By Daniel Pagan
Why do engineering students love pieing for local charity and how did it get started in the first place? Pieing became popular in slapstick comedies where one can easily see the humour in pie fights: the absurdity of a harmless and delicious food being used, the victim’ surprise, humiliation and the mess. People just love seeing other people being embarrassed. Also, a pieing is easy to clean up and far from disastrous, as long as one has a spare towel. How popular was the pieing gag with audiences? Over 3,000 pies were used in a 1927 Laurel & Hardy short film, The Battle of the Century. Several comedians and cartoon characters like Charlie Chaplin, Monty Python and Bugs Bunny counted pieing amongst their comedic tricks. Clowns still use them at circuses. People love seeing others pied, as long as they’re not the victims.
Embarrassment and humiliation allowed pieing to move from comedy to political act. Several controversial politicians, celebrities and CEOs have been pied in the past, as Bill Gates, Jean Chretien and Ralph Klein can testify. Some critics feel pieing is only a silly stunt that hurts the credibility of protesters and their movement. For example when the British media focused on a protester pieing Britain’s business minister, Lord Peter Mandelson last week, they covered the act instead of the protests against the expansion of Heathrow airport. Some victims don’t have a sense of humour, like Stephane Dion, who pressed charges against two pie throwers in May 1999. But pieing can be important for getting attention: how many politicians actually read letters from their constituencies or even pay attention to causes on Facebook or other social networks? What about companies that ignore laws and governments like Microsoft? Environmental protesters argue that only drastic actions can draw attention to a problem like global warming, which otherwise gets ignored by politicians and corporations. Successes have been mixed so far regarding pieing, but it’s an easy way to grab attention. All you have to do is buy or bake a pie.
Considering its slapstick and political effects, pieing can be useful to raise a charity’s profile. Like the crazy engineering students on the University of Calgary campus, who pie other students and professors to raise money for the Calgary Urban Project Society. CUPS is a Christian organization which helps people move away from poverty by giving them healthcare and education and helping applicants find stable housing. Being pied directly helps fight homelessness. PI week can be controversial on campus, however, with some professors and students getting upset about disrupted classes. But they can get the pies redirected and the pie squads wait until the end of class. The pieing also helps combat student apathy: it’s the only tradition that unifies people on a notorious apathetic campus apart from Bermuda Shorts Day. In the end, even if pieing is considered assault in some cases, it is a valuable tradition.