Nickle’s Daily Oil Bulletin Website Feature
OHS and Environment
June 18, 2007
Source: DOB Magazine

The Yes Men: How Political Pranksters Invaded Go-Expo 2007

The Yes Men - Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos - know they're getting too famous for their green propaganda hoaxes. "A woman at the [Go-Expo] luncheon recognized one of us right away and began dialling her Blackberry frantically," says Vamos, who showed up with his colleague as keynote speakers at last week's Gas and Oil Exposition 2007. The deception originated when the Calgary show's organizers or agents contacted the pranksters through a website designed as an Exxon Mobil look-alike. It ended Thursday afternoon with the two New Yorkers being escorted from the rostrum amid the stink of burning human hair.

[Figure 1]

DMG World Media, the London-based operator which owns Go-Expo, is in good company. The Republican National Convention and the BBC are among the many experienced organizations taken in by the Yes Men. Like con artists of all descriptions, this pair specializes in telling victims what they want to hear. "Conference organizers like to get big names as speakers at no charge, which is what we offer," Servin (shown at left) says. "It helps if they think that you'll use their event to make a major announcement of some kind." In Calgary, they apparently dangled a statement on future co-operation between the United States and Canada with respect to bitumen and biofuels.

The Yes Men explain another tactic to entice the unwary. First they offer a real catch, in the form of a high-ranking, prestigious speaker. As the date of the engagement approaches, the fabricators substitute a lesser (and less recognizable) official, claiming that the original executive has a scheduling conflict. Because switches of this kind often occur in legitimate situations, the targeted victims may well accept the change. After DMG's initial approach, according to Servin, the world's largest petroleum producer forced the pranksters to close down their Exxon Mobil decoy site. "Fortunately, we were able to maintain the contact through another website," the activist explains.

At Go-Expo, S.K. Wolff (Servin, shown above) supposedly represented the National Petroleum Council as a policy analyst while Vamos spoke as Florian Osenberg, human resources director of the fake Vivoleum program within Exxon Mobil. The audience, who paid $45 apiece for their meal and the unscheduled entertainment, heard that the United States anticipates a five-fold increase in bitumen production from Canada within five years.

Primed with that preposterous estimate, oil and gas professionals were informed that four billion people depend on oil for survival, a population which could be reduced to as little as 200 million by global warming and its accompanying catastrophes. Pipelines and other energy distribution infrastructure could not be expected to function amid the growing chaos. Hence Exxon Mobil, in preparation, had allegedly developed technology to transform cadavers into a form of synthetic fuel called Vivoleum (the 'o' in the name being represented by a drop of red blood in the Yes Men's PowerPoint presentation).

[Figure 2]

Then came a video, complete with emotional music, portraying Reggie Watts, supposedly an Exxon Mobil maintenance worker in Houston who bequeathed his cancer-riddled body for a test batch of Vivoleum. Candles whose shape vaguely resembled a human effigy were handed out to luncheon guests by staffers who were in fact last-minute volunteers recruited by the Yes Men in Calgary. Those candles, along with several diners amused or bemused, are shown above. The man videotaping the event was another local volunteer. Vamos lit his candle, claiming it was made from Reggie's remains, and suggested that everyone do likewise in his memory.

"I knew we'd been spotted early on and couldn't be sure how long the show would be allowed to continue," says Vamos (shown below with a fan). The candles, actually made from wax mixed with barber clippings, smelled badly. At that point, event security personnel moved in to escort the hoaxers away from the stage and out of sight. "We were informed by some beefy individuals that we could not leave until the police arrived," Servin alleges. He considers the detention illegal but did not press the point at the time.

[Figure 3]

The Yes Men report that their treatment by Calgary's finest was entirely friendly, with the occasional smile as the tale unfurled. "The show organizers were furious and wanted us charged with fraud and other hideous crimes," Vamos claims. "The cops gave each of us a ticket for trespassing just to keep the DMG people happy." By the following evening, Calgary volunteers had edited a video rendition of the prank for presentation at the Plaza Theatre. The audience, who filled the 370-seat theatre to capacity, enthusiastically urged the two men to fight their $300 tickets in court.

Their legal names are problematic. In The Yes Men, a film of their exploits distributed by United Artists, Vamos presents himself as Mike Bonnano, Servin as Andy Michlbaum. They used those aliases for their fans at the Plaza. Wikipedia states that Vamos is an assistant professor of media arts at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. Servin told the Daily Oil Bulletin that he's a media teacher at New York City's New School. Wikipedia says Servin is known as an author of experimental fiction and for inserting images of men kissing into the computer game SimCopter while he was an employee of Maxis Software.

Servin believes that the politically-inspired hoaxes are highly moral, in no sense similar to criminals who impersonate honest people in order to steal their money. "We impersonate organizations in order to correct their public identities, to focus attention where it belongs," he says. "We've never been charged criminally but would welcome a corporate lawsuit as another means of drawing attention to the cases we're making." Since they met eight years ago, the two men have posed with media-grabbing success as spokesmen for the World Trade Organization, McDonald's, Dow Chemical, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Yes Men say they're satisfied with the latest stunt, publicizing their conviction that bitumen is an exceptionally dirty fuel produced by companies which knowingly prefer to risk eco-catastrophe rather than invest adequate funds in developing alternative energy sources. DMG World Media will not comment on the affair. And Calgarians of all stripes - always appreciative of a reason to chuckle - might overlook being called criminal enviro-vandalizers by an imaginative couple of entertainers.

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