Just off the flight from Brussels, ARN's Matthew JC. Powell cleans the cream from his hands and prepares to tell the story . . .
Noel Godin. Remember that name. you probably won't. A couple of weeks ago, Noel Godin leapfrogged Audrey Hepburn and Hercule Poirot to become, ever so briefly, the world's most famous Belgian.
His act of infamy? Delivering one cream (or possibly custard) pie to William H Gates III, visiting dignitary. The novelty of his delivery was to administer the pie externally, rather than allowing Gates to ingest the pie in the traditional manner.
Naturally, the news wires were abuzz with reports that the very important Mr Gates had been assaulted with a deadly (well, extremely high-cholesterol) weapon. All over the world, the sight of a cranky guy in a suit wiping cream from his spectacles and stalking off, gave computer users and the general public alike a belly laugh. Godin achieved what he had not managed with his previous attacks on dignitaries: 15 minutes of fame.
Of course, it wasn't really all that funny to see Bill Gates covered in gloop. What made me laugh most was the fact that, practically before the guy had even finished wiping his specs, there were several places on the Web where you could find Zapruder-style QuickTime movies of the event, going through frame by frame to determine exactly what had happened. How many pie-throwers were there? Was it custard or cream, or a combination of the two? What sort of tactics were used: a simple distraction, or was it a more sinister triangulation of pie, with a third or even fourth thrower on the grassy knoll? Was Godin the pieman, or was he a patsy?
To add insult to (albeit minor) injury, an extremely silly joke was in my e-mail the very same day (see below). That the joke is a very lame one is irrelevant: what is important is that the very Internet which Gates seeks to control reacted so very quickly to ridicule him once he was down.
Godin's quixotic act put me in mind of Microsoft's current ad campaign, which uses David Bowie's song "Heroes" to imply that Microsoft software imbues its users with superhuman abilities. That is, of course, a very simple reading of the song. In fact, it is about two citizens of East Germany who, unable to withstand oppression, decide to make a final, fatal dash for freedom. Their hope is that by dying in this way they will at least become symbols of freedom and the fight against oppression. They will become heroes, "just for one day".
Similarly, Godin knew he would achieve nothing by his attack except fame. He would not break Microsoft's stranglehold on desktop operating systems, alter its (possibly, maybe, I'm-not-saying-anything) monopolistic practices in software licensing nor change its mind about destroying Netscape.
He could only be the hero (for a day) of everyone who has ever felt like whopping Bill Gates with a pie. And from the Internet's response, there appear to be plenty of people like that.
"Brussels police department, how may I assist you?"
"Uh, yes. I just got hit in the
face with a cream pie."
"OK, sir. Have you called the Brussels police department before?"
"Well, let me get a little information about you for our records. Your name?"
"OK, sir. Your police department ID number is BP31415927. Please use this number the next time you call. Now, you say you were hit in the face with a pie?"
"Yes, I was just about to meet
with the Belgian Prime Minister.
One person distracted me while
another hit me with a cream
"We've had other customers report that they were hit in the face with a custard pie. Are you sure it was a cream pie?"
"Well, I have white stuff all over
my face and I don't see any
custard, so I really don't think
it was a custard pie."
"Have you visited the Prime Minister before?"
"Were you hit in the face with a pie then?"
"Hmm . . . have you visited any other Prime Ministers in the past month?"
"Any pies then?"
"OK, well . . . let's try something. Go outside the building and come in again. I'll wait."
"Just a minute . . ." (several
minutes pass) "OK, I'm back."
"Did you get hit by another pie?"
"Of course not"
"Well sir, I don't know what could have caused the first pie, but it looks like things are working fine now. I'll make a note of the problem, though. If it happens again, please note the exact details of the situation and call us again. Thank you for calling the Brussels Police Department. (click)".