Yes Men: Stunts from Activists – Are We Laughing?
After several prominent members left the Chamber of Commerce over its prehistoric climate change policies, the organization appeared to do an about-face on its climate stance during a press conference on Monday. Sound too good to be true? It was. Members of the Yes Men, a group of satirical, anti-corporate activists, posed as Chamber of Commerce officials and held a fake press conference claiming that “There is only one sound way to do business: That’s to support a strong climate-change bill quickly, so that this December in Copenhagen, President Obama can lead the entire business world in ensuring our long-term prosperity.” In reality, the Chamber has not changed its climate stance and continues to oppose climate change legislation. The Yes Men’s stunt is just one more in a chain of hoaxes this Autumn, including a boy in a balloon, death panels on health care reform, and recent allegations that radical Islamists are using interns to infiltrate Capitol Hill.
In an interview with Dave Gilson of Mother Jones, Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum explains that the Chamber’s absurd stance inspired them to take action. By staging a fake change of heart, Bichlbaum hoped to reveal that the Chamber’s real climate policy is “A big hoax on the American public.” Bichlbaum stresses that the U.S. has a major stake in the outcome of Copenhagen. “The chamber is opposing climate change legislation and the whole rest of the world is saying we need to do something…The chamber, representing the biggest and stodgiest and most powerful corporations in America is just saying, ‘Nah, let’s let the whole planet go to rot.’”
The Yes Men are notorious for their stunts, as Amy Goodman notes for Truthdig. “The Yes Men stage elaborate hoaxes on global-trade organizations, multinational corporations and politicians. They satirically skewer corporate, free trade, pro-business positions by acting as genuine, sincere spokespeople for these institutions, often offering apologies for past corporate crimes or promoting absurd products with remarkably straight faces at industry conferences.” During the press conference, an actual employee of the Chamber interrupted to declare that the event was fake, but this only prompted more questions about the Chamber’s stance on climate change. The Yes Men prank successfully drew more attention to the Chamber and publicly humiliated them.
Corporations aren’t the only ones quitting the Chamber: The White House has decided to marginalize the Chamber by dealing with major U.S. corporations directly. Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly notes that historically, the Chamber served as gatekeepers. “If powerful policymakers wanted to make headway with business leaders, they had to go through the Chamber to get to them.” However, in light of the Chamber’s stance on important issues like climate change and health care reform, the White House has opted to create their own gateways.
Was the prank effective? In a video called “Save the Planet with Pranks, Tutus and Civil Disobedience,” Grist encourages people to take the Yes Men’s lead and cause their own ruckus in the name of climate change. Umbra Fisk says that “thanks to those who have come before us, we know that civil disobedience works.” She highlights past examples of climate activism, and ways to show leaders that we’re serious about climate change policy. The video below also features upcoming events that promote climate action before Copenhagen climate negotiations in December. Tomorrow, over 170 countries are expected to participate in the International Day of Climate Action. And on November 30th, thousands of people will engage in acts of non-violent civil disobedience for the Mobilization for Climate Justice Day of Action.
In a piece for The Nation, Leslie Savan attributes Autumn’s surge of hoaxes to a lull in news coverage and a return to yellow journalism. The hoaxes have not only attacked serious issues, but the credibility of news outlets, who reported these pranks as facts. “This gaggle of hoaxes merely points up the bubbling stew of hoaxes that the 24-hour news cycle is, day in, day out, feeding to us. It’s common knowledge that a lot of the stuff on cable, as the White House has said specifically of Fox News, isn’t news. Instead it’s composed largely of stunts, shticks, and switcheroos, adding up to a grand political punking of the People,” Savan writes.
The recent hoaxes raise important questions about our political system. Do hoaxes block reform or facilitate progress? In any case, it seems that any means are justifiable if we achieve the ultimate end goal: Curbing the disastrous effects of climate change and saving the planet.
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Yes Men via Creative Commons
By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium