In the very week The Yes Men pulled their latest big stunt, everyone's favorite anti-corporate pranksters also marked Nov. 14's Pittsburgh opening of Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism With The Yes Men, the first-ever solo exhibition of their culture-jamming memorabilia, at Carnegie Mellon's Miller Gallery. The stunt involved 1.2 million copies of a faux New York Times, distributed in NYC and other U.S. cities. The front page -- dated July 4, 2009 -- announced the end of the Iraq War. Other headlines: "Senate Gets Tough on Limited Liability; to Rein In, Humanize Corporations" and "Nationalized Oil to Fund Climate Change Efforts."
Yes Man Mike Bonanno, at the Miller conducting a pre-reception workshop titled "How to Be a Yes Man," classified the Times prank among the group's "honest proposals": Unlike its Swiftly satirical "modest proposals" -- like posing as ExxonMobil reps to tell a roomful of petroleum-industry types about a new form of fuel rendered from the dead bodies of climate-change victims -- honest proposals depict the world the way it ought to be, and require the world to explain why it's not. Another example was the infamous 2004 stunt when Bonanno's frequent conspirator, Andy Bichlbaum, posed as Dow Chemical spokesman "Jude Finisterra" and told the millions tuned in to BBC World that Dow now claimed full responsibility for the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, including $12 billion in reparations and environmental cleanup. The reason, Finisterra told the Beeb, was "simply because it's the right thing to do." (On discovering the imposture, Dow immediately denied it had any plans to do the right thing.)
Speaking to a packed Miller Gallery -- some 350 people, half or more of them students -- Bonanno described the thinking behind honest proposals: "Let's imagine what we want to see, and see how we can make that happen, instead of 'What do we want to oppose?'" The "newspaper full of hopes and dreams" was meant to spur citizen activism as well as to hold president-elect Obama to his promises of change.
Bonanno's advice to aspiring Yes Men -- anyone can effectively join the decade-old collective -- included how to write press releases. "We follow the same rules that any corporation does when they're sending out their fake news," said Bonanno, a compact, dark-haired guy in his 30s recognizable to viewers of 2004's The Yes Man Movie. (Another feature film is forthcoming.)
Keep It Slick was curated by the Miller's new director, Astria Suparak, who continued her practice of inventive receptions. Whereas the partially concurrent exhibit Your Town, Inc., featuring photos of repurposed Walmarts, opened with a "Hometown BBQ" (vegan corndogs; homebrewed beer), Keep It Slick debuted with a "Business Casual" reception. In a world of gallery openings boasting lavish wine-and-cheese spreads, this was an hilariously, and knowingly, sad little affair: In a corner of the gallery lined with circa-1970s paneling, two dinky tables held plastic corporate coffee carafes, small boxes of sweets and little trays of salted peanuts. Everyone who wanted a bite had to crowd in, then wait his turn, one more piggy at the trough.