A flurry of cryptic emails last weekend brought out the usual crowd of Vancouver environmental activists to Enbridge’s doorstep, but something is different. There’s no angry chanting, no snide slogans – not a fighting word within earshot. At the height of lunch hour on suit row, protesters are clogging the street and the atmosphere is, well, light. With free haircuts and mock reporters, the community has come out to help set the record straight. The message? An oil spill is inevitable and Enbridge doesn’t have a plan.
The Yes Men–inspired MyHairCares Initiative invited salons across Canada to donate their hair clippings to help Enbridge prepare for future oil spills with “super-absorbent hair booms.” Greenpeace’s Rex Weyler responded by slamming Enbridge for the paucity of the [fake] initiative. The story was initially picked up by major media outlets across Canada, but as the haze of confusion cleared, the stories were pulled from their websites.
Will the real Enbridge please stand up?
Enbridge retaliated with threats of legal action against the organizers, calling the hoax a “cynical attempt to take advantage of public concern about the environment.”
But that was just the bait. The pranksters released their own fake statement on behalf of Enbridge, condemning the hoax and committing to creating a $20 billion liability fund for the Northern Gateway Pipeline development, their idea of a reasonable risk management plan.
The nut: some truths are more ridiculous than the most outrageous ruse.
Satire is as old as politics. With their unique brand of creative activism, Yes Men Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno have revamped the satirical tactics of yore for our post-modern times. They are self-professed culture jammers out to build popular opposition to unethical practices by “correcting identities.” By impersonating corporations and governments, they lie their way to the truth. Their outlandish spoofs are wake-up calls, intended to remind the public of “what’s wrong, what could be right, and what’s in store if we don’t change our ways.”
For activists like Sean Devlin and Jolan Bailey, a little madness goes a long way. As part of the troupe that pulled off the MyHairCares hoax, they were trained at the Yes Men’s Yes Lab for creative activists. There they learned that creative power has real currency when you are up against the formidable economic resources of the corporate sector. Capturing the public’s imagination can be an incredibly potent way to highlight just how ludicrous reality can be. They also learned how to sustain themselves as activists by making the battle enjoyable.
Anti-corporate activist-pranksters? Gonzo political activists? However you label them, the Yes Men and their ilk are undeniably effective when it comes to getting their message out loud and clear. They also know how to have a good time.
In their words, “Who knew fixing the world could be so much fun?”