Pies and Pieties

April 29, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes, a pie in the face is just what’s called for. Say you have a pompous speaker about to declaim his important truths and an audience all too willing to believe that the speaker is in fact the font of all wisdom on the subject. A pie in the face deflates this folie à deux.

A pie does no real harm, nor does it prevent the person from speaking. It’s just that you just can’t listen with the same level of unquestioning awe. You see not the great thinker, but just another guy, a guy who only a few minutes ago was wiping cream pie off his face, and even now as he begins his lecture doesn’t realize that he still has bits of cream clinging to his earlobe. A good pie is the equivalent of the little boy calling out that maybe the emperor’s sartorial ensemble isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

So when I read that at Brown University Thomas Friedman had been the target of what Inside Higher Ed described as “a pie-like substance,” my faith in America’s youth was restored. Sure there are other speakers more deserving of a pie than Friedman; I just can’t think of any right now.

But my elevated mood didn’t last long. For one thing, the pie throwers had not planned well, and Friedman easily dodged them. The pie never came near his face; it barely got onto his sleeve.

More disappointing was how seriously the people at Brown took the whole thing. A biology professor chased the pie throwers, who had run from the building, and caught the female of the pair. He told the Brown Daily Herald proudly, “She didn't get very far. I told her she was caught, I held her hands behind her back, made a citizen's arrest.” What a guy.

The audience of Brown students was no better. According to the Herald, “The attendees applauded loudly not when the pie was thrown, but rather when Friedman regained his composure and started to return to the lecture podium.”

Then there was the newspaper itself. The next day it ran an editorial “Rudeness Isn’t Effective” that I could swear was channeling my high school principal (I come from a WASP, conservative Republican suburb). The pie throwers, it said, “lost any chance to pursue constructive dialogue with [Friedman].” Duh.

It continued, “Protests should not be an event but rather a sincere effort to start constructive dialogue . . . . A pastry to the face is not an invitation to exchange ideas.” Again, duh.

Hey, Brown, lighten up. As it says in the Bible, there’s a time to be born and a time to die; a time to rend and time to sew; a time to get and a time to lose; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to “pursue constructive dialogue” and a time to throw a cream pie in Tom Friedman’s face.

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