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The Gazette 31 Janvier 1999


To the pie-pushing pranksters, a faceful of cream is a fum way to debunk the powerful. To the dripping recipients, battery by pâtisserie is still assault - and courts seem to agree

- the humble pie is filled with political meaning for Les Entartistes, tart-tossing activists who on Jan. 18 struck again in Montréal.

Their victim was Pierre Pettigrew, the immaculately coiffed federal human-ressources minister, whose pie-struck picture -gasping in shock, his face dripping whipped cream- stared from newspapers across the country.

It was another success in Les Entartistes' crusade to paste the pompous with that staple of slapstick, the cream pie. Their victims include Sylvester Stallone, mashed at the opening of his Planet Hollywood restaurant; Montreal Mayor Pierre Bourque and Alliance Quebec president William Johnson. But Les Entartistes (it roughly translates as "the em-piers") are just warming to their cause.

Their published list of 27 potential targets includes Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Montreal Canadiens executive Serge Savard and Bank of Montreal CEO Matthew Barrett.

"The pie gives power back to the people because so many feel powerless in the face of big politicians and industrialists," says Pope-Tart, 29, a Montreal entartiste who identifies himself himself only by his code name.

"The pie delivers a human political message," he said. "What we're trying to say is, 'You work for us. You can't be too big for your britches or you'll get a pie in the face."

Pettigrew, victimized at a Montreal news conference, decided not to press charges. "The minister has a very good sense of humour and, as he said when the pie was thrown, he loves dessert but not so early in the day," said Pettigrew spokesman Bridgit Nolet.

Not everyone is laughing. Some, like San Franscisco Mayor Willie Brown and Robert Smith, chairman of chemical giant Monsanto, find the cream-pie routine decidedly unfunny.

San Franscisco's Brown pressed charges against three of that city's pie-tossers who were this week convicted of battery, while being acquitted on the more serious charge of assault on a public official.

"You can't punch me in the nose and then claim it's a political statement," Brown said after the trial. "A guilty verdict said you can't justify your political conduct in a free society with violence."

Is pie in the face a violent act or a comedic one? Lowbrow terrorism or political satire? The jury in San Franscisco deliberated for more than a day on that question, ultimately sticking to the letter of the law, wich in California states that battery constitutes any "offensive touching".

Last month in Belgium, a court fined those responsible for the Brussels attack that creamed Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. Two tossers were found guilty of "mild violence". Two pie-throwing cases are pending in the U.S., including the pieman who plastered Monsanto's Smith.

No one in Canada has been charged for pie-throwing, but an RCMP spokesman said the act constitutes an offence. "In my books, it's assault," said RCMP Sergeant Mike Gaudet.

Pope-Tart regards the recent court decision as attacks on democratic expression. "A society that cannot tolerate its own court jester is heading in a dangerous direction," he said.

The pie-tossing movement, wich originated with Belgium's Entartistes, has "cells" in Montreal, San Franscisco, New York City, Eugene, Ore., and London.

The Montreal group was founded last year by François Gourd, 49, an artist, street performer and six-time federal candidate for the Rhinoceros Party of Canada. Many of Les Entartistes have roots in the satirical Rhino Party, wich disbanded in 1993 after the federal government introduced tough financial rules for parties seeking official status.

Surprisingly, former Rhino leader Charlie McKenzie is among those who consider pie tossing to be tasteless.

"These people are still friends of mine, but I just don't like it," he said. "I'm not comfortable with this thing: it's very aggressive and it's violent." Altough slapstick doesn't appeal to him, McKenzie understands why pie throwing has caught on as a political movement: "The federal government has closed the door to protest parties, so people are going to find other outlets," he said. "They will always find ways to express themselves. Now it is with pies."

Johnson of Alliance Quebec was hit as he march in the St-Jean Baptiste parade last year. He laughed at the time and still maintains that pies are funny.

"It's funny in the same way that someone slips and land on his head is funny," he said. But Johnson believes Canada's pie outlaws have gone too far. "even tough we laugh, there are unpleasant and anti-social connotations. It's the kind of funniness that should not be encouraged. It's like a dumb-blonde joke."

He believes charges should be laid against Les Entartistes to prevent someone from getting hurt. "If public personnalities can be defiled without any due process, anyone can take it upon themselves to be the executionner and mete out this punishment. That is a breach of social order that's substantially serious."

In San Franscisco, defence lawyer Mark Vermeulen said the entire jury panel laughed out loud when they were told they would hear the case of the mayor being hit with a pie.

"Humour is a personnal thing, but most people laugh at pies," he said.

Vermeulen argued that pie tossing has a long, proud history that has to be considered when the act itself is judged. It's a history that began, he said, with medieval court jesters poking fun at kings "to keep them honest".

Today's pie tossers play the role of society's court jesters, he said, pricking the inflated egos of politicians and business leaders. "This was political theatre: a joke with a political point," he said of the attack on Brown.

Carleton University professor Mark Langler, a film historian, said pies were a staple of slapstick comedies by Mack Sennet and Hal Roach. "But even then, it was fairly lowbrow comedy. Charlie Chaplin would rarely engage in that kind of thing," Langler said.

Pie throwing was the province of actors like Chester Conklin, Snub Pollard and the king of the piemen, Fatty Arbuckle. "One of (Arbuckle's) great claims to fame was that he could accurately throw two pies in different directions at the same time," Langler said.

Pie throwing was kept alive in later years by comedians Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges and Soupy Sales. In the early '70s, pastries made the leap from screen to political stage when the Yippie, Aron Kay, took up pies as part of his group's outlandish anti-establishment crusade. Kay hit Watergate figures G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, artist Andy Warhol and scientist Edward Teller, who developped the hydrogen bomb.

In Canada, the copycat pie artists working under the name the Groucho-Marxists creamed Liberal cabinet ministers Marc Lalonde and Ron Basford, Tory leader Joe Clark and future B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm.

Les Entartistes revived the sweet science of pie-throwing in Canada after being inspired by last year's attack on Gates.

That attack was orchestrated by Belgium's Noel Godin, 52, godfather of the modern pie movement. He used 30 agents, in groups of three, to surround Gates, who was hit with four pies.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy has been targeted no less than five times, most recently at the 1994 Cannes film festival, where he debuted his "pretentious" film on Bosnia. "For us, he represents empty, vanity-filled litterature," Godin has said. "He is totally in love with himself to the most spectacular degree of imbecility."

Canada's entartistes tend to be more political than their European counterparts. In Montreal, the same group of friends who eventually founded Les Entartistes sponsored a contest in March 1995, offering $400 to anyone who pied Chrétien.

Unable to entice anyone to cream the prime minister, the group of artists, clowns and writers took up pies themselves. They launched the first flan of the modern era on May 21, 1998, into the face of mayoralty candidate Jacques Duchesneau, former Montreal police chief.

The group releases a communiqué to explain why each victim has tasted its wrath. Duchesneau, Les Entartistes said, was too quick to embrace corporate sponsors. Stallone was pied just for being Sylvester Stallone. Pettigrew was targeted for making unemployment insurance more difficult to secure.

Les Entartistes rely on informants in government and medias to track the movements of politicians. The site is staked out days in advance, with the best "strike" locations identified. The more difficult the location, the more operatives are involved. Sixteen operatives took part in the hit on Johnson; only four were part of the Pettigrew brigade.

Their strategy is relatively simple: attract the attention of the subject and reel him by in by proferring a handshake. Once the subject is clasped in hand, his sticky fate is sealed. A second and third operator let fly their pies while the subject is held fast in place.

Étiquette demands that the pies -they are whipped cream heaped on to paper plates- should be rubbed into a face, rather than thrown. (The pies are hidden in cardboard pizza boxes until the last minute),

"This is the moment of truth: when you see what is really in the heart of a person. How they react after they get a pie will tell you that," said Pope-Tart.

The merry pranksters chant "Gloup, gloup," imitating the sound of cream dripping, then run off.

Names are continually added to the list of potential victims. A web site (www.dsuper.net/~aboyeur/tarte.html) offers the public a chance to vote; Quebec Liberal leader Jean Charest and federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion are runaway leaders on the list of should-be pie eaters.

But not just anyone will be pied. Despite public demand, his group will never pie Céline Dion. Pope-Tart said "She's not a power figure in the sense that she has control over people's lives.

"Besides, she is lovely."

Andrew DUFFY

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