October 6, 2003

Yes Men Discuss Activism

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The Yes Men, an organization of anti-globalization activists who use fake web-sites to protest the actions of the World Trade Organization, performed to a crowd of 120 Ithacans and students Saturday night in Willard Straight Hall.

The Yes Men’s first action was in 1999 when they created a web-site named gwbush.com. The web-site was mistakenly visited by many people trying to reach George W. Bush’s real web-site, but they instead found satirical articles criticizing Bush’s environmental policies, intelligence and past drug problems.

Andreas Bichlbauer, the Yes Man that actually performed Saturday night, narrated video clips that documented the Yes Men’s unique brand of protest against the WTO. While explaining how his group copied the WTO’s web-site the same way they created gwbush.com, even going so far as to answer mail and requests for information mistakenly sent to their web-site, Bichlbauer said, “We’re not good at coming up with cogent arguments, we’re good at doing funny things.” The Yes Men also believe that “the ethical thing to do is represent the WTO more honestly than they represent themselves.”

In October of 2002, the organizers of an international lawyer’s conference in Austria accidentally asked the Yes Men to speak at their convention, after mistaking the Yes Men’s web-site for the WTO’s. Bichlbauer traveled to Salzburg, Austria, and presented himself as member of the WTO. Bichlbauer spoke as if he represented the WTO, but he emphasized the harm he believes the WTO does to developing countries, human rights and the environment. Unfortunately, Bichlbauer said, none of the audience seemed to notice, and at the end of the presentation they applauded politely.

At the performance on Saturday, Bichlbauer complained that people weren’t responding to the Yes Men’s subtler methods of protest, so they decided to dramatize their efforts. Later in 2001, Bichlbauer traveled to Finland where he gave a speech dressed in gold spandex leotard, complete with 3-foot golden phallus that he told the audience could be used to deliver powerful electric shocks to workers in third-world countries when they weren’t working hard enough.

Mary Fessenden, the Director of Cornell Cinema, said that she first became aware of the Yes Men last summer when she saw a documentary about them at a Toronto Film Festival. Fessenden said that live acts like the Yes Men are usually shown when they have a connection to a film that Cornell Cinema plans on showing. The Yes Men, Fessenden said, fit in well with the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival because of the criticisms the WTO receives about their negative effects on the environment.

The audience in Cornell Cinema’s theater laughed often during the video clips and afterward asked Bichlbauer if his group was worried about the legality of their actions. Bichlbauer said that they had spoken to friends who were lawyers, and that they said that they “can’t see that there’s anything illegal, I mean, somebody could sue us, which would be great . . .”, drawing laughs and applause from the audience.

Bichlbauer said that he and the rest of the Yes Men hope that their efforts will inspire people to stand up for their rights.

“The real audience is you guys,” he told the crowd.


Archived article by Josh Saul