Guest Post: The Yes Men Love Beautiful Trouble

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You may know the Yes Men as the folks behind the "Iraq War Ends" special edition New York Times. Or the impersonation of a Dow Chemical spokesman on BBC news, declaring compensation for Bhopal disaster victims to an audience of 300 million. Or the fake "We Agree" campaign, undermining Chevron's efforts to address a class-action lawsuit in Ecuador. If none of that rings a bell, you may have heard of the Yes Men as humans who mend the globe, as they recorded their hijinks in the 2009 feature documentary The Yes Men Fix The World. Still scratchin' your head? Well, you may need to get out more. But as a dear old friend likes to say: "if you don't know, now you know."

A "genderless, loose-knit association of three hundred imposters worldwide," the Yes Men are culture-jamming pranksters. Loud 'n proud subverters of greed, they seek to change the world, one infamous stunt at a time. To some, they wreak havoc. To others, they're heroes. To all: they're undoubtedly creative activists. Incorporating improvisation, performance, and documentation into their very public pranks, the Yes Men run on a swirling synergy of art and activism. Whether it's triumphant flash mobs, clever pop art, or savvy web design, word of their campaigns always travels far and wide. They're raising funds on Kickstarter for the Yes Lab for Creative Activism, and some of their colleagues are compiling all their wisecracking wisdom into the Kickstarter-funded compilation, Beautiful Trouble. The Yes Men took a little time off from their merry pranking to plead a case for both below.

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Trouble, beautiful be thy name.

When Andrew Boyd asked us to join in on an audacious, first-ever attempt to catalog and release the wisdom of decades of creative protest, we broke out in a little song and dance. While we’ve been making trouble (and having a lot of fun at it) for more than a decade, we really wish we’d had this kickstarter-funded book on our nightstand years ago. Instead, we’re helping to write it—and we hope you can help fund it.

Beautiful Trouble will be a collectively-written book and website that makes the best of creative activism available to all. It will come not a moment too soon: in the face of recent well-funded campaigns to roll back environmental laws and social justice programs, those of us who don’t have the money to buy our way into power need to think and act outside the box in order to win hearts and minds.

The thesis of Beautiful Trouble is that political protest is theater, albeit a rather ambitious form of it—dictator-overthrowing, changing-the-system ambitious, in fact—and that to achieve its ambitious goals, this theater must not only be carefully crafted, and borrow shamelessly from artists, designers, comedians, and even Madison Avenue; even more importantly, it must be fun.

We couldn’t agree more. Our highest-impact interventions have by and large also been our funnest. Like the recent public health campaign, “Coal Cares,” supposedly launched by Big Coal (in reality by an environmental group and ourselves) to cater to the insidious menace of “Asthma-Related Bullying” (ARB). Coal Cares garnered much legal outrage from not one, but five big child-killing coal companies, and sent our little group on the funnest social-media rocket trip we could imagine. It was hilarious to come up with so much tasteless drivel, and even funner to see it hit home for so many.

Or the time some activists and ourselves helped the U.S. Chamber of Commerce clean up its image by taking a 180-degree turn on its previous opposition to climate legislation; the Chamber was not amused, as they demonstrated quite visibly during our press conference, and as their lawyers subsequently informed us—fun in itself, but the ensuing media brouhaha, besides helping further expose the Chamber as a giant impediment to our potential collective sanity, was utterly fun.

Yup—the dirty little secret about beautiful trouble (and Beautiful Trouble), which many of our political gatekeepers don’t want you to know, is that it’s the funnest thing you can do. From fake websites to militant carnivals, from flash mobs to virtual sit-ins, this vital form of social activism reminds us that we don’t have to play by the “rules of dissent,” and that we can meld prank and PR, direct action protest and pop art. It’s the same reason we just launched our new Yes Lab for Creative Activism: to encourage and assist as many beautiful troublemakers as we possibly can. The Yes Lab doesn’t have a formal curriculum as such, but it will definitely have at least one book on its required reading list—this one.

- The Yes Men

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