Maybe you’ve heard of The Yes Men. They’re a group of performance artists/activists who engage in what they call “identity correction”: posing as representatives of large corporations in order to point out their hypocrisy and publically humiliate them. They’ve crashed conferences, industry events, and even world news.
Many people’s first exposure to The Yes Men was when they pulled a high-profile prank on Dow Chemical Company in 2004. The BBC contacted the group through a spoof website they’d created which, among other things, credits DDT, a Dow product, with “the birth of the modern environmental movement.” (The site even has a disclaimer acknowledging it’s not an official Dow site, but apparently no one noticed the fine print.)
So, The Yes Men agreed to send a media representative on behalf of Dow to discuss the 1984 Bhopal tragedy on its 20th anniversary. The “representative,” Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum, posing as the fictional Jude Finisterra, went on the air, and told the world that Dow was taking full responsibility for the disaster. He laid out a straightforward plan to compensate victims, clean up the toxins still polluting the area, and otherwise make amends to the people of Bhopal.
The great thing about this prank was that they were forcing Dow to publically admit they weren’t willing to spend the money it would take to simply do the right thing and clean up the site of a massive industrial accident. It made worldwide headlines before anyone at Dow even noticed the broadcast. Once alerted to the prank, the BCC immediately retracted the story, but the harm to Dow’s reputation was already done.
Now, eight years later, Wikileaks is publishing over 5 million emails obtained from global intelligence firm Stratfor, and many of them focus on Bhopal – specifically, activists demanding justice for Bhopal victims. The emails reveal that Dow actually hired corporate spies to monitor The Yes Men’s activities, even small events involving meeting with art students.
The Yes Men are taking this as a positive sign – obviously, if they pose a big enough threat to warrant this kind of attention from a huge, multinational corporation, they’re on the right track.
On Tuesday, The Yes Men held a press conference with Julian Assange, discussing the matter. Democracy Now has video of the event.
Photo credit: ItzaFineDay