Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nostalgia for the tossing of pies 

A Brown student -- meaning a student attending Brown University -- tossed a pie at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who spoke there last night. There is tut-tutting all around.

Now, I do think that the common lefty idea that Tom Friedman is some sort of right-wing stooge reveals far more about common lefties than it does about Friedman, who -- thoughtful as he is -- is himself well to the left of the American center. But, the throwing of pies at speakers on college campuses has a long and storied history going back generations. Not only is it funny in a "Three Stooges" way, but it has the advantage of being fundamentally not serious. Far better to toss a pie with a smile than to work oneself up into an indignant rage over some theoretical affront, which is the usual tactic of both left and right in what passes for civil society these days.

The attempted pieing of Tom Friedman reminds me of a story from my childhood. At some point in the mid-Seventies my father was pied while lecturing to his Western Civ class at the University of Iowa. He took the pie like a man, pulled out a hankerchief and wiped off his face, and finished his lecture to a standing ovation. When he got back to the office he got an apologetic phone call from the perp, who explained that he was a pie hit man -- he pied people for money -- and that he had been hired to pie the really boring math professor in the next period and had blown the assignment. At no point did my father think this was anything other than hilarious, which is precisely the reaction I would hope to have if I were hit with a pie while speaking.

I, for one, would love it if we could substitute pie attacks for the angry and tedious demonstrations that usually attend controversial speakers on college campuses. We need more humor and less anger in our politics, and the tossing of pies is a great place to start.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 23, 04:09:00 PM:

Soupy Sales, the goofball comedian was something of an expert in the art of the throwing and receiving of the pie. I remember he was once called as an expert witness to testify in a court case of pie tossed "assault". your words on the subject remind me of his testimony.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 23, 04:12:00 PM:

Remember the film "Bugsy Malone"? It featured kids playing Chicago gangsters who rubbed each other out with a well placed pie to the face.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 23, 06:13:00 PM:

I just want to know -- did it taste good? If someone hits me with a pie, please make it French silk or Boston cream.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 23, 09:57:00 PM:

I'm a Brown student, and although I wasn't at the lecture, I can tell you that the whole affair seems to have been far more tedious than you're suggesting. The student in question hit him with a pie and had her boyfriend launch into a long-winded discussion of Friedman's failures as an environmentalist and distribute poorly written pamphlets.

The protest would have been more successful if it had the good-natured, Dadaesque elements to it that your father's encounter had. Instead, it was just another boring, tedious protest with a semi-creative twist.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Wed Apr 23, 11:08:00 PM:

Tossing pies is a great place to start what again?

It's juvenile, rude, and silly.

If you want to challenge a speaker, do so with words. If one's argument is so much better, it should be easy to exhibit it.

Don't act like a 4-year old.

And defending (implicitly if not explicitly) people acting like 4-year olds doesn't help much.  

By Blogger Mojo, at Thu Apr 24, 04:26:00 AM:

For me, the problem is that the speaker doesn't know what the pie-thrower is throwing. It could be anything. A water balloon full of acid, a pie laced with paint, or other dangerous items.

Pie-throwing in itself is funny, but in cases such as this it is equivalent to shouting down and disrupting free speech. It can be frightening for the speaker who has no idea what might be thrown at them.

It's just basically out of order and indefensible in my opinion.


By Blogger Jim in Virginia, at Thu Apr 24, 06:14:00 AM:

Tigerhawk, do you have any speaking engagemetns inthe DC area soon?
Wht's your favorite pie?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 24, 10:05:00 AM:

Sorry, while I respect you highly, I could not disagree with you more on this subject.

Having something thrown on you is assault, whether its acid or pie cream.

Yes, one causes bodily injury and the other not, but it is an attack on someone's dignity and on their person non-the-less.

Let's ignore the potential monetary damage to having clothes ruined by the foodstuffs, and just keep in mind that people do NOT have the right to physically touch you "because they feel like it."

If you have a problem with someone's ideas, then argue with them, coming up with arguments that refute their contentions.

I think condoning this kind of behavious sends a signal that physical attacks, clown like or not, are an acceptable way to disagree with someone.

It also helps teach that the best way to counter someone's argument is to not let them speak.

ANOTHER point is, how is a person who is attacked to know that the assault is "humorous" and non-damaging?

If someone comes at me, obviously agitated/nervous, with something in their hand, what should I assume they plan to do?

If I break their jaw or even pull a gun and shoot them, is it on me, or them?

On them.

You should not be rushing at me on a stage for any reason.

Yeah, people are going to think this is reactionary, until one of these real reactionaries does hit somebody with something other than an egg or dessert.

I am still shaking my head at your take on this.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 24, 01:03:00 PM:

TH, your father was certainly a good and classy man.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 24, 02:23:00 PM:


My son, who is a senior at Brown, and hours away from his thesis deadline, took the time to make the following comment:

According to the BDH yesterday, they were members of the Young Communist
League (apparently radical environmentalism is consistent with the
principles of Communism, although I can't say that I see the connection) -
there's a video online now:


Although the Herald had said that they threw pamphlets with the usual poorly
written pseudo-Marxist schlock, if they did, it wasn't apparent in the

Friedman wasn't even the most interesting speaker on campus AT THAT TIME.
The President of Bolivia was speaking two buildings over. My Greek class
was evicted for his bodyguards to have a ready room. It was pretty cool.


By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Thu Apr 24, 03:40:00 PM:

Just adding to TH's anecdote, that year for Halloween I had created a truly gruesome zombie mask of paper mache and clay. Before his next Western Civ lecture after the pie incident, Dad asked if he could borrow.

Later, he told me he walked to the lectern and noted that the auditorium was unusually packed. He apologized to those expecting a repeat performance, but then ducked down behind the lecturn and popped back up wearing my mask, which apparently brought down the house. (He then removed the mask and went on with his lecture).

Another interesting piece of this story is that the same pie hitman who nailed our father had nailed Anita Bryant on the tarmac of the Ceder Rapids Airport only a week or two earlier where she had popped in to make a speech deploring homosexuality, if my memory serves.  

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