Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Of Pies and Circuses

In Greece, they raise their hands. In Iraq, they throw their shoes. In Britain, we throw pies. This probably says a lot about us as a nation. Like everyone else, when I saw young comedian Jonnie Marbles lobbing a foam pie in Rupert Murdoch's face, as the elderly oligarch attempted to distance himself from years of criminal newsgathering, police corruption and government complicity, I felt like I was dreaming. One of the weirder dreams, where you have to ride a horse made of biscuits, or watch someone you know throwing a plate of gunk down the shirt of the most powerful man in the world. That shit doesn't happen in real life.

Many people have been asking me whether or not I condemn the pie. I would invite those people to stand in front of the mirror and say 'I condemn the pie' without collapsing into giggles. Chucking a foam pie in Rupert Murdoch's face was undoubtedly a silly thing to do- I, too, would have preferred the polite comeuppance being delivered by Tom Watson and other honest MPs to continue undisturbed- but it's hardly Baader-Meinhof, is it? Jonnie Marbles is no more a violent terrorist than Harpo Marx. He threw a pie, not a grenade. It was a stunt. It was, let's face it, a funny stunt. On its own terms, it was a successful stunt- and the problem with successful stunts is that they make headlines.

In terms of distracting attention from his wheedling refusal to accept responsibility for what went on at NewsCorp, Murdoch could not have bought better publicity unless he had personally hired a lackey to shoot his son in the middle of the hearing - an oversight which, at one point in the proceedings, he looked like he was regretting. During the Murdochs' questioning, NewsCorp shares jumped by five per cent, in part because of the pie, briefly splattering the entire debate open in a welter of wet foam, but also because the Sun King played his own part with tooth-aching finesse.

That was the real circus. The man who owns and dictates the news on three continents played to the crowd as a doddering, out-of-touch gentleman executive who had absolutely no idea why he had had back-door access to Downing Street for decades, no idea why his journalists illegally hacked the phones of grieving relatives and a murdered teenager, no idea why his newspapers seem to have bought and paid for the Metropolitan police.

The terrifying thing is that a foam pie in the face is almost certainly the closest thing to actual disrespect Rupert Murdoch has experienced for thirty years. The stunt gives the remaining pro-Murdoch press an excuse to distract attention from the ugly details of the snowballing hacking scandal- but at the expense of showing their fallen prince covered in gunge and baffled, like Emperor Palpatine appearing in an episode of Get Your Own Back. The whole point of the thrown pie as a comedy trope is that it's designed to humiliate, not to hurt - the 'heinous assault on an eighty year old man' line is unlikely to wash for long. One would hope that the police officers currently holding Jonnie Marbles in custody will remember that, rather than treating him like some sort of wanton confectionary terrorist, but unfortunately the only way to find that out would be to hack their phones, and decent people don't do that.

Hackgate is too big and purposeful a beast to be by distracted by a juicy pie for more than a few hours. The status quo has been turned on its head and shaken until the dirty cash falls out. The power elites in Britain and, increasingly, in the US, have been rattled to their core. Journalists across the media spectrum are remembering that their job is to report the truth, not twist the agenda to suit their bosses. The moral panopticon of the Murdoch press, manufacturing consensus for thirty years of war and the pursuit of profit with pictures of tits and celebrity chitchat, has been exposed as a circus of lies and corruption, lubricating politicians into lazy complicity, putting government ministers on its payroll to do its bidding, turning the police force into a bunch of hired lackeys and the justice system into a mercenary sham, pilfering the still-warm bodies of slaughtered soldiers and strangled schoolgirls for a story, any story. Murdoch is eating humble pie (I wish I'd been the first to make that pun) with or without Jonnie Marbles. Can you tear your eyes away, even for a second? No, nor can I.

And that's just what the British government is counting on. Today, in the middle of the select committee hearing, it was discreetly announced that the NHS will be opened up for privatisation- the very thing that nobody voted for, the thing that almost noone wanted apart from private healthcare firms, the politicians whose election campaigns they financed, and -guess who?- the Murdoch press. Last week's Open Public Services white paper threatens to confiscate state-provided welfare, social housing, schools, nursing homes, libraries, hospitals, hospices. The hacking scandal has made it almost to the doors of Downing street, but in the meantime, on the quiet, the agenda of Murdoch's tame cabinet is being signed and delivered. It cannot be permitted. If we believe in a fairer, more honest world, we can't allow ourselves to be entirely distracted by the circus.


  1. Good article, Having covered Jack Straw in tomato sauce stolen from McDonalds and confronting him in the street, I felt at the time it was important that people like him needed to be reminded that not everyone was going to forget his hand in sending people to their deaths in an illegal war. In relation to what Johnny did today, I feel it was equallly important for Johnny to represent all of us in society who recognise the clear and present danger this man and people like him present, not just to our society but on a global scale. It would be easy for Murdoch to ignore those protesting outside, by turning up the classic music in his range rover and turning the other way. He cant ignore the fact that someone has risked jail to give him a message from the masses. The message? That everything this man stands for is the evil that is globalisation and capitalism.

  2. Well said, and you can pretty much guarantee that tomorrows sun headline will be "Murdoch attacked in Inquiry". To take away from the obvious tales of ignorance that happened today.

  3. Excellent article - and God! I had no idea about the NHS privatisation bid! Thanks for waking me up to that. w xxx
    ps - good to bump into you tonight

  4. I think my very first reaction was "Damn! That pie didn't even reach this face!".

    Must say, I like this post perhaps more than the pieces at the New Statesman. It has a feel of the good old Penny Red to it.

  5. I really enjoyed this. I had come to many of the same conclusions from a slightly different perspective myself: http://nathanieltapley.com/2011/07/20/on-custard-piety/

  6. Today, the provision of childrens' wheelchairs was opened up to private- and voluntary-sector provision. In other words: privatised.

    Providing wheeelchairs for children is not a public service, it is an opportunity for profit.

    I wonder what else has been buried in today's news?

    Meanwhile, feel free to call me old and cynical for saying that the pie in Murdoch's face is the only memorable outcome of the Parliamentary hearings. All respect to Tom Watson MP, but watching the mice squeaking at the cat serves only to illustrate the futility of our eviscerated democracy in the face of real power.

    I have some hopes for the shareholder lawsuits against News International; but the advertisers will return, and so will the BSkyB takeover. And Coulson will be replaced, as will his counterpart in the Labour Party, and our elected representatives will resume their fearful obeisance and obedience.

  7. Successful stunts are not pointless, they make excellent visual statements, this one was unsuccessful, it delayed proceedings, embarrassed decent activists and even boosted Murdoch shares, if that's success I am glad he is in comedy and not communications

  8. Does it have to be about the minor distractions 'Humble Pie' 'foam pie' thing , your NHS reforms point should be the angle or 'teaser' not foam. Hastley- Lewis did the sausage roll thing and Clarkson in the NS. Is it NS columnists who want to write about food frolics as a teaser to more serious points. Yesterday Murdoch 'admitted' that News Corp were still paying Mulcaire's legal fees, yet last week Murdoch shuffled out of the revolving doors of No 1 Aldwych after seeing the Dowlers to apologise slapping his hand this time (rather than on the desk in the Select committee) on his breast more or less where he thought his heart was to say he was sorry. By the way he does not tell his drivers to slow down when the underground garage door trundles up next to his apartment in St James's. Murdoch flies out of there like a celeb. in an "unreasonably" priced car doing a Top Gear Circuit. He will kill a 'snapper' eventually. News International has already led to the demise of a journalist Sean Hoare -driven to extra drink allegedly when he was sacked. So less of the froth or foam and more of the serious stuff.


  9. Okay so everytime I disagree with someone who has power I can attack them? So I can attack you?

  10. In what way does he 'own the news'? He has 37% of the newspaper market here, he has less than a tenth of the TV penetration of the BBC, his US operations are similarly in a minority - your entire argument is bogus.

    The Left appears to have no arguments, just slogans. And pies. I assume bricks will be next.

  11. @FrankFisher While you may have done some research, you seem to forget that Rupert Murdoch is also no small fish. While he might not "own the news" as you say Penny says, but he's still an extremely powerful man who, regardless of his BBC penetration, etc., still allowed his company to do illegal, hurtful, and dishonest business, not just with the UK, but with the world. You can point fingers at this so-called "Left" with a capital-L as if everyone with a leftist attitude is part of a major conspiracy (upsetting that you would formulate any argument in so petty a way), but the end result is that Rupert Murdoch just plain screwed the pooch on this one. And yes, bricks will be next, followed by a moment of silence from the quick-to-blame Right (with a capital-R since you are all cut from the same cloth). Thanks for trolling an otherwise interesting and coherent argument from one of the few people in the UK, and possibly the world, trying to make a difference via the Internet.

  12. The fact that you seem to think it is ok to assult another human-being, especially on of advanced years does you no credit. The further fact that you think this is funny, further discredits you.

  13. "Thanks for trolling an otherwise interesting and coherent argument from one of the few people in the UK, and possibly the world, trying to make a difference via the Internet."

    Trolling? Do you mean disagreeing?

    It's a simple statement of fact - NewsCorp has a voice, sure, but it's far smaller than the BBC for instance, and NI itself has a 37%, and dwindling, share in the UK press market. This runs counter to Laurie's assertion. Ergo, she doesn't have coherent argument - sorry.

    NI might have carried out illegal practices - it appears the Mirror has too, and even the Guardian dabbled. Does this mean they're all unsuitable? Should all their directors be on charges?

    "And yes, bricks will be next,"

    Oh, threats now?

  14. @TPO: The fact that you wouold stone an 80 year old man to death for a crime that he has not been convicted of as of yet is disturbing.

    This country of ours has a thing called the "Presumption of innocence" and as Mr Murdoch has not been tried by a jury of his peers, it is wrong to call for his public execution.

    It would also seem that you support Capital punishment, which is strange as most with your viewpoints seem to be against this.

    @Penny: I have read the Independant article that you liked in your post and I find it interesting that the quote used to support the governments position is from a charity worker who looks to try and support disabled children. While the quote used to support the contra position is a Union Leader? From the same union.

    Very interesting.

  15. News Corp shares rose because of the pieing? Did it somehow flood the world with a wave of tender loving sympathy for Murdoch? Can you find anywhere declaring sympathy for Murdoch where it didn't exist before? Me neither.

    The shares rose as they realised that Murdoch wasn't going to - deliberately of otherwise - put his head in a noose, that he was, as ever, going to make politician dance then fly out in a private jet.

    The pie "gives the remaining pro-Murdoch press an excuse" - Really? So before the pie they were poised to report it properly were they? They weren't going to say Murdoch was the victim of axe-grinding politicians and really, we've better things to worry about? Like they have been doing throughout the scandal?

    The pie made no difference to the course of justice. It did, as you say, give Murdoch the first nit of proper disrespect in a long time. His victims over the years - and that's pretty much everyone who's not a Troy and/or super-rich - got a laugh at their tormentor's expense.

    Marbles should never have to buy his own pint again.

  16. Saw your post on Any Winehouse. What, tell me, justifies such a nasty statement? Is not Ms. Middleton a fellow human being? I don't like you - by your "reasoning" it would be justified for me to spit at you.

    You really are a nasty, spoilt little child. Get over yourself.

  17. Ah yes, of course - by your world view, Johann Hari, fabricator and Narcissist, should be treated as a "human being" - but it's OK to spit at Pippa Middleton.

  18. @ SirSliveWolfe You make a great deal of assumptions from a paragraph. Stoning to death? No, in fact the "bricks will be next" comment refers to the possibility of violent direct action by the people. Ward Churchill called pacifism a "pathology", a means of stultifying the population while they believe they are protesting and making change. Anarchism 101 really, so please don't put words in my mouth (or actions in my hands). As for having a different viewpoint, of course you are allowed have one, but when you come to *this* website, and post inflammatory attacks, knowing the position of the author, and her personal politics, it's an act of anger over not having a soapbox for yourself to stand on. I apologize for your confusion over "stoning" and so called "threats" that I've made. The fact that I have to write this apology over your inability to understand direct action is just taking up internet white space. Oh well. Sorry, Penny.

  19. Dunno if this relates or not but the first thing I thought of when reading about all this was what happened to Paul Burrel (Diana's butler). In one of his books he mentions that the Queen warned him of 'forces' and interests - something like that - he would need look out for. According to Burrel, not long after that chat (and pissing off almost everyone at the venerable Princess Diana Foundation) he was accused of taking off with Diana's (insert needless object worth the price of an average house), dressing up in her frilly bits then selling the best on Ebay. Kinda mean considering he did not have the means to defend himself with a proper solicitor, but then again, it did sell an amazing amount of pre-recycled pulp on both sides of the ocean.

    As for Murdoch and the US, Fox news is notorious for passing off opinion based, non-reality programming as news. I'm not sure if they 'started it' or capitalized on a trend. The Wall Street Journal relies more and more on opinion based articles, or others where bias directs the tone and content.

    If Great Britain can put Murdoch back in his sweaty little can filled with smut and propaganda it will do the rest of the world a favor. Please do. I'm so sick of reading the BBC whenever something goes on in the US. It's embarrassing.

  20. Likewise hear you loud and clear from way down-under in Aotearoa NZ Laurie..only incredulous that since I last left the U.K, this hasn't actually happened before now? Even here all the flags are waving but the richest are too busy checking their portfolios & Pinot gris stocks, the dwindling average Hamish & Hinemoa socio-economic group are just trying to hang onto their jobs & pay the bills, and the poorest trying to count the days & beans til benefit day too....Waiting for someone in the NWO to declare WWIII which usually happens when the world economies CRASH....Oh wait a minute..they did & it's another unwinnable war of terror on all of us & !! ://Kia ora & Keep keeping it real ...Love your work..

  21. When illegals come to our country to draw a check not a job. Forty million illegals in USA drawing benefits from free chemotherapy to heart transplants. Less than 1/3 of our jobs are non government. Same problems in England, everyone can't have a government job.

  22. Great article. The pie was a very mild demonstration of disgust compared to the missile I would have liked to throw at Murdoch. Ever since I was a child (long ago), his name has been synonymous with corrupt, illegal, manipulative power practices. It's a wonder to me that he's still given any credibility at all, but then power corrupts and absolute power.....nuff said.

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