The turmoil created by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has pulled back the curtain on the cosy relationship between politicians, police and the media. But those who are angriest seem reduced to stunts — hacking websites and throwing pies. Is this really the best we can do?


As the check-shirted protester leapt up from his seat towards Rupert Murdoch, it seemed like a moment made for a grand, sweeping gesture. The billionaire media mogul had been brought before a British parliamentary committee to face questions about the illegal activities inside his newspapers — activities that led to the closure of a newspaper and multiple resignations — but both Rupert and his son, James, had avoided most of the uncomfortable questions by claiming they simply did not know what was happening inside the company they are supposed to run.

Millions had tuned in around the world on television or online to watch proceedings, but their despair and angst had become palpable as people discussed what was happening. In homes, in offices, and across the web, people watched the Murdochs squirm and try to work their way out of a tight spot. Maybe this lone individual could be the voice of the people, even if parliament was struggling to pin down their enemies.

In the end, the protest was a soggy stunt — a cream pie, thrown at Murdoch senior, who composed himself quickly and re-emerged jacketless a few minutes later, looking scrawnier than ever. The great protest, it turned out, was merely a piece of slapstick.

It was the second stunt protest against Murdoch’s media empire inside a day. Overnight, Lulzsec — the protest group formed by hackers who seem rather unclear on what they’re protesting about — staged its own piece of theater, apparently gaining access to the networks of News Corporation’s (w nws) British newspapers. They hijacked the homepage of its biggest-selling title, The Sun, and also started distributing emails and user accounts that appeared to belong to newspaper staff.

These joke protests have happened many times before. But given the breadth of the allegations against the News of the World — invading the privacy of murdered children, terror victims and soldiers, bribing police, planting staff and holding sway over senior political figures — a joke seems somehow inappropriate. The curtain has been pulled back on corruption, and all we can really manage is to say we’re “in it for the lulz.”

The weapons we have today seem paltry. Yes, we can organize our outrage on Twitter and Facebook, and we can share information with each other. But while the web helps us vent our spleen, it rarely helps us cleanse our system of corruption. Our anger doesn’t take down governments; it takes down a website. We’re left disenfranchised and dismayed, with nothing but parlor tricks and games to satisfy our need for justice. As my colleague Stacey said on seeing the events unfold, “When politics become a joke, so do the protests”.

We’ve substituted transparency for performance. And if you don’t believe me, then look at Jonnie Marbles, the man who claims to have been the one who pied Rupert Murdoch. Just seconds before launching into his big moment, he paused and told the world of his plans on Twitter. “It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before,” he wrote, echoing the famous, grandiose language of Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities.

In that book, set in the French Revolution, one character makes up for his failings by going to the guillotine: sacrificing himself so the system may be overturned. In our world, the great sacrifice was formed out of a shaving foam and a paper plate. Perhaps this is all we’re left with… and perhaps it’s what we deserve.

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  1. I guess the real interesting thing to come out of the “hack” to the Sun’s site is if they managed to get any decent emails from their server (which seemed the other aim, as reported elsewhere). Can’t believe NOTW were the only ones up to phone hacking and this group do have a habit or releasing embarrassing info…

  2. Considering the laws enacted in the US, UK and around the world after 9/11 the smartest protestors are those can retain active status. Anything more than a shaving cream pie would most likely pave the way to terrorist level incarceration and much larger criminal charges. With so much corruption and with so many arenas needing the attention of activists, hacktivists and everyone in between isn’t it smarter to not waste one’s life on just one moment? Isn’t it best to live and try another day?

    The activist response to politics as farce seems appropriate since it avoids real violence and therefore leaves doors open for everyone to have due process and perhaps a change of heart. Either way, it’s one chime in a very large warning bell. The future is here.

  3. On a point of information, he wasn’t a protester, he was a stand-up comic seeking publicity.

    As for the rest, be grateful that people who can’t be bothered to follow a story for more than three minutes can only take down websites, and not governments. The world would be a far worse place if they were as powerful as they like to tell themselves they are, and as feckless as we all know they are. You need look no further than Anonymous’ attack on the wrong domain registrar to see just how little care these people take about what they do.

    And there’s nothing new under the sun… did the crowd listening to Mark Anthony at Julius Caesar’s funeral care about how the state was run or just “their’ gold? Shakespeare knew the answer to that one, all right.

  4. Bobbie, don’t forget that turning away from buying a business’ products, if it happens in large enough numbers, can hit a business where it hurts.

  5. > Perhaps this is all we’re left with… and perhaps it’s what we deserve.

    May be I am too simple-minded, but I don’t understand if this article is critical of the shaving cream stunt or sympathetic with it. It is peppered with lines like, “this is all we’re left with”, “We’re left disenfranchised and dismayed, with nothing but parlor tricks and games to satisfy our need for justice”. At the same time, it also says, “a joke seems somehow inappropriate”.

    So, what is it? A bad, silly joke? Or, a silly action of a powerless individual?

    Personally, I don’t think the shaving cream stunt was a joke any more than the Iraqi who threw a shoe at GWB meant it as a mere insult. Both are acts that concentrate the exasperation, frustration, angst, hurt and helplessness of millions of people into something an average member of the public can do without courting ‘terrorist-level incarceration’, as commentor Mariette aptly wrote above.

  6. “but both Rupert and his son, James, had avoided most of the uncomfortable questions by claiming they simply did not know what was happening inside the company they are supposed to run.”

    So you’re saying the owner of a corporation with thousands of employees should know every time one of them goes to the loo?

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