Rex Weiner at The Paris Review:
Popular belief has it that the pie-in-the-face gag (a word derived from the Norse gagg, meaning “yelp”) originated in the silent-movie era. Performed by the slapstick director Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops, Fatty Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, and various imitators then and since, the stunt seems uniquely American. What better enforcer of the democratic dogma than a tossed pie? A gooey face is an instant social equalizer.
Of course, the self-important have always been targets for a takedown; even if pieing is a predominantly American phenomenon, the puncturing of pomposity is universal. I’m reminded of certain graffiti left behind in Egyptian tombs by workers who remarked on the pharaoh’s resemblance to the buttocks of an ox.
The French have a word for it, of course: lèse-majesté, “injured sovereignty,” an ancient crime from the Roman era, still on the books in such countries as Turkey and Thailand. Even in the Netherlands, a man was jailed in 2012 for calling Queen Beatrix a “con woman” and a “sinner,” and demanding abolishment of the monarchy. Royalty has always deserved, short of the guillotine, the pie.