Murdoch is the latest in a long line of pie-throwing pranksters’ targets

July 19, 2011

Pie of contempt. Pie of celebration.

Such is the muddled, mixed-up state of the world, circa 2011 — the Golden Age of the Pie as Statement.

Never before have so many pies — blueberry, apple, shaving foam, whipped cream — landed in so many unsuspecting faces for so many conflicting reasons. “I love you, man!” or “I hate the man,” all in the selfsame flick of a wrist.

Bill Gates, Sylvester Stallone, Anita Bryant, Milton Friedman, Ann Coulter and countless baseball heroes have been pied in the past few decades. And it was Rupert Murdoch’s turn Tuesday. A serial antagonist who calls himself Jonnie Marbles shmeared the media mogul with shaving cream while Murdoch testified about the ongoing phone-hacking scandal before a Parliament committee. “It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before,” the marble man tweeted grandly moments before expressing his disdain more frothily.

Wait a few days and you’ll probably see more pies fly; it’s just that they might be the other kind. Some baseball player will knock a pitch out of the park to win a close game, and one of his pals will sneak up behind him with a pie tin full of shaving cream during a postgame interview. Bam. Message delivered: You rock!

Pie’s versatility will once again be confirmed.

So agile is the pie as prankster metaphor-in-action that it can be a verb or an adjective or a noun. Pie throwers talk of pieing people. And no less an authority than the relentless protester Aron Kay — perhaps the ur-pie thrower of his time — declared Tuesday that Murdoch most definitely qualifies under his “guidelines for pie-able people.”

Kay has been slinging pie since the 1970s, when pieing evolved from circus-clown shtick to protest flicks. His brag book includes a couple of Watergate conspirators, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy; William F. Buckley Jr.; and, of course, Andy Warhol.

Many of the nouveau pie throwers may settle for insta-advocacy, squirting whipped cream into their tins, rather than slow-baking fruit in a shell rolled out delicately on a flour-dusted counter. Yet another development to lament in the gotta-have-it-now demise of Western Civilization.

But Kay, still feisty, but less active at 61, always wanted his choice of confectionary weapon to have real meaning. So in 1977 when he went after Phyllis Schlafly, who was espousing “motherhood and apple pie” in her fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, he made sure to launch an apple pie at her.

“It has to be something that deals with the philosophy behind it,” Kay said Tuesday in a phone call from a bus somewhere in New York. “Like if someone was a Nazi, it could be a German chocolate cake.” With Abraham Beame, the former mayor of New York, Kay went for apple crumb pie “because he was a big crumb in the Big Apple.”

Schlafly, now 86, saw a conspiracy the moment Kay blurred her sight beneath a layer of sugar, butter, crust and sliced apples. Kay may have appeared to be a solo pieman when he pounced on her at an awards reception in the Waldorf-
Astoria Hotel. But he didn’t act alone, she said in a phone interview.

“His profession is pie-throwing,” Schlafly said. “He was out for hire. Obviously he was backed by the feminists.”

Alas, without a Warren Commission for pies, we may never know.

The intrigue only solidifies Kay’s legend in the pie-throwing community. Oh, you didn’t think there was a pie-throwing community, huh? Well, clearly you haven’t seen “The Pie’s the Limit” on YouTube or encountered the dessert world’s terrorist cell, “al-Pieda.” Or read the works of the Biotic Baking Brigade, whose operatives include “Agent Key Lime” and “Agent Apple.”

The Brigade, which protests neo-liberalism, the cutting of redwood forests and lots of other stuff, has claimed responsibility for the pieings of Gates, Friedman, then-San Francisco supervisor and future mayor Gavin Newsom and then-San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.

Now, it should be noted that this fervent dedication to the pie does not come without great sacrifices. Both the contempt slingers and the giddiness flingers have paid dearly.

The protest pie can lead to jail time: Marbles was arrested Tuesday, as were two college students who ended up in federal court last year for shoving a Dutch apple pie into the face of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to make an antiwar statement. (Levin later harrumphed that he prefers blueberry.) Marbles also got slapped in the face by Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng, a former volleyball standout in school, who pulled a barroom brawler move when she plunged through a crowd to whack the pieman in the face. She then picked up his tin and tossed it at him.

The happy pie can be just as dramatic: Chris Coghlan, a rookie of the year for the Florida Marlins, tore the meniscus in his left knee last year while pieing one of his teammates to celebrate a win. His career has gone downhill ever since.

Coghlan, perhaps, should have consulted the classics — the greats of the Pleistocene Era of Pie Throwing — to improve his technique. The only statement they wanted to make was one that made people laugh.

The early-20th-century comedian Fatty Arbuckle, for instance — now there was a pie thrower, as were Soupy Sales and Bugs Bunny. He was especially lethal because he was ambidextrous. Or there was Moe Howard, of Three Stooges fame — “very accurate,” said Greg DeSantos, executive director of the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center and a former Ringling Brothers clown. “Moe had his own secret pie recipe: A vat of whipped cream, marshmallow sauce and pumpkin filling. That made it very gooey. It really stuck to the target’s face.”

Jonnie Marbles, Murdoch’s assailant, could never say the same. When it was all over Tuesday, the outcome was clear: there was more protest pie on his face than on Rupert Murdoch’s.

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