UK-based activist Jonnie Marbles added a note of absurdity to the proceedings at the Murdoch hearing this morning by introducing what appeared to be a cream pie to the general vicinity of Murdoch’s person. Shortly before the pie incident, he Tweeted:
It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat
Already at a high level of political theatre, the hearing entered the farcical with the addition of the pie, pretty much ensuring that it would land on the lede of every major news outlet this evening. The pie story, as Emily points out, distracts from the actual issues going on, which I suspect you’ll be finding as topics here at Tiger Beatdown within the next few days (if you just can’t wait, Flavia’s got you covered), but there are two pie-specific issues I’d like to explore for a moment before we return to our regularly scheduled programming.
The first was the explosion of racist commentary that erupted in response to Wendi Murdoch’s intervention. Evidently, a successful Chinese-American businesswoman who thinks quickly on her feet when her husband is attacked by an activist bearing pie is a ‘ninja’ with ‘Chinese superpower[s].’ (Intriguingly, Piers Morgan deleted his ‘#ChineseSuperpower’ Tweet, but ample retweets survive as evidence.) Racist humour is a cheap and easy shot, and it was the order of the day here, including on my Twitter feed, which includes a large number of supposed ‘progressives.’
The second was the rush to blame the pie incident on UK Uncut, which has been doing damage control on Twitter in an attempt to assure people that, no, it was not responsible. Given the way information rapidly disseminates through media like Twitter, undoubtedly many people picked up the commentary blaming UK Uncut, but not the correction, and given the negative responses I was seeing, the organisation’s reputation may have taken a hit among some former fans. (Of course, it may be a wash, as some people were tickled pink at the thought of a UK Uncut-based pie protest.)
This illustrates a growing problem with the rapid spread of information and commentary, which can sometimes be initially wrong, but also has a tendency to associate the actions of individuals with organisations they work for or with, even when they are acting independently and say so. Separation of personal and professional activities is increasingly difficult and a growing number of companies recognise this with draconian social media policies that effectively limit free expression for their employees. Marbles could just as easily have worked for an entirely different organisation; the World Bank, say, and some might have deliberately chosen to misread his actions as a deliberate policy statement embarked upon with the endorsement of his employer.
This frivolous incident highlights an increasingly slippery and dangerous slope when it comes to political expression by people who may fear for their jobs. Many activists seeking work, including with policy and activist organisations, find out that if they want to keep their jobs, their political expression is curtailed. I can’t name names and organisations here, for obvious reasons, but I know a number of individuals who have had to face choices between activism/political organising and employment, thanks to restrictions on speech for employees. Many of these restrictions are enacted with the best of intentions, like wanting to avoid accusations of bias or attempting to limit available fodder for critics of progressive organisations, but they have a chilling effect.
Finally, I would like to express my utter distaste for the use of shaving cream as a pie filling. If you’re going to throw a pie at someone, do it right, people. Think of how delightfully a nice lemon meringue would have splattered, or of the elegant symbolism that could have been conveyed with a sour cherry pie. Pastry-based protest should use only the finest of fillings, my friends.