An Open Letter to the Yes Men: Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno

Say NO! to meaningless sloganeering and empty gestures!

Say NO! to meaningless sloganeering and empty gestures!

From Amazon.com: Multinational corporations have many enemies but few as creative and funny as the Yes Men. In 1993, Mike Bonanno made news by switching the voice boxes of Barbie and G.I. Joe dolls and returning them to store shelves. In 1996, Andy Bichlbaum made a splash by programming kissing, swimsuit-clad men into 80,000 copies of an action video game. When the two met, a collaboration was born. In 1999, they created a Web site parodying that of the World Trade Organization (WTO).Though the WTO denounced the spoof site, and though its creators felt the satire was self-evident, legitimate speaking invitations began arriving by e-mail. Undaunted, the Yes Men donned thrift-store suits and went where they’d been asked, posing as WTO spokemen and making outrageously callous statements. Their audiences were unfazed, prompting the Yes Men to raise the stakes again and again.

In 2008, the Yes Men premiered The Yes Men Fix the World at Sundance, a movie which follows the two as they infiltrate the world of big business and pull off outrageous pranks that highlight the ways that corporate greed is destroying the planet. Invited to present their film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, they originally agreed and then pulled out, citing their adherence to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. Asked why they don’t boycott the Congo or the US, Andy Bichlbaum said that “we haven’t been invited to the Kinshasa Film Festival (and we wouldn’t have been able to afford the private security force if we had been). More importantly, changing U.S. policy (and the direct and indirect results of that policy, e.g. in the Congo) is going to take a lot more than a boycott—whereas in Israel, a boycott could actually work.” Given that the bulk of their revenue comes from the US, one can’t help note that that sure is a convenient answer.

The duo then wrote an open letter to the organizers of the Jerusalem Film Festival articulating the reasons for their decision not to present their film there. I in turn decided to write an open letter to Andy and Mike expressing why I will no longer pay to see their films or buy their books. Read it after the bump!

Dear Yes Men,
I regret to say that I have taken the hard decision to not pay to watch your film “The Yes Men Fix the World,” in solidarity with intelligent and caring people who recognize that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (http://www.bdsmovement.net/), in whose name you withdrew from the Jerusalem Film Festival, is a misguided and malicious effort whose aim is more to harm and libel Israel than it is to actually further peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

This decision does not come easily as for years I have enjoyed and felt a strong affinity with your antics aimed at exposing greed, stupidity and corruption, in both the corporate and governmental sectors. I’ve lived in New Orleans and even returned last year for two weeks of volunteer humanitarian work. While rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, I couldn’t help but recall your HUD prank that highlighted the destruction of 500 undamaged public housing units in New Orleans. I too am horrified by the actions of corporations like Exxon and Dow who cause death and destruction with relative impunity.

But despite the appreciation I have for your work, I cannot abandon my common sense and decency. Your comparison of Apartheid era South Africa to Israel is simply false and totally inaccurate. Palestinian civil society has had ample opportunity to live in peace with Israel, but these opportunities have been continuously stymied by their government’s rejectionism. If peace and compliance with International norms of conduct is what you want, you’d have more success boycotting the Palestine Authority and Hamas.

It is painful to do this, but I am left with no choice when you lend credence to marginal ignoramuses in Israel and around the world who revoltingly use the term “fascist” to describe Israeli policies. In doing so you trivialize the crimes committed by actual fascists and dishonor the memories of their many, many victims. More importantly, you do nothing to advance the cause of peace. I know what I’m talking about and it’s painful to think about just how wrong you are in this case.

Of course things in Israel are less than ideal, when are they ever ideal when one lives in a perpetual state of conflict? When rockets rain on your countrymen? When the possibility of random terrorist attacks against civilians is a daily reality? When world leaders wish you and yours to be wiped off the face of the earth? When your country is singled out as the worst abuser of human rights truly while genocidal maniacs defiantly visit world capitals unhindered?

Is it Anti-Zionism or merely age old Antisemitism rearing its ugly head again less than 70 years after the fires of Auschwitz were finally put out? And what of the Jews that lend succor and support to our enemies? Is it self hatred or merely survival instinct that motivates their deeds? Whatever words are applied to such actions, our entertainment dollars mustn’t help lend an aura of normalcy to individuals that make these decisions. For me, that’s the bottom line.

There is certainly another way to do things in Israel/Palestine, and that is what we must fight for, however difficult our task. We must eschew the otherwise well intentioned simple minded sloganeering and empty gestures of the Yes Men and the self righteous fools behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. We must appeal to the Palestinians to seek the way of a negotiated peace and to elevate new leaders that will unite them for a better future for them, for us and for all our children.

As for the Yes Men film, there is another way for it to be seen in Israel… and in Palestine, and anywhere else, so that the people most in need of comic relief, who would never have been able to see it at the Jerusalem Film Festival anyhow, will be able to see it too, and for free. It’s called Bit Torrent and the film is already available there, free of charge for anyone with a Bit Torrent client like uTorrent. Why reward a bad decision with your hard earned money? Folks like you have to learn that there are repercussions to their decisions. I’m not suggesting a boycott of the Yes Men, let each be guided by his or her conscience. But I’ll be damned if you see a nickel of my hard earned money. Unless you eventually reconsider and figure out more productive ways to advance peace in the Middle East.

L’shanah haba’ah beyerushalayim Andy and Mike you shmendricks!

wendy in furs

I live and blog anonymously from New York. If my boss knew this was me, I'd be fired in a nano-second. Ha ha! Screw you boss man!


  1. harvey stein

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  38. Pingback: Meet the Change: The Yes Men | Jewschool

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