A group called The Yes Men recently held a press conference wherein members posed as representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of the press conference was ostensibly to announce that the Chamber was reversing its opposition to stricter climate change legislation. In the middle of the press conference someone actually from the Chamber came in and busted the farce, but to his credit, was shrewd enough not to announce that the Chamber is still very much against reducing harmful emissions.

Shortly after seeing this video, I coincidentally came across this passage in On Violence by Hannah Arendt: “To remain in authority requires respect for the person or the office. The greatest enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest was to undermine it is laughter.” It certainly made me laugh to see this indignant Chamber member storm in and demand to see the imposter’s business card as if it were his coat of arms. And there is something to this kind of humor that is not exactly better than the satire of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, but certainly different in meaningful ways. For example, The Yes Men have challenged the country (and, one presumes many countries) to join in the fun and they make many interesting suggestions how to beget some excellent pieces of mischief. Many of these, like the Chamber of Commerce stunt, entail impersonating someone in the industry and piquing their “colleagues’” interest in something horrible like petroleum made from people or a sniper rifle for tagging protesters for subsequent arrest.

These kinds of stunts are funny in themselves and expose callous behavior that people in certain industries have come to accept as normal. But the possibility that stunts like these might become widespread, or at least publicized well enough to appear widespread, is really interesting. Many of these stunts take place at conferences and trade shows where one expects honor among thieves and perhaps the possibility that the guy trying to sell you his ‘mass extinction service’ (or whatever) is actually a prankster with a hidden camera might at least make you pause to consider how such behavior will appear on YouTube.

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