Vivoleum is People

23:38 Fri 15 Jun 2007
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At the Gas and Oil Exposition in Calgary, representatives of the US-based National Petroleum Council and ExxonMobil gave a presentation on how to make gasoline from human remains, projected to be much easier to acquire as climate change kills an increasing number of people.

This turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by The Yes Men, who do specialize in this kind of thing.

I really like their work, partly because it makes the wealthy and powerful look ridiculous, occasionally exposing them very effectively. I also think that humor, especially unexpected humor, can have powerful consciousness-raising effects, so efforts like theirs have a reasonable chance at being successful in altering how people think (which is the point).

I also think that creative disruption and exposure of how things really work is very important. The aura around the rich and powerful is that they’re hugely competent, secure, and smart (or even wise)—but The Yes Men make it clear that they’re just people, and are gullible like the rest of humanity. (In other words: if they’re so smart, how’d they let these guys go on stage to talk about gasoline made from humans?) This serves as a reminder to everyone that wealth and power are social/cultural/political constructs—not that they’re not important, but that they’re important partly because we agree that they are, and most especially that they’re not at all like inherent qualities and do not bestow other inherent qualities. That message is a fundamentally democratic one.

Aside from the exposure of common gullibility, hoaxes like these also bring out into the open the fact that we rely on tokens like suits and the veneer of “respectability”, or on web sites, official-looking documents, etc. to construct our reality—that we build our reality out of these game pieces. In this regard the somewhat less political performances of groups like Improv Everywhere have a similar “reality deconstruction” effect, exploring what can be done with simple things like getting a bunch of people to dress similarly.

My optimistic feeling is that the more visible the cogs are, and the more people become aware of the cogs, the better off we all are.

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