The Yes Lab is in session — presided over by the Yes Men, the dynamic prankster art duo who specialize in impersonating corporate lackeys and fooling journalists.
Stripped of their spoofy personas and pinstripe suits from the Salvation Army on Fourth Avenue, the Yes Men are winsomely sheepish. Jacques Servin, 48, is unshaven in an untucked button-down shirt. Igor Vamos, 43, wears a T-shirt from a Tunisian graffiti artist that says, in Arabic, “Need My History.”
Never mind the slogan of their 2009 documentary, “The Yes Men Fix the World” — “Sometimes it takes a lie to expose the truth.” Today the Yes Men promise to tell the truth. Expose merry tricks of satiric political activism. Invite us behind the scenes of the street theater.
And something more: On their latest and craziest mission of all, the Yes Men propose to catch the new creative spark of revolution — from Tunisia to Wall Street to Washington — and coach it into bigger headlines and better buzz. Like radical Johnny Appleseeds, their goal is to sow the land with scores of activists schooled in how to practice what Servin calls “using humor to attack the powerful.”
“We’ll first do a full group brainstorm for Occupy Wall Street and come up with a list of actions they can do to enjoy themselves and keep themselves busy,” Servin tells the lab participants.
Folks around the table riff on possible slogans and stunts. The occupiers seem to like what they hear, and take notes.
“There’s a danger of over-thinking,” Servin counsels. “It’s more important to do something and enjoy it and have fun and meet people and get the word out there by any stupid means possible. And just do it.”
He speaks from experience. Famous in left-wing activist circles, the Yes Men periodically break into mainstream consciousness with comic book hero flair — the Yes Men strike again!
Punk the Establishment
In their most celebrated stunt, in 2004, Servin was interviewed on BBC World posing as a spokesman for Dow Chemical. He announced that Dow would take responsibility for the deadly 1984 Bhopal chemical spill and pay $12 billion to survivors. Dow was forced to respond it would do no such thing.
In 2009, the Yes Men and environmentalists staged a press conference in the name of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the National Press Club in Washington. Servin announced that the chamber had suddenly decided to support tough climate change legislation.
In this way, the Yes Men take credit for sparking hundreds of newspaper and television stories over the last decade on issues that the Yes Men say would not have received as much coverage if not for the media catnip of their stunts.