A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


The Yes Men are coming to BG in a couple of weeks.

They're a satire/performance art team who impersonate everybody from WTO spokespeople to Exxon executives, travelling to oil conferences and business schools giving fake talks in which they propose the most vile, outlandish, utterly unbelievable products and initiatives. They describe themselves as "impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else." And this from Wikipedia: "The Yes Men are a group of culture jamming activists who practice what they call 'identity correction' by pretending to be powerful people and spokespersons for prominent organizations. They create and maintain fake websites similar to ones they want to spoof, and then they accept invitations received on their websites to appear at conferences, symposia, and TV shows."

And, more often than not, their performances are swallowed hook, line, and sinker. Here's an excerprt from their account (told in a straight, unblinking journalistic style) of a November, 2006 talk:

Philadelphia - At a Wharton Business School conference on business in Africa, World Trade Organization representative Hanniford Schmidt announced the creation of a WTO initiative for "full private stewardry of labor" for the parts of Africa that have been hardest hit by the 500 years of Africa's free trade with the West.

The initiative will require Western companies doing business in some parts of Africa to own their workers outright. Schmidt recounted how private stewardship has been successfully applied to transport, power, water, traditional knowledge, and even the human genome. The WTO's "full private stewardry" program will extend these successes to (re)privatize humans themselves.

"Full, untrammelled stewardry is the best available solution to African poverty, and the inevitable result of free-market theory," Schmidt told more than 150 attendees. Schmidt acknowledged that the stewardry program was similar in many ways to slavery, but explained that just as "compassionate conservatism" has polished the rough edges on labor relations in industrialized countries, full stewardry, or "compassionate slavery," could be a similar boon to developing ones.

The audience included Prof. Charles Soludo (Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria), Dr. Laurie Ann Agama (Director for African Affairs at the Office of the US Trade Representative), and other notables. Agama prefaced her remarks by thanking Scmidt for his macroscopic perspective, saying that the USTR view adds details to the WTO's general approach. Nigerian Central Bank Governor Soludo also acknowledged the WTO proposal, though he did not seem to appreciate it as much as did Agama.
In addition to doing performances, they have also made a movie (with another one apparently on the way) and written a book. I intend to check both of them out. There's also a Bill Moyers interview with them available on the web (one word: Vivoleum!)

This is pretty radical, amazing stuff. I'm looking forward to their visit.

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