The Yes Men are a duo of epic proportions. From impersonating huge corporations who put profit first, to starting their own grassroots organization for everyone to join and create their own hoaxes, The Yes Men are fighting the good fight. They are most well known for their parody website of the World Trade Organization that many people believed to be real, which led to being invited to speak at a conference representing the organization. Since then, numerous hoaxes have been planned and carried out by the two truth-seeking activists which has led to two films, “The Yes Men” and “The Yes Men Fix The World”, as well as 2 books and an army of contributors to their project. They have acted as executives for companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, GE, Dow Chemical, McDonald’s, and Shell among others. With a new film coming in 2013, The Yes Men are going to once again try to fix the world. I recently had the opportunity to talk to one-half of perhaps this generation’s greatest pranksters, Igor Vamos, better known as Mike Bonanno.
FPH: What gave you the idea to start this group and what was your first project as The Yes Men?
Mike Bonanno: That’s the subject of our first movie, “The Yes Men.” We set up a fake website for the 1999 Seattle protests against the WTO, and it got taken for real. An angry response from the real WTO got it into search engines, and then people started emailing us invitations to conferences and events, thinking that we were the real WTO. We had to comply.
Since your start, how has the group grown over time? Have the stakes been upped as far as the complexity and potential penalties for the hoaxes you’ve taken part in?
MB: In the last couple of years, we have started Yeslab.org, the purpose of which is to make our tactics for activist messaging available to all. Its been working very well to spread the joy. Things have gotten more complex, but we still don’t know of any penalties for doing this kind of thing. As far as we can tell, that’s a myth.
Are you happy with the results from all of your projects, or have there been any that failed to meet your expectations?
MB: There are always failures – but sometimes even failures are good. When you find out for example that a collaborator learned something valuable in the process and used it again later is a good result.
Has posing as huge corporations been easier than expected for you?
MB: It’s easy to look like a representative for big corporations. Thrift stores are filled with business suits. Not so tricky!
You’ve probably pulled off some of the biggest & best hoaxes in history, what do you think your biggest success is?
MB: We’ve done some projects, like an impersonation of Dow Chemical on the BBC, that have made a huge splash in the media and informed many people. But until we actually see a kind of revolution to derail the very stupid economic policy that is driving the planet to ruin, we have to keep turning up the volume.
Do you and your partner do everything from the fake websites to the planning for your projects, or is there a full team working with you?
MB: Since we have the Yes Lab, we’ve got a real organization with a few people working part time. But really, nowadays, most of the actions are produced by our collaborators through our yes lab scheme – the idea is that once they know how to do it themselves, they can do it again.
I read that the United States Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit against you in 2009. Is that still ongoing and not open for discussion, or can you tell me some about it? Have there been any other threats of any kind against you, including other legal action?
MB: They did file a lawsuit, but its sitting on a judges desk waiting for a ruling about whether to dismiss or not. Not anything to worry about. Lawsuit – who cares, the chamber’s actions are actually destroying the climate. Lawsuits should not scare anyone when the stakes are so high.
How much of the projects are theater versus being things you both are genuinely concerned about?
MB: We would not do any of this if we were not concerned. The state of our political system is deplorable, and the world is in a precarious, unjust place. Everyone must act if we are to fix it. This is our way of taking action.
Have you received any criticism for your work and has that changed the way you do things?
MB: Sure, it’s like anything else: you learn from past mistakes, and from feedback. We try to make our actions as effective as possible before we launch them, but like anything, sometimes it takes more time.
What’s next for The Yes Men? A new film in the works perhaps?
MB: Right now we are working on a new film called “The Yes Men Are Revolting.” We hope to finish in 2013.