They’ve got a boatload of intelligence, cleverness and righteous indignation and three boatloads of chutzpah. They’re known as “culture jammers” par excellence, disrupting mainstream media and the corporate consumerist world it purportedly suckles with high-wire pranks and schemes that expose it all as not only perverse but laughable.
They’re known as The Yes Men, and they take the notion of brown-nosing the System to over-the-top hilarious levels to make their profoundly undercutting point. Here is one of their earliest examples. In December 2004, they managed, through a brilliantly phony Dow Chemical website and other means, to convince everyone, including the BBC brass, that they were spokespersons of this mega-corporation with an important announcement to share with the world on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster; however, their spokesperson "Jude Finisterra" is really one of the leading Yes Men and film director/Parsons School of Design prof Andy Bichlmann.
How many ways is the following video funny? Sad? Absolutely moral? Profound and memorable because it’s so much of each???
I find the depth and breadth of this satire remarkable. "Jude" is both over-the-top in his serious approach as well as his message. Or is it really over the top? Actually what he's saying and the way he's saying it are the way things SHOULD be! But of course we know that's not the way corporations are. So we laugh bitterly at the disconnect. And we love to watch Dow then squirm as it has to admit this is a hoax, retracting "Jude's" statements and saying, "No, we're really not going to provide such just reparations"; we again bitterly laugh as we witness the corporation's attempts at making these unjust statements palatable to the public.
We also squirm and bitterly laugh as we see how dispassionate is that BBC announcer and how he takes pretty much unquestioningly the remarkable statements "Jude" is making. On the one hand, of course he should not be surprised - "Jude" is absolutely right in what he's saying! On the other hand, the BBC guy should be more astounded, shouldn't he? That's because as a journalist he knows this is so unlike the way corporations (including the ones even the BBC must pander to) act....
This is a feast of dark, smart, enlightening humor. It makes us so aware of the way the usually shadowy Powers that Be operate. And because it's funny (albeit bleakly), we can take in what's exposed more easily. Comedy keeps us watching in a likable way.
As we prepare for another “Palm Sunday,” a celebration of Jesus’ triumphant regal entry in Jerusalem, with throngs of people welcoming him as their new king, it’s really good to look at one, or several Yes Men videos (and there are several on YouTube, for starters). It helps us understand what Jesus is up to as he parades in the streets. And laugh. Albeit bleakly.
In an excellent article by Rev. Debie Thomas, “The Clown King” (click on this title if you’d like to read it in its entirety) , she notes that Jesus' procession on a stubborn, lowly donkey is not the only parade in town. Every Passover the Governor of Judea also stages a grand military parade as he enters Jerusalem to oversee the goings-on and remind the occupied Jewish people who is really in charge. Rev. Thomas quotes Marcus Borg and Jon Dominic Casson from their book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus' Last Days in Jerusalem, about this “rival” procession: A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot solders, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.
What Jesus is doing, with complete over-the-top seriousness, is a ridiculous parody of the military parade and everything it represents. In addition, like the BBC announcer in the Bhopal prank, the crowd here completely goes along with the palm parade, assuming it to be merely an alternative/corrected military demonstration; in their minds, Jesus is fulfilling OT scripture that says the next great king to bring Israel back to her former greatness and instill imperial (and, hence, Rome-like) prowess will ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.
We watch the goings on, however, and bleakly laugh because we see how even the crowd is being duped. We know what Jesus is really communicating on the colt: the Realm for which he has come to announce and inaugurate is the complete opposite of everything the Roman Empire is about and the propaganda that suckles it. The usually shady Powers that Be are revealed, and how ridiculous are they, really!
That's what we discover as Jesus then hangs on the cross, the System's response when it's punk'd and scrambles for a response that it believes palatable to the public....
Jesus, filled with a boatload of intelligence, wit, righteous indignation and three boatloads of chutzpah, hopes we will see what he's doing and understand on several levels what's really going on not only in his world but ours. Palm Sunday is a day to take the scales off our eyes! Let the bleak humor of the goings on keep us watching, learning, becoming inspired.
How might we incorporate comedy in our work of social justice (and culture jamming!)? How willing are we to take the hit (which Jesus does, to the fullest extent), when the Powers that Be push back? (And maybe to greater extent because comic mocking stings way more than straightforward finger-pointing.) These, from the Comic Lens, seem to be the questions and inspirations we should seek on Palm Sunday.
And to help us on our way, another video - very hopeful, actually! - from The Yes Men.
Caper on! :)