Had Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng not leapt to her feet yesterday at a parliamentary hearing and fought off pie-throwing assailant Jonathan May-Bowles, then her husband would have become the latest luminary to fall victim to “pieing.” It’s a forty-year old phenomenon borne out of a spirit of bratty, tongue-out political activism — specifically, of the anti-Vietnam variety.
“Murdoch had it coming,” says Aron Kay, a legendary New York activist known as “The Yippie Pieman.” He’s been hurling baked goods at politicians since the early ’70s, landing some of the movement’s biggest “gets,” including much-ballyhooed former Democratic mayors Abraham Beeme and Ed Koch. “Pieing didn’t start with me,” Kay points out, “But I have been responsible for much of its history.”
High Times founder Thomas King Forcade founded the movement in 1970. As the peace-sign optimism of the American counterculture bled fast into frenzied chaos, Forcade pegged notorious Republican social scold Otto Larsen in the face with a creampie. The act was singular, bizarre, and surprisingly resonant. Kay got inspired.
By the late ’70s, Kay had hit Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, William F. Buckley — using a mocha pie, so as to “paint his face black” — and G. Gordon Liddy, among others. His pieing antics gave him his own niche in the activist counterculture and brought him into the fold of Abbie Hoffman’s Yippie organization. “Abbie and I had a very close friendship for many years” says Kay, “He and Jerry Rubin were the greatest creative activists in American history, and the country owes them a great debt.”
Kay found himself in a shared tent of the Yippies and the traveling-activist group The Rainbow Family at the 1974 world’s fair in Spokane, Washington, tripping on the powerful hallucinogenic ALD-52. Hoffman — then living “underground” and filing travel reports for Crawdaddy! magazine — reportedly spent the night with Kay transcribing his hallucinations and trying to make philosophical sense out of them. He was drawn to the writings of Berkeley professor Terrence McKenna, and found value in the scientific reports of a “universal consistency” in the psychedelic experience. That Hoffman and Kay both experienced the same visuals — the kinds of pyramid structures that McKenna wrote about as being fundamental psychedelic imagery — seemed to make them equitable for a moment. It seemed to break down any kind of status structures between them.
Breaking down status structures, says Kay, represents the central tenet of pieing. Kay cites the influence of the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers (“Jewish comedians who, as George Carlin would say, ‘created chaos out of order’ in a setting in which they never belonged”). The pie-thrower plays jester, and the jester, says Kay, is an entirely political role.
Of course the Yippies, who were in bed with the hard-left political establishment, spent their lives fighting conservatism, and most pieing targets over the years, from William Colby to Ann Coulter, have been conservatives. But even Kay points out that pieing, as art form or by means of political expression, seeks only to deflate the individual ego: that insidious personality engine that Kay claims to have expelled from himself back in that tent in 1974.
Belgian anarchist and surrealist pie-thrower Noel Godin, for example, only pies those who “take themselves seriously.” He’s hit iconic liberal filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard at the Cannes Film Festival as well as progressive French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévi. Godin claims Bill Clinton and Tony Blair as his two most desired targets, and his seeming conservatism makes sense. Where is the human ego on better display, or more readily primed for a pieing, than in the liberal art-world and academic establishments?
American Spectator founder Bob Tyrrell even organized his own mock-pieing of a supposed liberal professor (actually an actor in character) at a Vietnam Era student event at Indiana University, back when the young Spectator was still called The Alternative. By the time the mock professor wiped the pie from his face (with the audience falling for the gag hook, line, and sinker) Tyrrell had made political pie-throwing history.
Conservatives and liberals have both historically placed their belief in the concept of peaceful protest, and, according to Kay, Abbie Hoffman and his fellow Yippies admirably changed the American protest forever, and for everyone. But perhaps they garnered a little too much acclaim for it. By the late 1980s, when Kay was working as Hoffman’s personal bodyguard, the Yippie movement had declined. Kay’s job at the time consisted merely of blocking Hoffman from all the druggie hangers-on, whom Hoffman embraced either out of vanity, naiveté, or pure self-destructive impulse. Kay would lead Hoffman around from rock venue to rock venue, to hundreds of benefits with names like “Save the River,” and to photo ops with musicians and celebrities. Robert Kennedy Jr. and his buddies frequented the scene, and old has-been academics like Bill Ayers hung around to wax intellectual to college girls.
When Hollywood screenwriter Rex Weiner formed the non-ideological business Piekill Unlimited, Kay went professional. He accepted money to pie people’s bosses and to show up and pie fathers-in-law at weddings. He went after high-profile targets like William Shatner and willing, in-on-the-joke participants like Andy Warhol. Bereft of political zeal or philosophical theory, his pies started hitting with less force.
Kay now functions as a de facto president of the pie-throwing community, traveling to pie-thrower conventions in Montreal, endorsing and holding court with groups like the Biotic Baking Brigade of San Francisco, and even mentoring avant-garde punk rocker Jello Biafra in Yippie activist methods. He counts among his friends the widely-admired anti-capitalist pie-thrower who hit Bill Gates in 1998, as well as name-brand rabble-rousers like Paul Krassner and the comedians of the Firesign Theatre troupe.
But what of the Murdoch incident? Was this a call-back to a more relevant time in pie-throwing history, when pie-throwers actually stood for something, or just merely another empty publicity stunt?
Kay wholeheartedly endorses the Murdoch attack. But, just as he’s about to explain why — the political and socioeconomic reasons — our phone call gets interrupted. “I have another publication calling me up on the line,” he says gleefully, “The newspapers have been calling all day.” By the time I hang up with this proud Yippie confidante and anti-corporate sloganeer, I’ve been directed to check out his website.
It’s called Pieman.org. And it’s open for donations.