If you are a fan of the Yes Men, you probably ought to go see their newly released movie, The Yes Men Fix The World. Multiple times. With all of your friends and family. The Yes Men will need all of the backing they can get, financial and otherwise, to fight a lawsuit filed by the US Chamber of Commerce against the group for copyright and trademark infringement.
Last week the Yes Men staged a fake US Chamber of Commerce press conference to announce that the world’s largest business federation would reverse its previous denial of climate change. Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum, impersonated a representative of the Chamber’s CEO, Thomas J. Donohue, addressing a number of reporters who attended the event under the false pretense that it was an official briefing. The Yes Men also created a fake US Chamber of Commerce website. The media was, by and large, unaware that this was staged- Fox News interrupted programming to broadcast the phony announcement, and Reuters ran the press release as an authentic news item. It’s hard not to laugh.
The Chamber filed the lawsuit in federal district court, complaining that “[these] acts are nothing less than commercial identity theft masquerading as social activism.” Steve Law, chief legal counsel of the chamber, accused the Yes Men of “deliberately [breaking] the law in order to further commercial interest in their books, movies, and other merchandise.”
The US Chamber of Commerce’s position on climate change is antiquated– sustainability does not inhibit, but rather drives, business innovation and prosperity. Denying the severity and imminence of climate change is not only ignorant, but self-destructive for an organization that champions the interests of business. And it is losing some high profile constituents as result. A number of large companies–such as PG&E, Nike, and Apple–have rescinded their membership, while many others have officially stated that the Chamber does not represent their views on climate change.
However, the Yes Men are treading a politically dangerous line. Politics and culture wars are dirty enough, but introducing guerrilla impersonation warfare takes things to the next level. It’s one thing to adopt a fictitious political persona for entertainment, or say, go to a Republican convention in political drag to gain material. New Left Media employed such a covert strategy to capture revealing (and frankly scary) footage of the DC Tea Party in September. But it’s a completely different ballgame when you impersonate real people or real organizations. The Yes Men claim this was an act of free speech, but it’s not hard to imagine how such a tactic would incite anger.
Nonetheless the Yes Men’s stunt, ethical or not, has drawn even more attention to the Chamber of Commerce’s ridiculous stance on climate change. If this raises awareness and urgency for climate action, some will argue it was worth it. Because the one thing we don’t have in the battle to stabilize global temperatures is time.