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Activists vs. Shell

October 14, 2015

With Shell currently, and with great dignity, high-tailing it out of the arctic, some attention ought to be given to the artists who provided the needed pressure. Shell’s goal, the result of trillions of dollars in lobbying, was to obtain oil from arctic drilling, being the only company still searching in that region. In opposition was Greenpeace and several others, attempting to keep the arctic and surrounding regions safe from drilling and declared as a protected region. A movie plot, in essence. Which makes it incredible that reality saw a movie ending to the ordeal. So, to understand what happened, let us turn our attention briefly to the individuals who brought all this about.

 

We begin with The Yes Men. A coterie of artist-activists, specializing in impersonating officials to bring attention to issues, their procedures have been, at the very least, highly entertaining. Firstly, they hosted a fictitious Shell gala in Seattle’s Space Needle, ostensibly to celebrate Shell’s drilling efforts. What actually ensued was an “accident” where a model oil rig sprayed an activist posing as the rig designer’s widow, and others attempting to clean the spill up with stuffed toy arctic animals. They followed this incident—and the subsequent video leak—with a swarm of equally false emails attributed to Shell, vehemently denouncing anyone posting the video as well as a new website just set up by the activists targeting Shell. Naturally, this brought more attention to the video and the site, further embarrassing the Yes Men’s targets.

 

Which leads us to another element of the Yes Men’s attack, selling snow cones in New York attributed to be part of the “last iceberg.” Again, this was done under pretenses of the Yes Men being Shell employees. This too raised up a disturbance at the “bad taste” of Shell raising money by selling the icebergs they ruined. The absurd callousness of what the Yes Men successfully got attributed to Shell not only brought awareness to the issue, but did so in such a way to assure wide coverage: their activism was “newsworthy,” if the phrase helps.

 

Yet of course, the Yes Men were not alone. A legion of kayaks materialized in a less subtle show of resistance, targeting Shell’s rig, which was at the time parked due to inactivity, to block it off from being used. This manifested in a massive “festival” around the rig in protest, and a much more direct attempt to use the kayaks to prevent anyone from boarding the construct. Given Shell’s timeline for actually drilling is highly restrictive, these delaying efforts served a very practical purpose for cutting into the company’s profits.

 

All of this stands in the shadow of the essential fact that, for the time being, Shell lost. The company’s withdrawal after a long and embattled campaign by protesters, artistic and not, reveals the intense power individual action can have in the larger course of events. In response, then, we ask ourselves what specifically about the previously listed methods led to their success? What was it about the kayak festivities and Yes Men impersonations that caused such a clear and pervasive victory?

 

Firstly, we see that these actions are all what we could fairly call “spectacle.” As mentioned before, these efforts were performed specifically because they would attract attention. That was the point behind the Yes Men’s email, to bring even more eyes to their work. Likewise, the actions are also inherently absurd: a spill from a prop oil leak mopped up with toy animals, an angry email that promotes its targets, “last iceberg” snow cones , and a kayak rally, all these possess something which upsets our sensibilities. Perhaps this speaks to the effectiveness of these efforts. Had they taken a serious, low-scale show of opposition, they could hardly have reached even a fraction of the audience these groups captured. The goal of these actions is to spread awareness, and not suggest solutions; that is for reasoned debate and thought and effort. Both are necessary, but ultimately a joke sticks to the mind better than a treatise. The ideas can be expressed elsewhere more clearly; for these purposes, they must be expresses as well as possible in minute long videos.

 

Thus, while Shell departs, we see that art played a major role in their retreat. The work of these activists upended all of Shell’s money and efforts, and changed the nature of the story. This may well color future attempts in protesting massive organizations. If we cannot Occupy Wall Street, let us try mocking it instead.

 

Main source the article http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/yes-men-activist-shells-arctic-drilling-failure-is-our-victory-20150928, as well as the links contained within.

 

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