The Yes Men do not deserve the criticism levelled at them
11th August was the screening and live debate in Sheffield of 'The Yes Men Fix The World', the latest film by the Yes Men (Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno) in which, among other similar stunts, they impersonate the Dow Jones group on national TV and pretend to pay off two billion pounds compensation to the victims of the Bhopal disaster. Their 'identity correction' involves setting up fake corporate websites, waiting to receive emails and turning up to meetings pretending to be representatives of the corporations. They have been criticised widely for their work, but do they deserve the criticism?
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Not harming anyone.
All their tricks are harmless. They involve pranks and deception that rely upon the other person believing them as much as it does their own creativity – their inventions are not meant to be subtle or even believable. The most they have done so far is drop the share prices of a corporation for a few seconds that is large enough to make up the money straight away.
How did the drop in stock effect the investment companies. remember that some investment groups handle retirement accounts. Did the employee of the company get affected by this hoax It's not that I disagree, but when a company gets hit it is mostly the lower echelon employees that get hit the most. The president and the board usually can land on there feet.
Account themselves responsible for mistakes.
After the BBC pointed out that they could very easily have seriously offended and upset the victims of the Bhopal disaster, the Yes Men went straight to India and spoke personally with the victims, taking full responsibility for what they had done – as it turns out, the people were quite in favour of anything that illustrated their plight on national television and had a negative effect on Dow Chemicals.
There is always a danger of someone overreacting even in the few hours that false information is believed – for instance, someone killing themselves in a sudden surge of emotion, or a company selling off huge shares of their stock on a panic impulse. A few hours can be critical, and the Yes Men can't do anything about something that has already happened faster than they can ameliorate the situation or because they simply hadn't planned for the possibility of it happening.
Lying is wrong.
No matter how the Yes Men portray themselves, they are glamorising outright lying and portraying it as a fun, slightly subversive thing to do. Lying corrupts and distorts the flow of information everywhere, it hurts people who have been misinformed and made bad decisions, it is an attack on someone, it is essentially wrong to lie.
The Yes Men's use of truth is too subtle to be defined simply as lying. A lie is telling the opposite of the truth. The Yes Men find someone who is already telling a lie and give information that is contrary to what is being said - they consider themselves counter-liars to much bigger, more serious liars. They also do not expect their lies to be believed – they admit to their lie straight away if exposed, and their lies are designed that it is impossible for them not to be eventually exposed. There are other examples of lies that are used for a neutral or even positive effect, such as to protect someone's innocence by not giving them information that would corrupt them
The Yes Men have the ability to fool major corporations and the Government. They have the potential to use their skills to commit serious fraud. We don't know their real motives, as we already know that they could quite easily not be telling the truth about anything they say, or even actually be who they say they are when you are talking to them – they say they don't want political power and they don't make any money from their schemes, but can we really believe them?
Some sceptics might go the other way and say that the huge corporations they infiltrate must surely have people trained to spot frauds – and the Yes Men are pretty obvious. When they tried the 'Reburger' speech in a university, the students were completely unconvinced (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkTG6sGX-Ic) - if business students can spot them, executives can spot them. They are probably spotted straight away, and the corporations just let them do it anyway, as they are too much of a hassle and not enough of a threat to deal with
Losing the quality of their act.
The first film and the shorter documentaries featured only descriptions and footage of the pranks and were purely comedic, which worked a lot better. The third film is interspersed with extremely biased political commentary, and aggressive tactics such as shock footage and physically distorted faces and sound associated with certain people. They also break Godwin's Law by mentioning a corporation's involvement with Nazis (http://www.theyesmen.org/hijinks/acceptablerisk).
Their project is essentially anti-capitalist, it cannot avoid being political, the Yes Men do not hide the fact that they are art-activists and want to put a message across. Compared with documentaries that are actually supposed to use the tactics described above, the Yes Men Fix The World hardly use them at all. The Yes Men also showed their integrity during their live debate at the screening of the film by ignoring all attempts by people to advertise their political organisations.
They don't make a difference
The Yes Men are all bluff and zero catalyst. Their audience merely wants to be entertained with some garnish of social conscience added as a novelty. The Yes Men's targets (corporations, the WTO) are so large and ramified that they can easily absorb the trivial hits to their operations or reputations from these smirking, sophomoric pranks. The Yes Men may be folk heroes, but I don't see them actually making a difference. Some will say that the YM enlighten people with facts while they entertain -- but since much of the Yes Men routine is based on disinformation and bias, to what extent can we accept their facts? Actually, I just watched the first Yes Men movie and found that it did not offer any "facts" whatsoever; it merely depicted the WTO as the big bad wolf in a fairy tale in which the Yes Men play up their laudatory roles as rescuers of participatory democracy. It's a sign of a hardened mindset that people won't tolerate any criticism of these two guys, and the movement in general.
What do you think?