New Yorkers and tourists passing through Columbus Circle Thursday were treated to free shaved ice courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell, which was recently given preliminary approval by the Obama administration to drill for oil in the Arctic. The company hauled a chunk of the "last iceberg in existence" to the city to give New Yorkers a "first taste of the last frontier."
Or at least that's what passersby were told. In fact, the people dressed in yellow-and-red Shell swag were members of the political activist group the Yes Men, and the whole production was a prank meant to highlight the hazards of Shell's Arctic drilling plan.
Rolling Stone had exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the Yes Men – fronted by Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum – as they planned and executed the action, in advance of the June 12th opening of their new documentary, The Yes Men Are Revolting. (Rolling Stone's Peter Travers called the first film about their antics, 2004's The Yes Men, "subversive and diabolically funny.")
It was a sweltering day in New York, and the cheerful "Shell employees" had no trouble garnering interest in the free icy treats. But many patrons soon turned bewildered or upset, especially once they read "Shell's" slogans: "The Future Never Tasted So Sweet" and "Narwhals Are the Unicorns of the Ocean. We Provide the Rainbows" (in the form of an oceanic oil sheen).
"They're making snow cones out of an iceberg? How fucking insulting is that?" passerby Robert Vest told Rolling Stone before Instagramming a few photos (#badmarketing, #poorchoice, #shocking, #corporategreed, #dumbass). "I guess it's their job to make money."
When Vest later learned the ordeal had been a work of satire, he laughed. "I thought, 'What assholes. But maybe these people are stupid enough to do something like this. What an epic fail for their PR department.'"
Now, he's "totally relieved" and says the prank "sent [him] into action mode."