Pie in the Eye
Pie in the Eye
The Cream Tart in Modern Politics
By: Paul Sussman
Date: November 23, 2000
Source: CNN. "Pie in the Eye—the Cream Tart in Modern Politics." <http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/11/23/pie.protest/> (accessed May 22, 2006).
About the Author: Paul Sussman is a freelance journalist. He lives in London ten months each year and spends the remaining months excavating in Egypt. He has authored fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel The Last Secret of the Temple (2005).
Political protests take many forms, ranging from the merely startling to the potentially deadly. For example, protesters frequently gather a crowd to publicize their cause; the 1963 Civil Rights march in Washington D.C., drew over 200,000 people to hear Martin Luther King Jr. make his famous "I have a dream" speech. Some protests consist of little more than staying home from work; many large American cities have endured the discomfort of work stoppages by city garbage collectors, resulting in mountains of rubbish in the streets and immense political pressure to reach a settlement.
Some protests are more dramatic. As Coca-Cola CEO Douglas Daft spoke at Yale University in 2004, protesters calmly walked onto the stage, removed jackets to reveal shirts splattered with fake blood, and fell to the ground in a so-called die-in. Daft continued his speech, surrounded by the bodies.
Some political protesters use force. Animal rights activists frequently encourage violence against property and personnel involved in animal testing, while political extremists in many parts of the world resort to kidnapping, murder, and terrorism to influence local, national, and international politics.
Against this backdrop of bloodshed and violence, one form of political protest remains both relatively harmless and strikingly effective, at least in terms of attracting attention. While angry crowds down through history have pelted opponents with a variety of missiles including stones, rotten fruit, and dead animals, one object remains the weapon of choice for those wishing to humiliate a public figure: a pie in the face.
The act of shoving a cream-filled pie into another person's face (or a tart in his eye, as the Europeans put it) has a long and rich history. Silent films of the early twentieth century often employed the pie gag as part of slapstick routines, and countless television shows and movies have staged pie fights. The Three Stooges were well known for hitting each other with anything handy, which frequently seemed to be several large cream pies. The 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, which told the story of an accidental nuclear war, was originally scripted to conclude with an enormous pie fight between U.S. and Soviet representatives, though the director scrapped the scene after shooting it. By the late twentieth century, the term "pie in the face" came into use as a general term for any publicly humiliating experience.
Pieing (the common verb form for the act of hitting someone in the face with a pie) appears to have been adopted as a political weapon during the 1970's. Well-known victims span the gamut of political views and positions, and include Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, Star Trek legend William Shatner, Canadian politician Jacques Duchesneau, and conservative writer Ann Coulter, whose pieing experience can be viewed online. Shatner's appearance in this list suggests that a pie in the face is no longer reserved for the political and economic elite.
The attacker mingles with the crowd, weapon in hand, waiting to pounce. As his victim approaches he edges forward slightly, body tense, one eye on the security guards, the other on his victim's face.
Now his target is alongside and, with a defiant yell, the attacker strikes, lunging forward, arm raised. For a moment the world seems to stand still, then the weapon makes contact and … splat!
Whipped cream showers everywhere, there is a strong smell of vanilla, another world leader falls prey to a cream tart.
Over the last few years an increasing number of politicians, celebrities and industrialists have been subjected to cream pie attacks.
The attacks have taken place throughout the world, and claimed such illustrious victims as Microsoft's Bill Gates, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, former European Commission President Jacques Delors and Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm, who was last year felled by an organic banana pie at the opening of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
Most recently Frank Loy, the United States' chief negotiator at the U.N. conference on climate change in The Hague, the Netherlands, had a pastry pushed into his face by an environmental campaigner protesting at U.S. reluctance to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
"It's essentially a form of democratic anarcho-populist politics," explains Dr. Rodney Barker, Reader in Government at the London School of Economics. "What it's doing is saying that those who are taken incredibly seriously both by themselves and the media deserve to be knocked down a peg or two.
"It's about pointing out to the general public that the emperor doesn't have as many clothes as he thinks he does." Among the most active are The Biotic Baking Brigade and Mad Anarchist Bakers' League in the U.S., The Meringue Marauders in Canada, T.A.A.R.T. in Holland and People Insurgent Everywhere (PIE) in the UK.
Eggs and rotten cats
Although history records numerous incidents of objects being thrown at public figures—as early as the 1st century AD Roman chroniclers were describing how the Emperor Nero was pelted with onions in the Colosseum—the use of the cream pie as a means of political protest is a relatively recent phenomenon.
A whole network of mainly left-wing pie-wielding activist organizations now exists around the globe, intent on "flanning" those in positions of power and influence.
"In the past people have tended to express themselves by throwing eggs, vegetables or rotten cats," says Barker. "That can be harmful, however. The whole thing about cream pies is that allows you to make your point without actually hurting anybody."
Two figures have been especially prominent in the rise of confectionery as an instrument of political protest.
In the U.S. left-wing activist Aron Kay has been dubbed "The Pieman" for a whole series of attacks stretching across almost three decades, and including such victims as right-wing political commentator William F. Buckley, former CIA director William Colby and former New York Mayor Abe Beame.
In Belgium, meanwhile, Noel Godin, the "Godfather of the Cream Pie,"has, since 1969, been engaged in what he describes as a "cream crusade" against "the great and the wicked."
During that time his International Patisserie Brigade has "entarted" everyone from New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard to Bill Gates.
"There are a thousand forms of subversion," he commented in a 1995 interview with the Observer magazine, "But few, in my opinion, can equal the convenience and immediacy of a cream pie." Godin and his fellow piethrowers plan their attacks meticulously, exchanging information on the movement of prominent figures via the Internet and employing sophisticated diversionary tactics to outwit security guards.
A rudimentary "pie-wielders' code" has developed, with activists adhering to certain basic rules of engagement: the pie must be "deposited lovingly" rather than simply thrown, attackers should try to wear some sort of silly costume, the attack should humiliate, but not injure.
"We only use the finest patisserie," Godin told Britain's Observer newspaper, "Ordered at the last minute from small local bakers. Quality is everything." Whether such attacks actually have any effect on the world's decision makers, other than adding to their dry cleaning bill, is doubtful.
An increasing number of people, however, are seeing the cream pie as a useful means of venting their frustration and making a political point.
"It might not have any direct effect on a politician's policies," admitted a spokesmen for Dutch flan activists T.A.A.R.T. "What it does do is bring issues to the notice of the general public.
"There are few better ways of getting your voice heard than by slapping a big soggy pie in someone's face."
The popularity of pieing is somewhat difficult to explain. Pie throwers often appear to invest numerous hours tracking their intended target, planning the attack, and documenting the encounter online for others to view. Despite these efforts, pieing appears far more entertaining than effective, since few serious politicians would revise their policies in response to a pastry assault. Instead, pie throwers appear to be motivated by a general desire to draw attention to a particular cause, and for this purpose, the act seems quite effective. Few other actions allow a common citizen to stand toe-to-toe with a wealthy business leader or powerful political figure and for a brief moment appear to have gained the upper hand.
Does pieing have a future as a tool of political change? It seems ironic that the simple act of throwing a cream pie remains popular almost a century after its first appearance; the fact that the act is still humorous so long after its initial appearance suggests that it taps into something most people find at least slightly amusing. Whether it makes for good politics or not, pie throwing is funny, suggesting that it will continue to occur. And for those not yet bold enough to fling the actual article, several web sites allow users to throw virtual pies at a variety of well-known figures, suggesting that today's young web surfers may well become tomorrow's pie throwing protestors.
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