The Yes Men: Crimes of Impersonation

We are often not aware of the amount and magnitude of crimes committed by large, international corporations against powerless, ordinary citizens due to the financial and legal recourse these companies have access to. Because their crimes are cloaked in secrecy, these entities aren’t associated with criminality despite their recurring criminal behavior.

Some of the individuals who use art and trickery to reveal the true criminal colors of international corporations are the interventionist artists known as the Yes Men. These artists create and upload websites that almost perfectly resemble the websites of presidential campaigns and entities like the WTO and Dow Chemical to gain access to public interviews and speaking events that trick viewers into believing they are real representatives for the powerful corporations.

In one of their most audacious acts of impersonation, the Yes Men posed as representatives for the Dow Chemical company after the Bhopal chemical disaster they were responsible for causing. The Yes Men falsely stated that Dow Chemical would liquidate the subsidiary company responsible for the disaster, Union Carbide, and they would use the money to restore the community affected by the disaster. In doing so, Dow Chemical was forced to come out and deny what the Yes Men had said which drew further coverage on the disaster and Dow’s criminal way of washing their hands of a crime they were responsible for.

Although Dow Chemical was able to write off the Yes Men’s impersonation as a bad PR incident and eventually recover their stock price drop over the years, the Yes Men were persecuted and followed for their artistic impersonation, however. While Dow Chemical’s handling of the disaster fit the perfect definition of criminal, it was the Yes Men that were asked by the media about whether they felt bad about giving the Bhopal citizens false hope and information. Their impersonation stunt was seen as a bigger crime because of the fact that they had misrepresented the intentions of a large corporation which led to legal and financial ramifications.

Even though Dow Chemical was responsible for decimating a community and killing several individuals due to their irresponsible and unsustainable business practices, the Yes Men’s impersonation that temporarily endangered the finances of a multi-million dollar corporation was seen as more of a scandal. I find it interesting that this is a prime example of how less sophisticated crimes in society like drug-dealing or impersonating a rich corporation are given more attention in the media than the more sophisticated and complex crimes of big corporations. It begs the question: does a criminal’s level of power in society allow them to escape from the full consequences of a justice?

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Gabriela Fellingham

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