Meet the Yes Men, the Political Satirists Who Punked GE

Their so-called crime? The Yes Men had held a fake press conference and said the Chamber was changing its environmental policy. A judge has yet to throw the case out.

As with the Chamber stunt, the GE hit involved a website. The Yes Men credit US Uncut's Justin Wedes and Carl Gibson with the success of the GE prank, which teetered on securing a website (GENewsCenters.com) which could be -- and was -- mistaken for the company's real site GENewsCenter.com.

Now because we're wedged into a false notion that the right and the left are opposite equals, the question must be asked: Isn't this just like what James O'Keefe did to ACORN? Or like what Andrew Breitbart so bravely threatened to do to teachers this week on Hannity?

Isn't deception coupled with a political agenda resulting in a public spectacle what both sides now engage in? Culture jamming used to just be the domain of the left. Isn't O'Keefe the Yes Men of the right?

That's not how they see it. "Attacking the weak? There's no tradition of honor in that," says Vamos. "The thing that analogy ignores is power." O'Keefe's unscrupulous crusade against a nonprofit that assisted the disenfranchised wasn't comedy. Just like a cool kid pantsing a wimp in gym class to make others laugh isn't a performance artist -- he's just a bully.

Seeing the downtrodden duped isn't comedy, activism, or journalism: Its conveniently edited cruelty, the Yes Men say.

"They [O'Keefe and Breitbart] created a lie," says Servin. "A lie they feel entitled to commit because they know what's best for society. What they do is what the PR industry does -- they create fake stories."

He adds, "We create a fake story to expose the truth."

Indeed the rash of hidden camera stings by O'Keefe and those he's inspired, like the one against Planned Parenthood, are not only are racially-tinged and sexually titillating (i.e. involving characters who are Muslims, people of color or hookers) -- they re-enforce rightwing conspiracies and fears. The O'Keefe NPR sting, for example, showed an NPR employee -- gasp -- having lunch with two wannabe donors who claim they're funded by the -- gasp -- Muslim Brotherhood who want Sharia law to replace US law.

"Yeah, radically different in every way," remarks Servin on the comparison.

In contrast, the disgraced O'Keefe, thinks of himself as like the Yes Men. He told Playboy in an interview, "I want to make society more transparent and ethical."

And that's the key difference: The Yes Men take on power while opposed to O'Keefe takes on power's victims.

You could say the Yes Men are the George Carlin of political theater. Meaning: You watch what they do with deference simply because there's no one else who can do what they do a) as well as they do it b) as successfully and c) for as long.

They do not see it that way. They seem to believe anyone can do what they do. Which is the blind spot of the uber-talented: Of course you can do this too! Their new project is "Yes Men Labs," where others can create a Yes Men type of hoax. "The Yes Lab is a series of brainstorms and trainings to help activist groups carry out Yes-Men-style projects on their own," reads their site. A franchise? "It's more like a school," says Vamos.

The Yes Men say they get at least one request a day asking them to "do something about this or that topic." It's at the point where it's simply impossible for them to do all of them.

They can't -- so now they teach.

Image credit: Mario Anzuoni (Reuters)

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Tina Dupuy is a syndicated op-ed columnist at Cagle Cartoons.

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