanno explains in the film. “We make fake websites, then wait for people to accidentally invite us to conferences.”
They’ve shined a spotlight on controversial practices of powerful companies like Exxon-Mobil and Halliburton. One of their most prominent hoaxes occurred in 2004, when Bichlbaum posed as a spokesman for Dow Chemical on BBC News television and — under false pretenses — accepted “full responsibility” for a disaster its subsidiary created in Bhopal, India.
Such tactics have now been emulated by conservatives such as James O’Keefe, who famously went undercover and unveiled the dodgy dealings of some ACORN employees last year, the video clips of which were vigorously promoted by writer and publisher Andrew Breitbart.
“For O’Keefe and Breitbart to be targeting ACORN is incredibly sad and pathetic,” Bonanno told Raw Story. “Most of its members are lower-income home owners, so these are model Americans — pull themselves up by their bootstraps type of people — people who are often very poor.”
In a videotaped conversation with blogger Mike Stark at last month’s CPAC convention, Breitbart, probed about the morality of O’Keefe’s actions, pointed to The Yes Men as an example of progressive activists using similarly questionable means to attain their goals.
But it’s not his and O’Keefe’s tactics that The Yes Men take issue with; it’s who they’re taking aim at, and the now-extinct community group didn’t deserve the treatment, Bonanno alleged.
“It’s why you’re lying and who’s gaining and who’s losing as a result,” he said. “There are liars and there are assholes. What James O’Keefe is doing is making a lot of lower-income people lose, unfortunately. And it’s supported by a bunch of very nasty, mean-spirited people.”
“A lie itself isn’t necessarily bad,” Bonanno continued, drawing out the difference between The Yes Men and individuals like O’Keefe. “We lie in order to criticize people who are abusing their power. They lie in order to humiliate and take out people who are at the receiving end of power.”
The Yes Men have been chastised as “world-renowned troublemakers” as well as “sick, twisted and cruel” beings by mainstream news organizations. In their latest of two films, the duo deplores the “free-market cult” they claim is centered around “letting greed solve the problem.”
They seek to comfort the afflicted by actively afflicting the comforted. And that’s the opposite of what anti-ACORN activists are doing, Bonanno purported. “By targeting ACORN, they’re targeting people who are victims of a very nasty power dynamic. So, I think it’s a mean thing to do.”
Bonanno found it “amazing” how Congress insists on taking aim at groups like ACORN over “a few bad apples” when large defense contractors, for instance, have committed far worse transgressions on a broader and more damaging level and walked away unscathed.
Ultimately, Bonanno concluded that lies and trickery are helpful to fight the establishment in an age where corporations wield unprecedented power and where “the political middle is being pushed further and further and further to the right.”