The never-ending News Of The World saga took a strange turn today when someone tried to pie Rupert Murdoch in the midst of his appearance in Parliament. The shaving-cream pie assailant is allegedly “Jonnie Marbles,” a self-described activist who invoked Sydney Carton (“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done...”) and took responsibility for the attack on Twitter. From the video, it appears that Marbles, who was ultimately arrested, didn’t quite succeed in reaching Murdoch. (Reuters has put together a very helpful slideshow which captures the impressively athletic leap Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng, took at Marbles, as well as a shot of Murdoch in which he looks surprisingly composed, considering what had just happened to him.) But was anyone laughing at the event?
Research suggests that if anyone were inclined to laugh, it would probably be the men present. That’s the conclusion of “Gender and the Appreciation of Physically Aggressive ‘Slapstick’ Humor,” a study published in Intuition, Brigham Young University’s undergraduate psychology journal. The authors cite a wide body of literature arguing that men are more aggressive than women, some of which posits that this supposed aggression is reflected in men’s preference for relatively-aggressive sports, toys, and entertainment. To examine this idea, the authors conducted a study in which subjects watched slapstick comedy, as well as other comedies which did not involve physical aggression. They found that the men not only liked the slapstick better than the women did, but they also preferred it to the other kinds of comedies shown. This, the authors say, is consistent with prior research, including one study “which found that men were not influenced by the amount of pain suffered by a character while women showed an inverted-U relationship between the pain and the funniness of cartoons.” The authors caution that their findings are not conclusive, and they say more research is warranted. This event might provide helpful evidence, if only because it shows that the general male preference for slapstick is not without exceptions: Many writers, such as Vanity Fair's James Wolcott, reacted negatively to the attempted “pieing” of Rupert Murdoch. Wolcott, for instance, sarcastically praised Marbles for his “courage” in attacking an elderly man and wrote that “not even loathed figures should have strangers lunging at them.” Seconded.