Charging against the capitalist empire

The Yes Men display their work at the Miller Gallery

Laura Thorén Nov 17, 2008

Before there was Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, The Yes Men infiltrated American media and political organizations, posing as prominent corporate leaders, media persons, or government officials to highlight social and political issues. Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men, the Miller Gallery’s newest exhibit, opened last Friday to document the contentious actions of The Yes Men as a form of “activist art.”

The ominous nature of the exhibit is immediately apparent upon walking into the third-floor gallery. An apocalyptic backdrop of the Pittsburgh skyline up in smoke adorns the back wall, with images of overturned cars in flames, sending the message that this exhibit is of an urgent, aggressive nature — not one’s typical museum experience. The words “It is possible to drain power from any living creature to power the suit” are printed above the entrance to a faux press conference, where a mannequin corporate leader is represented as talking, literally, from his penis. Take a seat to watch a video that mocks our culture’s emphasis on capitalism and technology: In the future, our children will be able play video games that guide endangered polar bears to the safety of an iceberg from the comfort of their living rooms, allowing both Nintendo and the environment to profit.

The Yes Men have been mocking American culture since 2003, when they released their DVD The Yes Men. Sometimes the spoofs are painless: The Yes Men claim partial responsibility for handing out 1.2 million copies of a fake New York Times on Nov. 12, 2008 with a headline that read “The Iraq War Ends” (A copy is available in the gallery). In other cases, The Yes Men’s tactics hurt more than they helped.

“The Yes Men point out something important we should all be aware of,” said Katherine Chin, a gallery worker and BHA junior, “but I’m not sure about the way they go about doing it, if it’s the right way.” One Yes Man impostor posing as U.S. Housing and Urban Development official Rene Oswin gave a bogus speech to Louisiana officials and 1000 contractors on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, promising new government funding for houses, and sparked false hope for the victims of this event, who believed for roughly two hours that they would actually receive government aid. The Yes Men argue that although they are duping those victims, they are supposed to be helping. The fact that this ploy was given extensive media coverage (FOX News, CNN, and the BBC all covered the event) allowed the pressing issue of housing for Katrina victims to reach the forefront of media coverage when it would not have otherwise.

The Carnegie Mellon exhibit is curated by Astria Suparak, who became the new director of the Miller Gallery March 1. Known for her progressive and shocking exhibitions, Suparak previously (and controversially) curated Syracuse University’s Warehouse Gallery’s exhibit COME ON: Desire Under the Female Gaze in late 2007, an exhibit she described as “unabashed explorations and unapologetic articulations of female libido.” Suparak certainly takes the gallery in a new direction with The Yes Men exhibition, using a no-holds-barred approach of highlighting the hypocrisy in American and Western capitalism. The “We Can Do It!” woman dressed in moribund Ronald McDonald attire on posters around campus is too benign to convey the importance and exigency of this exhibit.

The exhibit will be open until Feb. 15, 2009. In conjunction with this exhibit, there will be a viewing Thursday, Dec. 4 of The Yes Men movie at 8 p.m. at the Melwood Screening Room.