POLITICAL PRANKSTERS Depending on your perspective, social activists Andy Bichlbaum (right) and Mike Bonanno, a/k/a the Yes Men, are mischievous or felonious.
An odd press conference took place last week in Post Office Square as a man claiming to be an executive at a soft-drink giant touted “a new era for Coca-Cola,” in which its Dasani bottled water will be labeled “Deception.” Of course, it wasn’t actually a Coca-Cola executive or a real press conference (despite the fake journalists asking fake questions), but activist street theater perpetrated by the guerrilla prankster collective the Yes Men.
The mock press conference, part of Boston-based Corporate Accountability International’s (CIA) Think Outside the Bottle campaign, protested Coca-Cola’s refusal to state Dasani’s origin — public water sources — on its labels, as Pepsi and Nestlé have done with their bottled-water brands.
“This is a classic case of deception,” said Mike Bonanno (a/k/a Igor Vamos), in town that day with main cohort Andy Bichlbaum (né Jacques Servin) for the opening of The Yes Men Fix the World at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. “They don’t want people to know that they’re drinking tap water because it’s pure profit. Basically, they’ve figured out such a great scam that they don’t want it to end.”
(Coca-Cola spokesman Ray Crockett argues in a statement that Dasani is not tap water, but “purified water” that begins with the local water supply, then undergoes filtration and mineral enhancement. He says the company provides clear information on its manufacturing and production processes online.)
At the protest, CAI’s national organizer John Stewart explained that his organization and the Yes Men are against the very idea of bottled water, believing it should be a public good, not a commodity. “It’s bad for public health; it’s bad for the environment; and it’s really bad for our democracy,” he said, as wind toppled an inflatable faucet prop, and volunteers scrambled after runaway fliers.
A great day for a protest it was not, and few passers-by, if any, stopped to watch the proceedings in the rain. But things don’t typically run smoothly for the Yes Men, who are, depending on your perspective, mischievous or felonious.
On October 19, Bichlbaum posed as a US Chamber of Commerce representative to announce that the organization had reversed its opposition to climate-change legislation. The prank went awry when Chamber spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel walked in.
The Chamber filed suit against Bonanno and Bichlbaum, their company, two associates, and “John and Jane Does Nos. 1–20” on the day of their Boston appearance, charging that the Washington prank was “nothing less than commercial identity theft masquerading as social activism.”
Not one to be deterred by legal threats, Bonanno blasted the Chamber as “hypocritical” before fondly reminiscing about the Yes Men stunts of yore. Troublemaking, it turns out, can be a blast.
“There’s a reason in the ’60s they called the Merry Pranksters ‘merry’ — because they were having a good time,” he said. “We’re having fun doing what we really care about.”