A PIE IN THE FACE (2003)
"Anyone with a pie and a vision of a better world can be a
member of the BBB."
—Agent Lemon Meringue of the Biotic Baking Brigade.
Early this month a lawyer who represented APEC protesters,
Cameron Ward, was arrested by police while attending a
Vancouver appearance by Jean Chretien.
Police said they had information someone was planning to
toss a pie at the prime minister. They arrested a person in
the crowd who apparently met the description of the
suspected pie-tosser — along with Ward, who says police
nabbed him as he was walking toward his car.
Ever since August of 2002, when Jean Chretien was nailed
with a cream pie in Charlottetown by the Prince Edward
Island Pie Brigade, the RCMP has been diligent to ensure
one fling doesn’t lead to another.
Cameron Ward denies he had a pie in his trunk, intended for
the prime minister, as police contend. (If Ward is telling
the truth, it raises the interesting possibility that
Vancouver police are using preemptive strikes on pies, real
or imagined, as a pretext for arrests. Most Canadians would
probably condemn this as a half-baked idea.)
Yet there is no denying there has been a brisk business in
airborne flakery in the past ten years, across the globe.
The protester’s flung pie has become something of a
position pastry, with the toss as the text.
You might even say the meringue is the message.
And who knows what kind of world we’d have now if the
Serbian who took aim at Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 had used
pastry instead of a pistol? This is meant only half in
jest: in today’s hundred-channel universe, where the image
reigns supreme, the pie has become the pop-gun for safely
channeling democratic dissent to the very top, in a comic,
made-for-TV kind of way.
As they say in the news biz of violent incidents, ‘if it
bleeds, it leads.’ The credo of the pie tossers could be
‘if it splatters, it matters.’
In 1998, Microsoft head Bill Gates was successfully pied in
Belgium by activist Noel Godin , following up his earlier
"entartments" of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and novelist
Marguerite Duras. Godin, who throws under the pseudonym
Georges le Gloupier, has been delivering pies to the rich
and famous since 1969.
Godin’s successful pitches to the powerful lit the
imaginations and the ovens of the San-Francisco-based
Biotic Baking Brigade, a loose affiliation of yippie-styled
anarchists. The BBB claims decendance from the "Great
American Pieman," '70s activist Aron Kay, but cite Godin’s
work as their inspiration. (For his part, Godin cites as
heroes Wile E. Coyote, Jerry Lewis and the Marx Brothers.)
The BBB has cells throughout the US and Europe. They and
their pie-pitching partners and predecessors --
"T.A.A.R.T." (Holland), and "P.I.E." (England), have been
cooking up a storm of protest lately.
Airborne baking in Canada is represented by the
Montreal-based Les Tartistes, Vancouver’s Meringue
Marauders, and Winnipeg’s Balaclava Bakers.
As you’ve probably already guessed, the targets of the
tossers tend to be identified with big business, or
involved in activities seen as harmful to the environment,
public health and/or human rights.
In addition to Bill Gates, other luminaries pied in the
past have included Republican Bob Dole, neoliberal
economist Milton Friedman, Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro, CIA
Director William Colby, and Michel Camdessus, former head
of the International Monetary Fund.
One of the BBB’s greatest hits was last year, when the
BBB’s "Agent Chocolate Supreme" skillfully delivered a
Blueberry tofu cream pie to the CEO of the Enron
Corporation, Jeffrey Skilling.
Agent A La Mode says BBB’s brief is to nail corporate
crooks and the governmental crooks who do their bidding.
"Our track record shows that unlike them, we don't just
promise 'pie in the sky' - we deliver."
"The creamy critiques and pielitical pressure of the Biotic
Baking Brigade are direct, visually pleasing and fun,"
writes A La Mode on the BBB web site. The BBB proclaims
itself a movement rather then a group. "We have no members,
though there is an underground network of militant bakers
who provide us with nothing but the best vegan and organic
Actually, the BBB doesn’t even use real pies, eschewing
milk and eggs for nondairy products like tofu. This makes
for pies that soften quickly, and have less impact visually
in their drippy fragmentation. (BBB no longer uses cherry
pies, given the connotations of crimson.)
"I predicted this," said Aron Kay, one of the first and
most famous tossers, of the current wave of "pie-rect
actions." In his time, Kay had planted pies on such
worthies such as McGeorge Bundy, G. Gordon Liddy, Daniel
Patrick Moynihan and William F. Buckley Jr. in the 1970's
and 80's. "Everyone has someone who needs to get pied," he
told The New York Times.
The pie in the face is a routine informed by history and
mythology. It’s the archetypal slapstick shtick of clowns —
and clowns are the secular descendants of the trickster, a
universal figure in world mythologies. Often represented by
clever creatures like the raven or the coyote, the
trickster slyly reverses the normal course of human
affairs, making mockery of mortal pretensions.
And talk about a reversal. Delivering a nice warm pie to a
friend or family member: what could be a more succinct
image of cozy domesticity and camaraderie? And what fixture
of home and hearth is less likely to be used as a nonlethal
weapon than a pie?
The trickster-clowns of the circus and burlesque world were
first to turn oven-baked foods into ordnance, culminating
in the tossing of more than 3,000 pies in the 1927 Laurel
and Hardy film "Battle of the Century."
The BBB and other groups have breathed new life into an
ancient tart. In its new political guise, the surface
silliness of the routine deconstructs what is, technically,
an assault. The pie defuses the anger and identifies the
victim as a clown himself.
Yet the activist’s yummy acts sometime fails to bring
attention to the political causes they espouse. A
splattered politician may get passing mention in the news,
but the political issues behind those who are tried and
pied often go unaddressed.
The other problem is that the "pie-rect actions" aren’t
just regarded as puerile by the powerful. They are
assaults, and can be prosecuted as such. Three BBB agents
were convicted of on misdemeanor battery charges and
sentenced to six months in prison after they pied Mayor
Willy Brown to protest his policies toward the homeless.
So the global wave of pie-tossing, from Montreal to
Amsterdam, is not just merry pranksterism with oven mitts.
It may seem like "a revolution for fun," in D.H. Lawrence’s
words, informed by a desire "to upset the apple cart, and
see which way the apples go a-rolling." But speaking pie to
power is, in one sense, a deadly earnest pursuit. What
motivates the BBB and associated groups are the distinctly
non-slapstick stories about genetically modified food,
environmental degradation, corporate crime, and human
As the number of pie-assaults against the powerful
increase, the shtick may lose some of its comic force
through overexposure, if not overkill. Still, the
anarchical spirit of the pie-tossers — the tricksterish
delight many of us feel in seeing conventions reversed, and
wrong-doers with egg and flour on their face — will
continue to find targets in the upper crust.
And we all know what the activists say of the upper crust:
they’re a bunch of crumbs held together by dough.