The Yes Men: 'Take to the streets'

作者:卜劝    发布时间:2019-03-08 07:18:09    

By Kat Austen Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (not their real names) are the frontmen for the Yes Men. They got together to set up parody websites such as www.gwbush.com and graduated to huge anti-corporate, culture-jamming stunts targeting giants such as ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical. Their latest film, The Yes Men Fix the World, is showing now all over the UK and in the US later in October. Film review: The Yes Men fix the world What are the Yes Men all about? Bichlbaum: We want to make the point that if you let corporations do what they want, the world will go to hell in a hand basket. We advocate that citizens be able to decide their own futures rather than let big corporations do it. What made you think that? Bichlbaum: Mike and I grew up with serious distrust of power in all its forms. We both have grandfathers who died in the Holocaust and things like that have instilled in us how out of hand things can get if you just trust an ideology – and trusting an ideology is what has happened. Look at the way that people excuse injustice: “It’s the market, it’s a necessary evil; like any other system it’s just a kind of side effect, unfortunate.” That’s the way all ideologists have excused the horrors that their ideologies have unleashed on the world. They all think that it’s doing basically a good job and yes, there are these problems like the Gulags or whatever, but… Bonanno: We don’t actually think that what we do is the best way to make change: there are a lot of other things that are far more important, like changing laws, holding companies accountable using the legal system, becoming politicians or protesting in the streets. I think that our actions can demonstrate that these forces that seem so insurmountable are actually fallible, or at least give people the feeling that it’s possible to change. Do you have an alternative system in mind? Bichlbaum: We’re not saying we need to do away with it entirely; we’re not ideologists. What we’ve been doing is trying to say, let’s just have a saner approach. We can figure out something else, surely; it can’t be rocket science. It could be just a matter of understanding that we can’t allow corporations to do whatever they want any more. There are some fundamental problems with the system now that are just obvious, like corporate lobbying in Washington. Why not just rule it out? Then if people decide that we want healthcare for everyone, you won’t have this $100 million effort to subvert it. Right now there’s a big effort by people in the US to get universal healthcare. We want it, we voted for a president who promised it, and everybody’s desire is for that; and yet it’s clearly not going to happen because there are hundreds of millions of dollars arrayed against it. From the pharmaceutical industry and the clinics? Bichlbaum: Yes. Why is it right that they should be able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to oppose our desires? It doesn’t seem right. And one quick fix, one simple thing that’s not ideological, is just to eliminate corporate lobbying in Washington. What was your first act as the Yes Men? Bichlbaum: We set up a fake World Trade Organization website in November 1999 because we couldn’t make it to the Seattle protests. So we thought we’d do second best and set up the fake website to highlight through satire what we thought was bad about free-market globalisation. To our surprise a lot of people started writing to the website, thinking it was the real thing, and we eventually got invited to a conference as the WTO. It took us about a month to realise that we should go, but we did, and we proposed various things in the name of the WTO to a small conference of lawyers in Salzburg, Austria. We said, “We should privatise the whole system of voting – basically allow corporations to buy votes directly from citizens via the internet. That cuts out the whole complex of lobbying and campaign finance and all that crap: just have the money go efficiently from point A to point B, cut out the middle man. It would just be better for all, it’s a free-market solution to democracy.” People just sat there and absorbed it and applauded at the end and weren’t shocked. So we just upped the volume continuously. How do you feel about reactions to pranks like that one? Or to the one in which you unveiled an industry standard for determining how many deaths are acceptable when achieving large profits? Bichlbaum: It’s a continual surprise. There’s lots of research [famously, Stanley Milgram’s experiment and Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment] showing that, under certain conditions, when people are given a message by someone in authority they absorb it and do what the authority says. What’s shocking isn’t so much that people believe what we say or that we are the corporate people we’re pretending to be: it’s that they don’t react when these entities say horrible things. Bonanno: This authority thing is, I think, about human behaviour in general, wanting to respect authority, tending to go along with what people say if they are perceived to be in a position of authority. There’s a certain amount of group behaviour, too. [Being among] a lot of people in an audience usually makes people less likely to react and to speak out than if they were alone, which is always surprising. You begin to realise that this also reflects on what we face in terms of really fixing the world. It’s much easier for people to go along with the status quo. And reason is not necessarily the way that people act. Reason is a nice construct and it works for making our way through life in a more sane way, but people aren’t necessarily like that. At one point Andy claimed to be a spokesman for Dow Chemical, saying Dow would pay whatever it took to clean up after the Bhopal disaster of 1984. What effect did that have? Bonanno: We didn’t expect there to be such an impact on the stock market. It wiped 3 per cent off Dow’s stock price; we didn’t expect that. There were reports that the US Securities and Exchange Commission was looking for us, and people suspected we might be short trading. There was a lot of suspicion, which is almost comic, but it just goes to show what point our culture has come to: like the only logical reason for doing a thing like that was to make money! It’s totally absurd. But then when we had to reflect on what it meant for the world at large, it was pretty sad because even corporate managers can’t do the right thing. Even if they wanted to they would be punished by the market, by the system. That becomes the underlying thesis of our film: that we need to change the rules that allow the market to reward bad behaviour. Why can’t we just write letters and get things changed that way? Bichlbaum: The historical precedent is that change only happens through people taking to the streets, in the US at least. In the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt instituted national healthcare and a retirement plan, and labour laws, and allowed unions, and so on. All these things that everybody in the developed world takes for granted, especially in Europe, came out of the Great Depression in the US. But it didn’t come out of Roosevelt: that wasn’t in his plan when he took office. He had no idea what to do when he took office. It was massive public pressure, regular people demanding these things, taking over relief offices and saying, “We need relief if we don’t have jobs, we need to be kept alive.” It was people in factories unionising, taking over factories and marching down the streets. There were a lot of people forcing the changes that Roosevelt conceded. When the government didn’t actively support the corporations, the workers got what they wanted, which is why it’s great that we now have a president in the US who is basically on our side and is not going to actively support the corporations against people, probably. It gives us hope that if we take to the streets we’re going to get what we need because we’re going to be demanding it. The same is true in other struggles: like with the abolition of slavery, you had a president who was basically sympathetic but it was mass movement that created that abolition. And segregation, and of course the end of apartheid in South Africa. It’s always people. Making their voices heard… So is climate change where they are making noise? Is that going to be your next mission? Bichlbaum: When you have very powerful, wealthy, entrenched interests in the US fighting action on climate change, the only way to fight is to take to the streets and demand action. We have a president and a lot of people in Congress who wouldn’t mind doing the right thing, but they’re beholden to certain interests. If they can point to people protesting, then they have proof the public want action. They can say to the industrial forces pressuring them, “I can’t do what you’re telling me to do because people are taking to the streets.” This is a crucial part of democracy. Will it work? What about climate change deniers? Bichlbaum: We don’t know. We hope so. There are millions and millions of people who feel very strongly that it’s a big problem we need to do something about. Even if a small percentage of them take to the streets, they are going to be visible. We have a project to appeal to the climate change deniers: we’re asking people to write tabloid articles in the style of climate deniers. We’re going to launch them in a website later this month: see www.theyesmen.org/blog/become-a-tabloid-writer. Your day jobs are in academia. What do you make of the way research is funded? Bonanno: We feel strong affinity and sympathy for all the people who are doing sometimes amazing research projects that can’t get funded because the commercial application isn’t a big money maker. There may well be an important commercial application: like in pharmaceuticals, when chronic illness is privileged over curable illness because it makes a whole lot more money. You’ve got to wonder what our priorities are. Film review:


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