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One to Watch

February 7, 2007

The Yes Men

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and even Ali G have raised the bar for political satire precipitously high in recent years. But the Yes Men have been quietly surpassing the chutzpah of these masters by venturing where celebrity comedians can no longer go — into the convention halls, awards banquets, and press meetings of corporate America.

The duo of performance artists, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, stage convincing impersonations of company spokesmen, press officers, and politicos at real-world events in order to draw attention to the cruel stupidities of capitalism. Their capers have caused alarm in the control rooms of the BBC, prompted retraction statements by major US corporations, and elicited corrective press releases from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the late '90s, when the two recent college grads launched a website parody of the World Trade Organization, it was mistaken for the real thing, and they were invited to speak on behalf of the free-trade NGO at an international conference. As WTO spokesmen, they proposed new policies including auctioning democratic votes to the highest bidder and creating a market for the buying and selling of permits for committing human rights abuses. Only extremely savvy members of the media were able to see through the farce, and when the house of cards came crashing down, it was the WTO that took the blow.

Now, several hijinks later, the Yes Men are presenting their vision of a future utopia that transcends Sarbanes-Oxley in a book and a movie about their latest work. As the US gears up for another hot presidential race, the Yes Men are no doubt mobilizing to point out its paradoxes, one fake website at a time.

-JK

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