A pretty obvious statement to make in these times is that the U.S. electorate is polarized. Long understood that so-called hot button issues, like reproductive rights, weren't a topic that everyone would agree on, other policies have jumped on the polarizing bandwagon, so much so, that now I'm a little shocked it hasn't crumbled beneath the weight of it all: same-sex marriage, prayer in schools, how much government should be regulated, how big government should be, whether humans evolved from monkeys or were blinked into existence, and so on.
Few things don't have a set of verbally inclined opposing camps. Now the list of things we emphatically disagree on has grown very long indeed. School vouchers. Using torture in interrogations. Free health care for children. Privatizing Social Security. Immigration reform. Medical marijuana. Ethnic studies. At some point, we started arguing about even previously sacrosanct, settled issues, like the rights of the accused, citizenship for people born within U.S. borders, and filling out Constitution-mandated Census forms. Anything related to government is, for some, automatically suspect.
So too, the people who would choose to work in government. It's one thing to have that preference, and entirely another to flaunt it in our faces, right? And as political stances have devolved [sic] into reductive bumper sticker slogans, so too have critiques of the politicians who espouse those stances.
Here then, is a brief history of political protest, specifically of protestors who throw things—mostly food, with the exception of shoes, which one could argue are at least still organic—at politicians with whom they disagree. Since there's so much to disagree with these days, perhaps we'll see a marked increase in such incidents, which aren't limited to the U.S.
- Rotten tomatoes and eggs—Just last April, protestors hurled eggs and tomatoes in the Ukraine Parliament, which the targets seemed to expect, as they had umbrellas at the ready to serve as shields. The folks taking aim were displeased that their parliament had just agreed to let the Russian navy stick around in their waters for another three decades. Back here in the U.S., last March supporters of Harry Reid pelted eggs at Tea Baggers who'd shown up outside Reid's offices to protest him. It was like the old MTV Celebrity Deathmatch! I'll put my bets on rotten protein bombs over Earl Grey any day. There's something a wee bit fitting about renewing a tactic that used to be deployed against people locked in stockades in England, to using it as a dramatic method of expressing political displeasure against another group whose name attempts to come from the same era. Sarah Palin, a rotten tomato recipient in 2009, is probably not a fan of the practice.
- Pies—Soupy Sales popularized the practice of throwing pies, or more accurately, of receiving pies in the face, and Hollywood lined up to get the chance to appear on his show for pie-throwing. But their history actually extends back further, to vaudeville, including especially Laurel and Hardy. The first political pie was in 1970, thrown by the founder of High Times, against the chairman of a federal obscenity commission. Leave it to a pothead to have food around for use as projectiles. These days, there are specific pie-throwing political groups, namely the Merengue Marauders and Les Entartistes in Canada, the Biotic Baking Brigade and Al Pieda in the U.S., and Internationales Patissiere in Belgium, where I bet the pies at issue are particularly tasty. The list of pie-receivers is kind of impressive, too, with figures from Bill Gates to Ann Coulter to Willie Brown to G. Gordon Liddy among targets. Pie throwers say their form of protest hurts only the receiver's ego. That may be up for debate, since unlike Soupy Sales, these people don't consent to having whipped cream thrown in their faces.
- Shoes—Since the shoe-throwing incident against George W. Bush at the end of his term, shoe throwing as protest has taken off as a craze in India. I imagine they don't taste as well as pies, nor as bad as rotten eggs, depending on what the shoe had recently tromped through. I also think the "they won't really hurt anyone" idea fails here, unless we're talking about throwing those crappy Jellies from the 1980s, godparents to the Crocs of today. So far in India, since the fad began, everyone has managed to duck flying shoes.
The limitations to throwing things at people one doesn't like are numerous. First, they're acts of violence that only get more problematic when say, a man is throwing a pie in a woman's face, as in the top picture from Canada, in which an animal-rights activist pied the federal fisheries minister Gail Shea. I'm not a fan of Harper's government either, but I wouldn't hit anyone in the face with anything when they weren't expecting it.
Second, they distract from the issues at hand and refocus attention on the form of protest instead. Who even remembers why Bush was having a press conference? They just remember The Shoes.
Third, they give fodder to the opposition that the protest—and the critique it's supposed to engender—isn't valid. This makes it harder to say, be on the ethical high ground. And once one is arguing the merits of arguing, one is by definition not discussing the merits of the actual position.
That said, I am a big fan of pie. Rotten tomatoes, not so much.