Masquerading as eager Republicans, artist-activists The Yes Men are cruising the country in a bus that trumpets "Yes, Bush Can '04." The Yes Men -- who advocate identity correction (assuming the role of one's enemy in order to more effectively explicate what's wrong) and can currently be seen impersonating World Trade Organization members in their eponymous movie -- use the bus to lure unsuspecting Bush supporters into what they hope will be mind-changing discussions.
Stopping in Western Pennsylvania last week, Yes Men founders Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno pondered their ground efforts and whether the Bush administration itself might be an elaborate prank.
How successful have your on-the-road conversions been?
Andy Bichlbaum: There is a massive knowledge gap, but we were able to bridge it for a few people on issues like taxes by saying "this means this to you" -- and it's such a simple deduction to make, you wonder why they don't do that themselves. Often, the media and the public trust whatever the authorities are saying this is about, and the administration will couch it in language like "jump-starting the economy" so that it sounds good.
Mike Bonanno: A lot of people, you start talking to them and it's clear that there's no way they're going to change their mind ever; [most Republicans] are just going to perceive you as a loose cannon, some crazy Republican.
Bichlbaum: We've had very clear discussions with people about how global warming will result in the destruction of the earth: "This will turn China into a desert." And people will just say "OK": You're saying it the right way, and I like your tone of voice, so OK.
Do you think now, with everything hyper-keyed to politics, media and information, that this is a good time to be media prankster?
Bonanno: It's good and bad. It's a horrible time politically, but at the same, there's a lot that needs to be ridiculed.
Given that a Yes Man relies on the benign faith of his audience to accept his spiel, which on the surface looks and sounds right, do you believe there are any Yes Men spewing bizarre, ultimately illogical policies in the Bush administration?
Bichlbaum: Hmmm, it's quite possible. The only thing that makes us know that that isn't the case is that one of us would never perpetrate a satire on the scale of attacking a country just to prove a point. So Bush is not a Yes Man.
Is it just because you guys don't have the funds?
Bonanno: We are involved in some ways in the same racket. Our version of it doesn't have the potential to harm anybody, whereas Bush's is about killing thousands of people.
Bichlbaum: Theirs is not a conceptually valid form of art. But, that said, I think they are looking at it as art. They don't care about truth; it's almost like a perverse form of performance art, like they're just doing experimental theater. They're just going around seeing what they can do with a basic idea and plotline, and testing what the limits of that is.