This week DC played host to the anti-corporate shenanigans of The Yes Men, self-proclaimed “culture jammers” who get off on impersonating corporate and government spokespeople and proceeding to make ridiculous and/or horrifying public statements. The general idea behind culture jamming is to use a mainstream medium to communicate a subversive message. A more specific (and jargon-filled) definition comes to us courtesy of our good friend Wikipedia:
Culture jamming is the act of transforming mass media to produce commentary about itself, using the original medium’s communication method. It is a form of public activism which is generally in opposition to commercialism, and the vectors of
corporate image. The aim of culture jamming is to create a contrast between corporate or mass media images and the realities or perceived negative side of the corporation or media. This is done symbolically, with the “detournement” of pop iconography.
That’s quite a mouthful. In any event, The Yes Men employ culture jamming techniques to spread their message. Unfortunately, their message seems to consist mostly of anti-capitalist, anti-trade, anti-corporate ideology. Which brings us to the events of this week.
They had contacted CEI and several other free market think tanks, claiming to be documentary filmmakers retained by the ad agency Hill & Knowlton to make an updated version of Milton Friedman’s landmark series “Free to Choose.” Supposedly, a wealthy private donor had commissioned the new series, and hired H&K to produce it. Several of the groups, taking them at their word, leapt at the chance to talk about how economic freedom leads to an open, prosperous society, and scheduled interviews. By Monday evening, however, troubling details began to emerge.
After some advanced level Google work, we discovered that their cover story was not checking out. The people who we thought were creating a tribute to our hero Dr. Friedman were, in fact, almost certainly setting out to do the opposite. Thus informed, we hit the phones on Tuesday and advised other groups in town of The Yes Men’s lying ways. In addition, we discovered that our friends at the Cato Institute had interviews with their own analysts scheduled for the very next morning. Thus, when Wednesday morning rolled around and the Yes Men crew showed up at Cato HQ on Massachusetts Avenue, everyone was prepared.
First, Cato’s media department informed the crew that they would not be taping any interviews after all. Then, as they were being escorted out of the building, a pro-freedom activist crew led by Bureaucrash Crasher-in-Chief Jason Talley treated them to a little street theater from the other side of the ideological spectrum.
In a way, what Bureaucrash does is not that different from what The Yes Men specialize in. Many past crashes have featured the same kind of re-purposed media and culture jamming techniques the other guys have used, except, of course, in the pursuit of freedom instead of an expansion of government power. During the “Progressives Against Progress” crash in 2004, for example, crashers infiltrated the Green Party national conference in Madison, Wisconsin and got many a Green to sign on to their outrageous satirical petitions.
Over the years, The Yes Men have proven their skill at fooling everyone from conference organizers and government officials to network television producers. One group they couldn’t fool, however, was CEI’s feisty younger brother, Bureaucrash. See the video confrontation below; more details on the crash available here.