Photo: Yes Men

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Last year activists The Yes Men  released a follow up to their 2009 film The Yes Men Fix the World, entitled The Yes Men Are Revolting.

The Yes Men got their start pranking the WTO, and they haven’t stopped their antics, or the documentation thereof, since. The Yes Men’s first, self-titled, film was released in 2003. 

Their latest oeuvre, The Yes Men Are Revolting, will be screened on Monday November 2nd at 7pm at the London Public Library Stevenson and Hunt Room A. It is presented by Cinema Politica London.

David Heap and Julie Picken-Cooper of the London Chapter of the Council of Canadians recently had an opportunity to interview Mike Bonanno of The Yes Men aka Igor Vamos. Vamos is an associate professor of media arts at the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute’s School of Humanities and Social Studies. This interview has been edited and condensed.

David Heap: Can you let us know a little bit about what The Yes Men do? I hear you’re culture jamming pranksters exposing corporate greed. 

Well, we’ve been creating meaningful mischief actions, infiltrating organizations, corporations and government, assuming identities and doing funny stunts, once we get into their events and conferences, that are meant to reveal things about their character or what’s wrong with the world. So this kind of satirical interventionist thing we’ve been doing for about 20 years. We impersonated the World Trade Organization in our first movie The Yes Men and then we did another movie, The Yes Men Fix the World and now we have our third movie The Yes Men Are Revolting.

Maybe you could tell us why you’re revolting and what you’re revolting about this time?

We’re revolting because government isn’t working for us anymore solving major problems of the day. Things like climate change and social inequality are not being addressed by this so-called democratic government, so that’s why we’re revolting.

A lot of people here in Canada may be revolted by the issues you’re discussing, disgusted by things like climate change and social injustice, we’re revolted but we’re not yet revolting. How do you get people to take that first step from being outraged or pissed off to doing something about it, fighting back and actually revolting?

That’s a tough one when things are comfortable, but finally getting Harper out, that’s a good start. But, you know historically it doesn’t actually take that many people to create change. It takes a committed minority, a very small percentage of the population to engage in an active revolt, and when I say that I mean non-violent direct action in order to create change. It’s happened over and over again starting with the civil rights movement and now it has to happen with the environmental movement too.

DH: So you mentioned a regime change here in Canada and as you can imagine most of us are in favour of seeing the last of the regime that was voted out. I’m also reading from Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis online, their article about how Trudeau isn’t as liberal as some people think he is even though the party is big “L” Liberal he may not be liberal in the relevant sense, especially with respect to wealthy people making money from climate changing, climate destroying extraction in the tar sands. Tell me why your most recent film is relevant for Canadians in particular?

Major parts of it were shot in Canada. Among other things we took a trip up to the tar sands. An activist up there by the name of Crazy Boy gave us a tour and later we collaborated on one of the final actions of the film. So really our film is all about Canada because Canada has been a major climate defender along with the United States. Lots of good people are suffering the consequences of economic downturn but it’s good for the planet because the tar sands are expanding much more slowly. That’s part of the core of our film because the film is all about climate change, that movement, and when it comes to climate change Canada plays a major role.

Klein and Lewis said the best gift people can give an incoming government, a new Liberal government, is “relentless pressure from below.” Part of that pressure is the climate welcome organized by various climate justice movements in Canada (this) week when the the new prime minister, Trudeau, will be sworn into office and his cabinet will be sworn in. There will be some folks there who have already prepared a welcome to remind him that climate change, not just slowing down but stopping, has to be a priority for the new government. Julie has some information on some activities that are planned.

That sounds great. I thinks that’s probably the most important thing, putting pressure on government to deliver. They may have the mandate but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to fight the system they’re stuck in. We had that situation with Obama.

Julie Picken-Cooper: The climate welcome is a three day action where climate activists from all over Canada will be delivering gifts to the new federal party. The first day they’re delivering broken treaties, the third day is water. So we’ll all support this, we really want to grab their attention right from the get go.

MB: Alright! That sounds great!

Have you heard of the Leap Manifesto?


Julie: This was something started by a group of Canadian activists and Naomi Klein. It’s online, has published it. It’s a call to start paying attention to what’s really going on, the climate injustice, the problems it’s going to incur down the road, and that we really need to take action now.

David: A lot of the things Julie mentioned are rather serious, even depressing to think about. A lot of the success of The Yes Men is keeping it light and funny but sending a very serious message. So it engages people on a different level and gets them thinking about serious topics in a light-hearted way. It draws people in. Given that we’re talking about the end of an ecosphere as we know it, possibly, can you describe some of the media stunts, “meaningful mischiefs” that you’ve performed, that have worked really well, things for people to keep in mind while we’re trying to keep this new government engaged and keep the public engaged?

Well, we always work with organizations at important moments in their campaign, that’s one thing we do. We try to make whatever action we’re doing meaningful. One of the things that worked, once we impersonated Dow Chemical on the BBC on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe. We announced that they were finally going to take responsibility for the worst industrial accident in history, which of course they weren’t … after the broadcast Dow had to say they weren’t doing that. An important part of the equation was giving them a dilemma that made them embarrassed of their position. Also it got the 20th anniversary of the catastrophe in the media in the U.S. because otherwise it wasn’t getting much attention.

The Yes Men Are Revolting will be screened on Monday November 2nd at 7pm at the London Public Library Stevenson and Hunt Room A. It is presented by Cinema Politica London.

Meg Borthwick is a freelance writer and moderates rabble’s discussion forum, babble.


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Meg Borthwick

Meg Borthwick (aka Rebecca West) is a babble moderator and has been a member of since 2001. She has a decorative liberal arts degree in Quoting Chaucer at Dinner Parties (English/Drama double...