The Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum (left) and Mike Bonanno. Bichlbaum will speak about our federal election this week.
Jacques Servin is a man of many names. A professor at Parsons by day, Servin moonlights as Andy Bichlbaum, one half of the hoax-activist duo the Yes Men, who notoriously impersonate politicians and business executives. Servin has pretended to be fictional people—like Dow Chemical spokesperson Jude Finisterra—and real ones, such as Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice. But it will be as Bichlbaum that he takes the stage at the Royal Cinema on Thursday night for “The Yes Men Live! an event organized by the Department of Culture and Project Democracy.
Since they began posing as Bush supporters at Republican conventions in the late nineties, the Yes Men (comprised of Servin and Igor Vamos, a.k.a. Mike Bonanno) have appeared at conferences and on news channels as representatives from the World Trade Organization, ExxonMobil, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In their own words, the Yes Men use their tactic of “identity correction” to “publicly humiliate” profit-driven capitalists.
Posing as a Dow Chemical spokesperson, Bichlbaum declares that the company will donate $12 billion to those affected by the Bhopal incident.
While under corporate identities, the Yes Men deliver outlandish proclamations, arguing that companies should buy citizens’ votes or that oil executives should use dead humans as fossil fuels. The Yes Men also present falsehoods as real news in an attempt to pressure companies into responding to the consequences of their actions. In one stunt, Bichlbaum read an “official” statement on the BBC that Dow Chemical would provide $12 billion in aid to the victims of the Bhopal disaster; when the company denied the statement and refused to pony up for the donation, its stock dropped by $2 billion. The Yes Men have made two award-winning documentaries, and pissed off many along the way: our own PMO criticized their activism as mere “childish prank[s].”
It’s that mischievous attitude, however, that the Department of Culture would like to see influence Canadians in the wake of the federal election. The Department of Culture, a group that promotes creative, citizen-based activism, held a series of events during the 2008 election and teamed up with Project Democracy to recruit Bichlbaum to speak. “We wanted the Yes Men to show creative tactics that are fun and smart and funny,” says Izida Zorde, a DoC representative. “The Yes Men create a rupture in reality where they show that not only is another future possible, another present is possible.”
Thursday’s event will begin with a series of short presentations on ways Torontonians can get involved in the election, followed by an hour-long talk and Q&A with Bichlbaum. Mixed media will be used to full effect—without wanting to reveal too many spoilers, Zorde promises that it will be an “audiovisual extravaganza.”
Which is more or less a given. After all, Bichlbaum is the man who, posing as a Halliburton executive, pioneered the Survivaball: an enormous inflatable suit that the Yes Men presented as a personal solution to the consequences of climate change. Yet while impish pranks may be the draw of the evening, Zorde says the conversation will touch on the looming possibility of a Conservative majority. “The Yes Men appeal to a younger demographic, which is really important,” she says. “[Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert] mentioned that if the majority of the young people voted that are eligible to vote, there’s no way there would be a Harper government.”
To Stephen Harper, the antics of the Yes Men may be little more than immature hijinks. Yet it’s possible that Bichlbaum could wind up inspiring a generation of pranksters to pull a fast one on the government simply by filling out a ballot.
Images courtesy of the Yes Men.
The Yes Men Live! takes place at the Royal Cinema (608 College Street) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 14. Doors open at 6:30, and admission is PWYC.