Never underestimate the power of a good prank. Humans have been pulling practical jokes on each other for almost as long as we've been walking upright. For some reason there's something about making other people look foolish that draws our attention. In recent years environmental activists have taken advantage of that phenomenon to generate exposure for important issues by pranking some of the world's biggest businesses, organizations and governments. Our examples our below, but feel free to add your own examples in the comments section below:
1. The Yes Men punk the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
In October 2009, the Yes Men, the godfathers of the eco-prankers movement, pulled one over on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by giving a news conference in which they posed as chamber representatives and announced their intention to stop their fight against climate change legislation that was working its way through the U.S. Senate. A real chamber representative got wind of the conference and managed to interrupt it, but not before the report went out on Reuters and was picked up by multiple other news outlets. See a video of the news conference here.
2. Reverend Billy punks Disney’s Main Street
Reverend Billy is to preachers as Stephen Colbert is to conservative pundits. Bill Talen has spent the better part of the last two decades portraying Reverend Billy, a high-energy, fast-talking street preacher with a message to stop buying so much crap at the stores. Reverend Billy is the leader of the Church of Stop Shoppin.
Reverend Billy likes to show up at stores and preach about the evils of mass consumption. Starbucks, Bank of America, Walmart and Disney have been favorite targets of Reverend Billy and his legion of culture jamming followers.
On Christmas Day 2005, Reverend Billy and his flock invaded the mecca of consumption that is Disneyland and led a choir down Main Street, U.S.A. singing anti-Disney and anti-shopping songs. Ignoring both the in-house Disney security and the Anaheim police in favor of continuing to sing, Reverend Billy was arrested for trespassing and resisting an officer.
In 2007, the Yes Men pretended to be officials from ExxonMobil and addressed a news conference at GO-EXPO, a huge annual gas and oil conference. As ExxonMobil, they announced that American and Canadian energy policies that focused on CO2-intensive oil sands and liquid coal would increase the risk of massive global disasters but that ExxonMobil had a plan to keep the taps running — they'd turn dead bodies into an oil they called Vivoleum. They described in detail how dead body refineries would produce oil, and even presented an animated walk through of a typical facility.
The oilmen in the audience didn't realize they were being punked until after they lit candles supposedly made of Vivoleum harvested from a janitor who had expressed his wish to be turned into candles in a video shown by the Yes Men. The Yes Men were escorted from the room and detained while the police were called. The police realized the men had committed no crime and they were permitted to leave. Their speech garnered major press coverage and helped bring attention to the ecological issue of tar sands oil.
5. A slap on the back for Lord Monckton
The pranksters behind this one were not afraid to pull out a little middle-school magic. Some young climate change activists slapped a 350.org sticker on the back of global warming denier and all-around blowhard Chris Monckton and then filmed him.
OK, so this one is pretty silly and didn't really make any impact beyond making me laugh, but maybe that's what makes it work — Monckton and his fellow deniers deserve to be treated as the silly prats they are.
A couple years later an invitation came in via the sham website for someone from Dow to speak on a BBC news show. The Yes Men went on the show posing as Dow officials and announced that the company was finally accepting responsibility for Bhopal. Again, the press went nuts.
They followed up a few months later with an appearance at a banking conference where they explained, to wild applause, how Dow considers death acceptable as long as it's profitable. Finally, they hit up Dow’s annual shareholders meeting and yelled at the board for not doing enough to stop the activists. Watch the video here.
Additional photo credits:
U.S. Chamber of Commerce: yesmen/babelgum.com
Rev. Billy: Jonathan McIntosh
Lord Monckton: Matthew McDermott/Flickr
MNN homepage photo: Cveltri/iStockphoto