(With apologies to Michael Legge, from whom I have stolen – sort of – the title of this post)
Let’s get one thing straight from the off. You can’t be attacked with a custard pie. You can be splatted with a custard pie. You can be splurged with a custard pie. You can be spooged with a custard pie. You can be humiliated with a custard pie, but it’s not an offensive weapon. It didn’t even have any pastry.
Twitter was outraged yesterday. We heard how News International paid the legal fees of someone who had been convicted of criminal offences. We heard that Rupert Murdoch sometimes ‘wishes Prime Ministers would leave him alone’. We heard that a senior police officer did not think that there was any conflict of interest in appointing someone to investigate one of their friends. We heard Rebekah Brooks give evidence that suggested that previous evidence she had given to parliament was not the truth. We learned that Number Ten had declined invitations to be briefed about phone hacking. Yes, all of Twitter was in a high and righteous dudgeon.
With the pie-throwing guy.
It may not have been all of Twitter, but the middle-aged comedy writer-performers whom I tend to follow were almost universally outraged by the pie-throwing guy. Really furious. Most of them frothing over the fact that this would ‘obscure’ the real news, and knock the substantive issues off the front pages, because otherwise all News International papers would have been forced to just run “We Are Evil!” as headlines tomorrow morning.
A couple of lone voices stuck up for its being funny, but they were quickly silenced with accusations of ‘defending the assault of an 80 year old man’. I didn’t find the pie stunt funny, but challenge any thinking human to read the BBC’s description of the object that was thrust at Rupert Murdoch: “what appeared to be a paper plate with shaving foam on it, in the form of a custard pie” and not find that a little funny.
I think what Johnnie Marbles did was silly. It was a distraction. It was naive and stupid to think that it wouldn’t be spun by the Murdoch press. I would have assumed that it was self-promotional if the only two videos he’s got online weren’t so poor. People trying to promote themselves usually have something to promote.
But, had he hit him, that might have been funny. People getting hit in the face with custard pies is funny. Watch the end of The Great Race if you don’t believe me:
See? Funny. It’s an accepted funny thing, hitting someone in the face with a custard pie. Yes, it’s childish, and in this case, ill-conceived and inappropriate, but, depending on the way the foam had fallen off the face of the world’s most evil man, it could certainly have been funny. Instead of weird and awkward and looking like you were trying to duff up an octogenarian. Which is what happens when you miss.
So, I think the contempt of the great and good was utterly misplaced. It didn’t take long for some of the great writers of political comedy in the country to start referring to pie-guy as a ‘comedian’. With quotation marks. Which is pretty dismissive, because whether you think he’s funny or not, he’s certainly a comedian. Not necessarily a good comedian or one I will be hunting down tickets to go and see, but he is a comedian.
You can tell, because he’s here, doing comedy:
Not ‘comedy’. but comedy. Standing up and telling his jokes. His own jokes that people aren’t laughing at very much, but he’s standing up and telling them because he thinks they are important or funny and that’s what comedians do. And sometimes they are wrong, but that doesn’t make them not comedians, it just makes them not-good comedians. (Full disclosure: many people consider me to be a not-good comedian)
Shortly, these comedy stalwarts were retweeting untrue stories about how Johnnie Marbles’ girlfriend was dumping him on Twitter. They were so busy making jokes about the ‘childish’ Johnnie Marbles that the rest of the day seemed to pass them by.
I think that their howl of frustration was misplaced. I think it was the frustration we were all feeling at seeing the committee paw at the Murdochs like an old, toothless dog, so conditioned by years of rolling over that they could do no real damage. After a forensic start by Tom Watson, very few of the rest of the committee seemed to have a point to what they were asking, they didn’t seem to be trying to establish anything specific, but wanted to be heard fulminating against hacking on the news.
I was particularly incensed because my comment that about the chairman of the other committee was completely overlooked by Twitter. No retweets at all. I had said that he was being so respectful to the police that he was coming of as a complete penis: a Vaz Deferens. I *know*.
We had all started off having such fun with ‘hacking cough’ gags and saying how much an old man looked like a goblin, or Dobby, or Mr Burns, or Golem, or a diseased scrotum in glasses, and commenting on the fact that his wife was much younger than him, but it seemed to be doing no good. No matter how much we tweeted, they were getting away! And so, when the pie was thrown, there was a huge backlog of frustration that spilled over onto Mr Marbles.
If you want to be angry with someone, be angry with committee chairman John Whittingdale. John is one of Rebekah Brooks’ Facebook friends – he says that they aren’t friends friends, but without the greater granularity of Google+ circles I suppose we’ll never know. When, at the end of the session, Tom Watson was pressing James Murdoch on releasing those with whom settlements had been reached from the confidentiality clauses in their settlements – fairly important if we want to find out what actually happened – the line of questioning was shut down by Mr Whittingdale. He claimed that the committee had been through that issue at length. Actually, they were still waiting for a first answer from James Murdoch.
Be furious with the MP who spent the entirety of their questions trying to ascertain which door in Downing Street Rupert Murdoch used when he went to visit the Prime Minister.
Fulminate against Louise Mensch’s absurd grandstanding, in which she made populist speeches that, in trying to broaden the issue, managed to leave the witnesses with nothing substantive to answer. When you have the Murdochs in front of you, try not to spend most of your time talking about newspapers they do not own and cannot really comment on. It was obviously designed to play well on television and appear forceful, but elicited nothing from those in front of her.
Rage against the committee who let Rebekah Brooks claim that there had been a seachange in the way Fleet Street did business after the publication of What Price Privacy without reminding her that this was exactly what she said had already happened when giving evidence eight years ago. It’s Section 4.8 of a pretty short report, not that you would have thought any of the Committee had read it. Back then she claimed that the formation of the PCC had led Fleet Street to fundamentally change the way it did business. Some might suspect that Fleet Street has not fundamentally changed the way it does business.
The truth was obscured yesterday. Our best chance of getting something serious on the Murdochs did slip away. We were let down yesterday. But not by Johnnie Marbles. By the people sitting in a horseshoe opposite him.