For over a decade, The Yes Men (Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno) have been engaged in an extended campaign of covert activism that is part performance, part satire and part fifth-column insurgency. In many cases, they do this through a sort of satire-by-agreement, posing as corporate executives and expressing ideas that are only slight exaggerations of their targets’ stated positions. In the process, they’ve managed to sell some truly ridiculous ideas to their audiences of industry insiders, including an algorithm for assessing when it’s desirable to trade human life for corporate gain (The Golden Skeleton program) and the SurvivaBall, a cumbersome portable cocoon designed to help the super-rich weather a major environmental collapse. In this interview, we spoke with Mike Bonnano of The Yes Men about their history, their thoughts on art and activism, and their current and future plans.
By Jeff Edwards
Jeff Edwards - I’ve seen you described as culture jammers, performance artists and even gonzo journalists. How do you describe yourselves and what you do?
Mike Bonanno - We’re primarily activists, but we’re also storytellers. We try to tell stories as creatively as we can, and we provide journalists with excuses to write about issues that they care about.
J.E. - You’ve been at this since 1999. How did you get started? Did you fall into being The Yes Men, or did you have a plan from the beginning?
M.B. - We fell into it; it happened to us. We put up a fake website for the World Trade Organization, and it was supposed to be a satire. To our great surprise, people thought we really were the WTO, and we got invitations to attend conferences as the WTO, so we started doing it.