Make The Corporate World Blush
The Yes Men have publicly lampooned some of the most visible and destructive corporate bastions in the world by imitating and attacking their brands, they are the new culture jammers and they’ve built a lot of energy around their work. Brands are easily damaged. A brand is a corporation’s public facing persona. It hides the human cost of manufacturing and attempts to give consumers pride in their consumption and trust in their favorite corporations. Brands are the most important part of a corporation’s cover and anti-corporate activists most accessible resource in the war against corporate greed is in their interactions with a corporation’s branding campaign.
To fight in a battle with corporate power is exasperating for the hundreds of thousands of individuals and groups who volunteer, and sometimes work, as soldiers in the war. Activists have a term for the effect that engaging the enemy in prolonged campaigns without seeming to make a chink in the armor of a single corporate bastion, wounded and vanquished knights (and lady-knights) refer to their injury as burn out. It is a serious war they’re fighting. Corporate greed kills people every day. Corporate greed ruins lives every day. Corporate greed might have ensured that climate change is, at the least, not limited to the disastrous effects of 2°C of warming. Corporate greed is dangerous and merciless.
The Yes Men take the seriousness of anti-corporate campaigns and bash it with a lemon wrapped brick pegged on a stick like an axe1. The Yes Men do a lot of consulting with activist groups. They encourage and help plan actions that bring attention to campaigns. In their documentaries they engage in abundant pranks on the corporate world. One of their pranks in 2004 briefly tanked Dow Chemical’s share value when they used a false website to gain an invite onto BBC News as one of the company’s spokespeople. They announced that Dow Chemical would liquidate the assets of Union Carbide, a company they had bought, in order to pay reparations to the survivors of a Union Carbide industrial disaster that killed thousands of Indians in Bhopal. They then mailed out a hoax retractions reading, “Dow’s sole and unique responsibility is to its shareholders, and Dow CANNOT do anything that goes against its bottom line unless forced to by law.”
Other pranks include announcing the reopening of a housing project in New Orleans which was condemned after Hurricane Katrina and whose occupants had been left without many options as the State attempted to sell their former homes to developers. They’ve attended corporate conferences to announce products like a suit with an attached TV screen on what looks like the bellend of a penis which allows factory owners to observe and punish their factory workers from across the world, and a ball-like survival suit which would allow the megarich to survive a climate change induced apocalypse. They’ve also, literally, made a presentation at a Mcdonalds conference suggesting that the fast food corporation produce a burger for franchises in the developing world made out of the waste (read: poo) of their customers worldwide. All of these ideas were generally accepted by their audience until the veil was later dropped, and none of the ideas aroused disgust or anger from them. The business world it seems, though ruthless, isn’t great at understanding the satire directed at it. One crowd which really didn’t like the idea was at a 2016 speech falsely representing the NRA. The Yes Men introduced a program to help gun owners share the security of gun ownership with people who can’t afford guns. Their tagline was Freedom Shouldn’t Be The Privilege of the Few. The buy a gun donate a gun program went viral thanks to the NRA’s disavowal. The website, sharethesafety.org, highlights communities at risk of gun violence and has some great stock photos of happy young people of all races.
The corporations’ responses were a different matter. The most telling of which was from an actual Dow Chemical spokesman who unironically argued from a humanistic perspective that, by arousing the hopes of the people of Bhopal, The Yes Men had done a disservice to them. Unintentionally implying that this disservice stood on par with the crimes of Union Carbide.
Visit yeslab.org for more information on The Yes Men.
1The effect of the pangalactic gargleblaster, the most potent alcoholic drink in the galaxy, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy