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Pie in the eye -- the cream tart in modern politics

The power of pie - U.S. negotiator Frank Loy is
The power of pie - U.S. negotiator Frank Loy is "flanned" during a press conference  

The attacker mingles with the crowd, weapon in hand, waiting to pounce. As his victim approaches he edges forward slightly, body tense, one eye on the security guards, the other on his victim's face.

Now his target is alongside and, with a defiant yell, the attacker strikes, lunging forward, arm raised. For a moment the world seems to stand still, then the weapon makes contact andů splat!

Whipped cream showers everywhere, there is a strong smell of vanilla, another world leader falls prey to a cream tart.

Over the last few years an increasing number of politicians, celebrities and industrialists have been subjected to cream pie attacks.

The attacks have taken place throughout the world, and claimed such illustrious victims as Microsoft's Bill Gates, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, former European Commission President Jacques Delors and Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm, who was last year felled by an organic banana pie at the opening of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.

Most recently Frank Loy, the United States' chief negotiator at the U.N. conference on climate change in The Hague, the Netherlands, had a pastry pushed into his face by an environmental campaigner protesting at U.S. reluctance to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's essentially a form of democratic anarcho-populist politics," explains Dr. Rodney Barker, Reader in Government at the London School of Economics. "What it's doing is saying that those who are taken incredibly seriously both by themselves and the media deserve to be knocked down a peg or two.

"It's about pointing out to the general public that the emperor doesn't have as many clothes as he thinks he does."

Among the most active are The Biotic Baking Brigade and Mad Anarchist Bakers' League in the U.S., The Meringue Marauders in Canada, T.A.A.R.T. in Holland and People Insurgent Everywhere (PIE) in the UK.

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A custard pie was thrown at the United States' chief negotiator at the U.N. conference on climate change

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Eggs and rotten cats

Although history records numerous incidents of objects being thrown at public figures -- as early as the 1st century AD Roman chroniclers were describing how the Emperor Nero was pelted with onions in the Colosseum -- the use of the cream pie as a means of political protest is a relatively recent phenomenon.

A whole network of mainly left-wing pie-wielding activist organisations now exists around the globe, intent on "flanning" those in positions of power and influence.

"In the past people have tended to express themselves by throwing eggs, vegetables or rotten cats," says Barker. "That can be harmful, however. The whole thing about cream pies is that allows you to make your point without actually hurting anybody."

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Two figures have been especially prominent in the rise of confectionery as an instrument of political protest.

In the U.S. left-wing activist Aron Kay has been dubbed "The Pieman" for a whole series of attacks stretching across almost three decades, and including such victims as right-wing political commentator William F. Buckley, former CIA director William Colby and former New York Mayor Abe Beame.

In Belgium, meanwhile, Noel Godin, the "Godfather of the Cream Pie", has, since 1969, been engaged in what he describes as a "cream crusade" against "the great and the wicked."

During that time his International Patisserie Brigade has "entarted" everyone from New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard to Bill Gates.

"There are a thousand forms of subversion," he commented in a 1995 interview with the Observer magazine, "But few, in my opinion, can equal the convenience and immediacy of a cream pie."

Godin and his fellow pie-throwers plan their attacks meticulously, exchanging information on the movement of prominent figures via the Internet and employing sophisticated diversionary tactics to outwit security guards.

A rudimentary "pie-wielders' code" has developed, with activists adhering to certain basic rules of engagement: the pie must be "deposited lovingly" rather than simply thrown, attackers should try to wear some sort of silly costume, the attack should humiliate, but not injure.

"We only use the finest patisserie," Godin told Britain's Observer newspaper, "Ordered at the last minute from small local bakers. Quality is everything."

Whether such attacks actually have any effect on the world's decision makers, other than adding to their dry cleaning bill, is doubtful.

An increasing number of people, however, are seeing the cream pie as a useful means of venting their frustration and making a political point.

"It might not have any direct effect on a politician's policies," admitted a spokesmen for Dutch flan activists T.A.A.R.T. "What it does do is bring issues to the notice of the general public.

"There are few better ways of getting your voice heard than by slapping a big soggy pie in someone's face."



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