*For details about the Yes Men, check out the wikipedia or their personal websites.
Numerous popular stories revolve around the battle between good and evil. Superhero comics and movies depict their masked heroes fighting for justice and to save, or at least improve, the world. The Yes Men similarly act as real world activist vigilantes. However, their behavior in the situations they act upon does not resemble that of the admirable superheroes. These men cloak themselves in deceit, not alerting their audiences that they follow an identity not their own. To successfully change the world, individuals must maintain a credibility with their audiences so as to assert their message of truth and hope. A person must act ethically with a foundation in truth, behavior rooted in honesty, and motivation fueled by hope.
A lie involves any intention efforts to conceal or avoid the truth, whether that includes not divulging information or providing false details. As Sissela Bok describes deception and lying, she points out that a lie consists of statements or actions used under the larger category of deception, which involves misleading others from the truth. The Yes Men’s projects revolve around deception, which includes them uttering numerous false statements. They wear deception like a mask. Though they profess a similar goal as a superhero, to save the world, their acts ruin their credibility.
The Yes Men’s documentary follows them on numerous deceptive ventures, including one where they pose as the WTO. They created a new, “corrected” website for the WTO, putting their version of the facts on it. People came across the page, and the Yes Men ended up getting invited to speak at events; these corporations unknowingly bought into the façade, believing the men they contacted to be representatives of the actual WTO. The Yes Men received their opportunity to be heard, or in their minds, to accurately speak for the WTO. While they may hold that their speeches assert more truth than would the words from actual WTO representatives, their tactic does not follow an ethical standard.
Their entire presentation rests in deceit, making it difficult to trust their message. The Yes Men do not even use their real names. Like admired masked vigilantes from superhero stories, these men take on new identities in each situation. The difference in these instances rests in the fact that people do not know they wear masks, making their new personalities dishonest. This shoots their credibility. Once audiences catch onto the façade, they are not inclined to listen to the message. Especially when the event hosts confirm that the Yes Men do not work for the organizations they say they do, the officials want them to desist and leave. This happens when they make a presentation at a banquet where they imply they have used a man’s body in the candles they distributed there. The hosts do not find the information spoken flattering for their business, and they request the Yes Men to end their speech. After contacting the business to which they claimed to belong, the hosts confirmed that there was in fact no actual connection. The discovery of the mask ends the Yes Men’s ability to reach their audience and upset people.
The Yes Men attempt to spread good news, the news that can potentially be in the future when they create their own edition of The New York Post. Headlines include news that can happen if things progress a certain way, ideally. They walk the streets and distribute their news to passerby on the street. The papers did have a future date, which would indicate the unreality of the news. However, a reader has to catch that; one would typically assume the papers would be for that day. The Yes Men gave no indication that the news they were spreading was not real, and people trust that media print true stories. Especially as their headers had the name of a real news source, readers would anticipate just that. Once again, the Yes Men use another real company as their mask. This project, aside from claiming to be a group they were not, follows a better approach than their other endeavors. Their creative headlines showed what can still happen, gave hope for positive change. To be honest vigilantes in this case, they should have created their own newspaper name. They could have been their own honest heroes of hope.
Considering lying in terms of communication ethics, and using the Yes Men as case studies, serves a practical purpose for the marketplace and the workplace. Most organizations, whether corporations or universities, claim visions of improving the world through their work. As people, we should aim to uphold high ethical standards publicly and privately. This rests in building our values upon truth. Efforts to discover and to share truth involve integrity and honesty in interactions. When people know that they are dealing with an individual genuinely seeking improvement, they will be receptive to communication. Maintaining stability on this foundation involves regularly evaluating our individual actions, the actions of your organization, and the actions done unto us. While people will inevitably make mistakes, the motivation should always be honestly pure.
Improving the world requires a lot of work. It helps to spread messages of truth to those in it. Activists, like superheroes, attempt to spread hope in their actions. The Yes Men follow this thought, asserting their desire to correct people’s identities and change the world. However, they do not reveal their masks, thereby shooting their credibility. Their audiences ultimately do not trust their message. Studying communication ethics, particularly the topic of lying, lends itself to people holding a high ethical standard in their interactions. These standards must root themselves in truth.