- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 3, 2004

If only Dan Rather had heard of the Yes Men. He’d have had the neatest explanation for that National Guard memo: It was just a joke that spotlighted greater truths.

Actually, Mr. Rather did say something like that, but we digress. Back to the Yes Men …

The undercover lefty activists recently had a choice to make: Continue booking international travel on their own dime, and scraping by on foundation grants and teaching jobs. Or make a movie and risk blowing their cover.

The Yes Men, a merry pair of anti-globalization pranksters who masquerade as World Trade Organization bureaucrats all over the world and try to embarrass the organization into changing its free-trade policies, chose the latter. “The Yes Men,” a documentary of their travels and triumphs, opened in the District last weekend.

So far, no one’s pegged them for movie stars, and their work continues. They’ve been on the prowl and posting a daily diary and video bits to their Web site, www.theyesmen.org.

“People don’t expect that the person they’re talking to is an imposter,” explains Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum. “It just doesn’t occur to people. Ali G — think of what he gets away with.”

With the presidential election fast approaching, the Yes Men have taken the heat off the WTO and honed in on a new target: George W. Bush, natch.

The thought of President Bush winning re-election is “just unthinkable. I feel nothing right now but the desire to leave if he wins,” Mr. Bichlbaum says on the phone from San Francisco, where he and fellow Yes Man Mike Bonanno are promoting the movie.

The junior senator from Massachusetts has his good points, but on the biggest issue of the day, there’s no difference between the president and his opponent, by the Yes Men’s lights. “We don’t like Kerry, [but] we’re gonna hold our noses and vote for him,” Mr. Bichlbaum says. “In terms of their policies, it’s a matter of details. They’re substantially different, but not to the people of Iraq.”

To help elect Sen. John Kerry, the Yes Men have begun “campaigning” for the president. “We’ve been up in Oregon, campaigning for the so-called Healthy Forests Initiative,” Mr. Bichlbaum informs.

“We’ve been delivering his message more honestly than he usually does.”

If you’re not familiar with the Yes Men’s methods, here’s what they’re up to: They’ve been petitioning Oregonian Republicans under the guise of an ironic new character, “Smokey the Log.” (Because “bears are useless” to the timber industry; “you can’t burn them,” says Mr. Bichlbaum.)

According to Mr. Bichlbaum, a Tucson, Ariz., native who began his high jinks while working for a toy-and-game company (mysterious things happened to Barbie dolls under his watch), Smokey the Log has gotten people to sign onto proposals to clear cut — repeat, clear cut — the Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks.

It’s not ignorance or credulity, but rather truth hitting close to him, that allows the Yes Men to pull off their ruses, Mr. Bichlbaum surmises.

“We found that we got very few of anyone realizing that we’re satirizing it,” he says, still slightly amazed. “The Bush policies are their own satire; paving Yellowstone is just not that far from what they want.”

Similarly, “One of the reasons we got away with our WTO stuff is because the real policies are just about as grotesque as our parodies. We were just pushing it a little further,” Mr. Bichlbaum explains. “People in attendance in our lectures did not find anything that weird about them. Some of the details are off, but the basic ideas are there.”

If moviemaking fails to keep the Yes Men afloat, there’s always CBS.

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