"Totally coup, yo."

3 Questions for the Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum

Jun

19

by
Bichlbaum, seen here, being awesome

 

The Yes Men are an American institution. Mike Bonanno & Andy Bichlbaum (fake names which somehow seem realer than their real names), have been righteously punking corporate fools and the media for over a decade. They rule.

Their latest effort, done in conjunction with Greenpeace, Occupy Seattle, and their Yes Labs offshoot, was another wild success. Maybe you’ve seen it by now: a swanky Shell Oil gathering at the top of the Space Needle goes horribly wrong. An elderly woman is doused with soda that’s shooting out of a mock-up Arctic oil well. No one can stop it. The tiny polar bears are poetically drenched with dark liquid. Someone releases the video. It goes viral. The internet dubs it a colossal PR disaster — a #shellfail.

Well, it was all a beautifully executed hoax. The second wave of trickery is a spot-on parody of Shell’s website called ArcticReady, complete with a Kids’ Page (I highly recommend playing “Angry Bergs“) and a “Let’s Go! Social” user-generated ad campaign. Gauging from the Twitter response, many still think Shell’s in the midst of a giant marketing blunder.

Anything that makes people aware of the fact that Shell is on track to drill in the Arctic this summer, with very antiquated equipment I might add, is a good thing — hoax or otherwise. That in mind, I shot Bichlbaum a few questions. He was awesome enough to answer.

1) Is data-driven persuasion dead? Or were facts and figures never really a good way of persuading people to begin with?

I don’t believe data or facts by themselves have ever convinced anyone. It’s all about “framing” or cajoling or make-believing or whatever you want to call it. We have a lot of tools at our disposal to do that just by dint of being human—our vaunted storytelling and lying ability, as well as our ability to believe just about anything, at least briefly, which is another important talent—and we’ve always had to use those tools to get anywhere at all as societies, and push what’s important and real.

Facts and data do exist, there is such a thing as reality, and there is a way to do things that’s better than other ways, and eventually that does seem to seep through and convince people—but mainly because so many people use our various tools to promote it. And the people with reality and decency on their side are much more energetic and effective than the people who just want to squeeze us like we were some oil-rich rock, so much so that a relatively tiny campaign that costs a few thousand dollars can compete with the billions the other guys spend, at least for a while. And cumulatively, eventually, all these little campaigns and efforts and pushes and fighting do win, no matter how the robber barons try to defend their way of death.

I said this even more wacky-like here.

2) Do you guys think this sort of tricky, culture-jammy approach undermines one’s message at all? Have you gotten any “concern troll” type push back? Or do the benefits outweigh potential or alleged drawbacks?

A well-known journalist told me once that every single journalist he’d every talked to liked the Yes Men, even though that we ostensibly fool journalists. Because really we don’t, much, and journalists know it. We maybe fool one or two, but no one’s career has ever been ruined, and it’s strictly only ever been to heighten the story for all the other journalists, with whom we’re collaborating. I guess we believe that journalists have by and large gone into the field because they think they can do something useful and important with it, presumably something to do with truth, and then they find themselves in these editorial situations where they can’t—where the importance of something isn’t good enough an excuse by itself to write about it, according to editors, who are answerable to a whole of things besides the call to truth. So we give those journalists the excuse to cover what they want to cover anyhow—Arctic drilling, the 20th anniversary of the worst industrial disaster in history…. We don’t usually do much journalism ourselves, bringing out new information—that’s much harder, and that’s what journalists are for. (There’s this one guy who, once, both gave journalists an excuse to write tons about the Gov. of Wisconsin and revealed new stuff about him, like that he would just get on the horn with a billionaire for the flimsiest of excuses…. That’s beyond us!) [Aw shucks - IM]

3) Do you have any reservations about using lies to expose the truth — do you wish it weren’t the case, or consider it a necessary “evil”?

Nope. It’s just part of being human.

Follow @arcticready on Twitter. And me too.

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