Maybe ten years ago I interviewed Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters, by phone from his office in Vancouver. One of the things we talked about was culture jamming. When you’re trying to resist the mind-numbing conformity of vacuous pop culture and reactionary conservative orthodoxy, you have to confront a harsh truth. They have way more money, resources, power and influence than you do. Take them on in a traditional fight, you’ll be handed your ass and sent packing pretty quick.
What you have to do is think strategically, and deploy your resources wisely. And culture jamming sure can help. It kind of works like judo where, when you’re fighting a bigger and stronger opponent, you try to get them to over-commit then turn their size and strength against them.
The Yes Men are culture jammers par excellence. In December, they made headlines globally when they set up a dummy Environment Canada website during the Copenhagen Climate Talks and announced that Canada was adopting new emission targets to address climate change. Especially in the Harper era, Canada has been regarded internationally as an environmental laggard, and the announcement was greeted with jubilation by a member of the Ugandan delegation at a subsequent press conference.
Only problem was, it wasn’t a legit announcement. And the press conference wasn’t real either. It was all a ruse by the subjects of this documentary which screens tonight at 7 p.m. at the RPL Theatre. As anti-globalization activists, the Yes Men (two performance artists named Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos) have taken on Dow Chemical, Exxon and other powerful targets with ingenious media attacks that undermine their credibility and expose their hypocrisy when it comes to the environment and other social justice issues.
Following their Copenhagen triumph, the Yes Men pulled a similar stunt at a World Economic Forum in Davos where they released a statement expressing a committment on behalf of world leaders to eradicate poverty.