The Yes Men Fix the Netherlands

Here’s a spoiler; the Yes Men did NOT fix the Netherlands last night at the Amsterdam Fringe Festival meets Dutch Theater Festival.

For those who are not familiar with the Yes Men (as I wasn’t aware of them until the programme of the AFF poked me in the face with it), they are a group of “culture jamming” activists, who have been active for quite a while, doing hoaxes on different topics related to environment, politics, injustice, and all related topics. They have also done a documentary films; The Yes Men Fix the World. A summary of their hoaxes (including representing Dow Chemicals on BBC live news) can be found on Wikipedia under this link.

What was interesting about their “show” in Amsterdam Fringe Festival, is that it was not exactly a show, and they weren’t there to fix the Netherlands (despite the slight misleading title that said they would). Although to be fair, the blurb about the show did not promise this, but I think the audience was expecting to sit there and watch them to their thing and present their work, where as Andy and Mike, the core of the Yes Men, said from minute 0 that this would be interactive and they have nothing prepared.

Well this was not 100% correct, as they have been doing Yes Lab’s – basically workshops with interested activism-oriented people to brainstorm for projects similar to Yes Men projects that would be carried out possibly without them – for the past two days, and know about the frustrations of the Dutch with their governments. But of course, they weren’t there to fix it themselves, that would be the responsibility of the audience, the Dutch.

All went better than expected, there were questions, and questions brought up videos from Andy and Mike, and stories and encouraging words. A few things struck me in this process:

* I always feel that the Dutch are quite calm and orderly and relatively civilized when it comes to things that frustrate southern and Mediterranean people: they have orderly lines, they don’t get frustrated in long slow-moving queues, they can take 30 minutes to bring you your tea, etc. But the audience simply was rude at times. Instead of using well places microphones, our lazy audience would not even get up from their seats, shouting out questions from the comfort of their semi-anonymous seats. To top that, another audience member would start arguing with the one who asked a question. Seriously. Who does that?

* The other interesting thing was the expectation from the audience that Andy and Mike would actually say, “okay, this is how we will fix the Netherlands”. If only it was that easy. They did however talk in detail about how they work, about YesLab which they started recently, to bring interested groups the YesMen methodology, so they could come up with their own stunts. They humbly announce that they don’t have special skills, but a great network of people that they work with.

* They work with activist groups such as Avaaz.org on issues, brainstorming with them over how and when to pull off their hoaxes to bring more attention to the media and to people about these issues.

I would say, one important thing that they communicated was that it takes only a good group of dedicated people to brainstorm and do this, and that nothing bad has happened to them (except for a lawsuit by the US Chamber of Commerce, which is sitting on a judge’s desk forever). And most important of all, probably, was it is our responsibility to show our discontent with the government or with corporations, and without non-violent activism, things will spiral into worse cases.

And I leave you with a YesMen hoax:

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