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The Globe and Mail 27 Mai 1998

The new face of Canadian celebrity

Belgium's famed "pie terrorists" have set up shop and are casting about for targets in Montreal

Montreal -- RISING above the saxophone dirges of outdoor jazz concerts and the chatter of sidewalk cafés, a new sound promises to fill the air in Montreal this summer.

Gloup, gloup.

It is the onomatopoeic chant of les entartistes , who gleefully repeat their slogan as they watch the cream-filled pastry they have just applied to the face of their latest victim slide off in gooey dollops.

For almost three decades, Belgium's entartistes ("em-pie-ers") have targeted politicians, corporate kingpins and celebrities deemed to have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and underdeveloped ability to laugh at themselves.

The group gained international attention in February by "gloup-glouping" Microsoft chairman Bill Gates on his visit to Brussels. His sin? "Choosing to function in the service of the capitalist status quo without really using his intelligence or imagination," in the words of the group's founder Noël Godin.

Now, the entartistes' burlesque brand of political commentary has sprouted in Canada with the formation of a Montreal cell of the self-proclaimed "pie terrorists," who aim to wound only the inflated pride of their targets.

Montreal mayoral candidate Jacques Duchesneau was the first local celebrity to get a taste of les entartistes' high-calorie but humbling medicine. Last week, group members took it upon themselves to provide the dessert to the evening's main course -- a rote political speech at the former police chief's flashy campaign launch.

Mr. Duchesneau was picked at random from a list of 20 potential targets whose names had been thrown into a hat. The Montreal entartistes promise more attacks in coming months and plan an interactive Web site to enlist the public's help in selecting victims.

Why Mr. Duchesneau? According to the entartistes, the career cop has slipped too easily into the
politician's skin, with the help of slick campaign machine amply greased by prominent corporate donors.

"Duchesneau and the 2,000 people who were [at the launch] are the cream of society. We're the cream of the cream," commented François Gourd, the Montreal wing's founder, providing the kind of nonsensical explanation for which the anarchic entartistes are known.

But for Mr. Gourd, such farcical statements are not out of place in describing a political process that has become a "circus" of predictability and duplicity. "Every circus has its clowns. We're the clowns," said the only one of the Montreal cell's two dozen members to go public. The others must remain anonymous to launch their attacks successfully .

The pie-in-the-face trick, pioneered and perfected in silent comedies, is just the kind of asinine farce for the current political climate of empty promises and style over substance, according to Mr. Gourd.

At 48, he has had plenty of practice rehearsing his jester routine -- as a six-time federal candidate for the Rhinoceros Party of Canada. Last year, he ran a seventh time as an independent candidate, placing fourth and ahead of the Liberal candidate in the Bloc Québécois stronghold of Laurier-Sainte-Marie.

Like all the entartistes' manoeuvres, the attack on Mr. Duchesneau was meticulously planned. Surrounded by political handlers and security guards, the candidate was engulfed by a wall of protection that could have easily intercepted a novice pie thrower.

Five cell members surrounded him to divert the attention of his handlers. Then Mr. Gourd stretched out his hand, a gesture that no politician on the hustings can resist. As Mr. Duchesneau approached, Mr. Gourd raised the pie and carefully applied it to the exasperated candidate's face. (The entartistes never throw their pastries, since the risk of missing the mark is too great.)

The Belgians' attack on Mr. Gates, who last week received a figurative pie in the face when the U.S. government and 20 states launched antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft, was even more calculated. The billionaire software magnate was surrounded by a battery of bodyguards more impenetrable than the security forces that accompany most heads of state. The plan required 32 co-conspirators.

Mr. Gates is believed to have been the first American thus targeted, but Mr. Godin has acknowledged having a hit list that includes actors John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore as well as President Bill Clinton.

The group first struck in 1969, with French author Marguerite Duras chosen to be the debut victim because, as Mr. Godin recently told The New York Times, she "has the kind of intelligence and cleverness that serves only her own vanity."

Mr. Godin's favourite target by far has been celebrity French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who has tasted the wrath of the entartistes no fewer than five times. The last attack came in 1994 at the Cannes Film Festival's debut of Mr. Lévy's pretentious film on the Bosnian conflict.

Other victims have included French pop idol Patrick Bruel and former French culture minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who unsuccessfully sued Mr. Godin after his 1995 encounter.

Mr. Godin did not respond to a request for an interview but is said to be thrilled with the creation of the Montreal wing. Mr. Gourd said the entartistes' founder will be in the city on June 12 to sign a sort of "international protocol" that will spell out everything from the group's attack methods to the type of cream used in the pies. (Here the Montrealers lack the finesse of the Belgians, who use only the finest European pâtisseries . Mr. Duchesneau had to make do with a plate of aerosol whipped cream.)

Still, this is not the first incursion into Canada of pie politics. In the late 1970s, members of the Vancouver-based Anarchist Party of Canada, calling themselves the Groucho-Marxists, hit a number of targets, including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter's brother Billy, as well as the federal opposition leader, Joe Clark, and future B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm.

But in English Canada, most satirical attacks on politicians have been more like the benign fun-poking outbursts of This Hour Has 22 Minutes' Marg Delahunty -- who even had Ontario Premier Mike Harris laughing along when she accosted him in her Princess Warrior garb last year. The entartistes are motivated more by contempt for their targets than by the desire to have a laugh at politicians' expense.

However, there is a long tradition of this kind of humour in Quebec. Just ask former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. In 1993, he booted the character Raymond Beaudoin (played by Quebec comedian Pierre Brassard) in his private parts when Mr. Beaudoin asked, at the premier of a film based on Mr. Trudeau's memoirs, whether the movie should have been called "I Spit on Quebeckers."

The arrival of the pie gives Mr. Gourd, who has eked out a living in the arts, another hobby to occupy his time. "I paint, I act, I write," he said. "And now, I make pies." Konrad Yakabuski is a member of The Globe and Mail's Montreal bureau.

Konrad YAKABUSKI
 
 

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