Rupert Murdoch: Is a pie in the face a legitimate political statement?

Rupert Murdoch is the latest in a long line of prominent figures who have had a pie thrown at them. Is pie-ing the best way to confront the powerful?

By , CSMonitor.com

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    Committee members react after a protestor, named on Twitter as Jonnie Marbles, tried to throw a custard pie at Rupert Murdoch in London, Tuesday. Murdoch's wife, Wendi Deng, stepped in to save him from the pie.
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Jonathan May-Bowles, aka Jonnie Marbles, who tried to throw a custard pie at Rupert Murdoch, kicked off his action on a Dickensian note.

"It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before," he tweeted from his iPhone moments before making his way toward the News Corporation mogul, pastry in hand. He concluded his tweet with the telling hashtag, "#splat."

Rupert Murdoch is not the first prominent figure to have someone attempt to hurl a pie in his face as a political statement. Beginning in the 1970s, activists have been using the baked projectile, whose use was formerly restricted to slapstick routines, as a means of humiliating the powerful.

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In a 2005 paean to pie-ing in Newsweek magazine, journalist Gersh Kuntzman spoke with Aron "Pieman" Kay, the Yippie activist, who, from 1976 to 1980, hurled his thoughtfully baked confections into the faces of such luminaries as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former CIA chief William Colby, and California Gov. Jerry Brown.

"I believed in using the face as a palette," Kay told Kuntzman.

Kuntzman, who concluded that "[t]hrowing a pie at someone who deserves it is one of the most celebrated traditions in our so-called culture," is now the editor of the Brooklyn Paper, which is owned by Murdoch's News Corp.

Pie-ing is a tactic long deployed by anarchists, and arguably a welcome evolution for an ideology that in the 19th and early 20th century delivered its message with bombings and assassinations. The list of recent pie-ees includes not only conservative icons such as William F. Buckley (shaving cream), Milton Friedman (coconut creme), and Ann Coulter (custard, missed), but also lefty stalwarts such as Ralph Nader (cream) and Medea Benjamin (also cream).

The tactic probably reached its low point in Moscow in 1999, when writer Matt Taibbi threw a pie in the face of New York Times Moscow editor Michael Wines. The pie was reportedly made with horse semen.

Overall, it's doubtful whether pie-ing is remotely effective. For one thing, it smacks of inarticulateness. Also, it has a tendency to backfire. Afterall, Mr. May-Bowles's attempt was expertly blocked by Murdoch's wife, Wendi Deng, in what the Guardian newspaper called Deng's "Charlie's Angel moment." This from the paper that initially broke, and relentlessly pursued, News Corp's alleged phone hacking.

In the end, it was Jonnie Marbles, not Rupert Murdoch, who ended up leaving the hearing room with egg (and cream and sugar) on his face, and he is now being charged with violating Britain's public order act. If convicted, he could go off to a far better rest than he has ever known.

UPDATE: Initial news reports stated that the pie Marbles hurled at Murdoch was custard, but this Guardian essay by Marbles himself states that it was actually shaving foam. This raises the philosophical question of what actually constitutes a pie.

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