Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Identity correction – Yes Men style. Interview with Andy Bichlbaum.

In an inspired adjunct to the initial prank, the Yes Men, through their site issued a press release claiming to be from Dow revealing the hoax, and detailing exactly what they, as Dow Chemicals, would not take responsibility for. The statement ended with the following: “Dow shareholders will see NO losses, because Dow’s policy towards Bhopal HAS NOT CHANGED. Much as we at Dow may care, as human beings, about the victims of the Bhopal catastrophe, we must reiterate that Dow’s sole and unique responsibility is to its shareholders, and Dow CANNOT do anything that goes against its bottom line unless forced to by law”, which, at the end of the day, seems to be as realistic an account of the situation as Dow could have written themselves.

There was criticism of the prank on the part of some Bhopal activist groups, suggesting that the hoax had given false hope to Bhopali victims. The Yes Men have apologized to the victims for any suffering unintentionally caused, but remain convinced of the positive effects of the stunt. “The concrete thing that that event produced was over five hundred articles being written about the situation in Bhopal, many of them in the United States where most media generally didn't mention the Bhopal anniversary, and most Americans don't know where or what Bhopal is. They certainly don't know that Dow hasn't cleaned up the site or compensated the victims adequately. That's what it accomplished, raising consciousness – says Bichlbaum, while adding – “the joke is the vehicle to get the information into people's minds, through the press, of course. The articles that appeared had to explain the background, in addition to the joke itself. They had to explain what Bhopal was, what activists are demanding, what the point of the joke was. If people then went to our website, they would have found plastered across our front page “Click here for information about Bhopal” and we had links to and to so people would find out from activists in Bhopal what the situation is, and how they could contribute both financially and practically to the fight for compensation for victims of the disaster from Dow. We did get to meet the activists recently and they did tell us that there was a big rise in donations afterwards, and that by nighttime they had come to feelour prank was a good thing, and that it had really worked”.

To many, the success of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 last year, both critically and commercially, marked a high tide mark in the popularity of documentary/activist movie making. In an interview last October with film maker Jennifer Abbot, director of The Corporation, this magazine questioned whether the possible re-election of George W. Bush would affect popular activism. I put a similar question to Bichlbaum: is there evidence of activist fatigue? After all there were huge efforts made last year against Bush, and yet he still won. “This whole interest in documentaries, and corporate issues, is largely a result of Bush being in office, and people being desperate for information. Information that the media were not providing. That of course now continues [laughs wistfully]. The only silver lining to the situation is that it's starkly clear to people that things are dreadfully wrong, and that things have to change. I think people are searching now more than ever to find information, and to find out how they can get involved and have an effect. If Kerry had won, wh
o knows what the situation might be now. When Clinton won, when Clinton was president, a lot of incredibly bad things were happening, and a lot of people were lulled into complacency, and didn't realise perhaps that Iraq was being bombed continuously, and that the welfare system in the United States was being eviscerated. At least with Bush in office it's dreadfully clear [laughs], and it's worse than it would be with Kerry, but people are aware of it. There is a certain feeling of powerlessness perhaps, but overall I think the effect has been more energising”.

Paradoxically, the more successful the film, the harder it will be for the Yes Men to get away with stunts, but it's not something Bichlbaum is too concerned about: “We haven't had any trouble yet. We don't think we will have any really. We'll see. The scene with Barry Coates in the film was demonstrative of that [activist who, despite having taken part in a heated discussion with Bichlbaum in his WTO guise, failed to recognise him in the flesh]. He's an extremely intelligent and insightful person, very aware and awake to things. It's just that when you see someone in one context you just don't bother thinking 'are they really someone you've seen in a movie somewhere?'. We're just programmed that way. It probably won't be a problem, but if it does become one, there are surely many, many people who actually have an acting background who could do this as well as we do, or probably better. There's also fake beards etc. or whatever would do the trick”.

The good news is that, whatever the success, the Yes Men are far from alone, as Andy explains, “we've been in touch with all sorts of people doing similar things, or interested in the same issues, for a very long time. We talk with people about collaborating on various things in the future”.

And when asked about future pranks, reasonably enough and with a laugh that hovers between deviousness or delight in upcoming events, he keeps the details to himself, leaving us to watch this space…

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