This week’s viewing of the documentary of the activism projects from the Yes Men (Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos) left me wondering about how their privilege from being white, cisgendered men had an influence on their work. It is highly possible that their privilege helped them be able to pull of the stunts that they did, since the success of their projects often relied on their ability to pass in roles like company spokesmen, where the expectation is to be a white, cisgendered man. So, in a way, their tactic of using their ability to pass to pull off their projects was positive and an example of how privileged folks can use their privilege for good, since someone of a marginalized identity would most likely have more trouble trying to pass as the same roles. I think it would have been productive for Servin and Vamos to acknowledge the fact that their privilege helped them pass, since there was zero mention of this in the documentary whatsoever. It is also very possible that their privilege helped increase their visibility as activists, since many viewers, even after finding out that their impersonations were a hoax, respected the message of the project, which tends to happen more often to people of privilege.
I found it somewhat problematic that the documentary focused very heavily on the Yes Men themselves and creating the idea of how successful their activism projects were, instead of using the film to critically evaluate their own positionality as privileged folks, the long-term impact (or lack of impact) of their project on the issues they were confronting, and centering the narrative on the people and communities most affected by those issues. While the film as is was humorous and very enjoyable, it was clear that they wanted to construct a tightly controlled narrative where their projects were impressive through their confrontation of big companies and other oppressive systems, making the Servin and Vamos like the saviors of those oppressed. In reality, it was unclear whether any of their projects had any actual long-term impact outside of just raising awareness, which is important, but not always an indicator of imminent social change. It did not appear that they attempted to keep those companies accountable for changing their behaviors after the Yes Men stunts occurred, since the film only showed the Yes Men themselves getting publicity on news interviews for being alternative activists, and then just moving on to a different cause to support. To me, this made me feel like they were not committed enough to making meaningful change, but rather floating from cause to cause almost like action junkie tourists, getting publicity and receiving respect without facing any of the serious consequences. So, overall, while I respect their work, I believe that their main area of growth is in their “allyship” and their problematic construction of their “savior” status.
From WEEK 11 – Nov 6 & 8 – Tactical Media Events, Hacktivism, and the Zapatista Movement