June 11, 2010
As a writer, I’m sometimes asked where I get my ideas. The answer is that all my ideas, no matter how ludicrous, come from the real world.
For example! The villain of The Order of Odd-Fish is a celebrity terrorist called “the Belgian Prankster.” He goes around the world doing insane stunts like filling the Grand Canyon with pistachio pudding, or turning the Eiffel Tower upside-down, or releasing 10,000 bichon frise puppies on the streets of Osaka. He’s like a whimsical Osama bin Laden with his own reality show. Here’s what he looks like, courtesy of fan artist Kathleen Simmons—a hulking giant always clad in a ratty fur coat, green ski goggles, and a rawhide diaper:
Although the Belgian Prankster is probably the weirdest character in the book, he is actually based on a real man named Noel Godin. (I’ve mentioned him before, but today I’d to dwell on him in loving detail.) Godin first came to my attention in 1998, when he smashed a pie in Bill Gates’ face in the streets of Brussels. Video here:
Strangely, as if they’d all agreed on this beforehand, every newspaper and TV reporter invariably referred to him as “Belgian prankster Noel Godin” or just “a Belgian prankster.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who found the phrase Belgian Prankster irresistible. It has a sinister lilt; it sounds like the name of a supervillain. (It’s kind of like how, during the 1989 US-Panama War, journalists would never say “Manuel Noriega,” but always “Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.” Panamanian strongman—go ahead, say it out loud! It trips off the lips.)
I thought, what if this Belgian Prankster graduated from mere pie-throwing to more insane, dangerous, and finally supernatural stunts? A man in pursuit of the worst practical joke, the most apocalyptic prank? And thus the “Belgian Prankster” of The Order of Odd-Fish was born.
As a fitting wrap-up to Avant-Garde Pie week, let’s take a closer look at this remarkable man, Noel Godin:
Apparently Godin, under the pseudonym “Georges Le Gloupier,” is notorious in France and Belgium for attacking pretentious public figures with cream pies. Targets include director Jean-Luc Godard, writer Marguerite Duras, and Nicholas Sarkozy. Godin has invented a verb for this, entarter (to attack with a pie). Each attack is a meticulously planned team effort; his accomplices (known as entarteurs) shout out “Gloup, Gloup, Gloup!” after a successful attack.
Godin’s peculiar bête noire is French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, whom he’s assaulted five separate times. I find the relationship between Levy and Godin fascinating. Let me quote at length from The Observer Magazine:
“I flan people in the spirit of the abusive letters the Dadaists sent to worthless celebrities,” [Godin] said. “The aim is always to denounce them in some way. I do not want to slide into facile sensationalism. Every victim has to be thoroughly justified.”
Few have been more outstanding flanees that Bernard-Henri Levy, a man so sensitive that he was once credibly reported as observing that “when I find a new shade of grey, I feel ecstatic”. He has also famously remarked that he dislikes seeing a woman pay in a restaurant. “I think,” Levy explained, “that money does not suit a woman; or rather that I would not fall in love with such a woman.” His own varied talents constitute, by his own account, “a landscape which does not have a fixed place in the classic topography of culture.”
These are the kind of observations that guarantee the philosopher express deliveries of creme chantilly for years to come. “He is the worst,” says Godin, who, on the subject of Bernard-Henri Levy, tends to sound like Herbert Lom on Inspector Clouseau. “He is the worst this decade.”
Here Godin attacks a young Levy in 1985 (that’s a long-simmering grudge!). After the attack, Levy knocked down Godin, but Godin said later, “I didn’t even feel the uppercut, because I was so happy to gaze up from the floor and see the peak of French intellectual thought so thoroughly snowbound.” Levy shouts at Godin, “Get up, or I’ll kick your head in.”
(This is great stuff, but not quite as good as when Norman Mailer threw a drink at Gore Vidal, and then punched Vidal out, at a literary party in 1977. Vidal’s legendary response, delivered when he was still on the floor: “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.”)
But what are the origins of this marvelous man? Consulting The Observer Magazine again (it’s really worth it to read the whole article), we learn about his first job, in 1969, writing a news column for Friends of Film, a cinema magazine published by the Belgian Catholic League:
“I started to print complete falsehoods—gradually at first, then routinely,” [Godin] recalled. “I invented non-existent films that I illustrated with snapshots of my relatives. I wrote face-to-face interviews with hundreds of artists, including Frank Capra and Robert Mitchum, without ever leaving my bedroom.”
Readers of Friends of Film were introduced to the work of imaginary geniuses such as Sergio Rossi, Aristide Beck and Viviane Pei, the Thai director of such films as The Lotus Flower Will No Longer Grow On The Shores Of Your Island. Pei’s acheivements, ceaselessly lauded in Godin’s column, were the more remarkable, he reported, in that she was “the only blind director in the history of cinema”. He enthused over Vegetables of Good Will (1970, Jean Clabau), in which Claudia Cardinale played an endive, and Germinal II, a Maoist cartoon featuring Jean-Louis Barrault as the voice of a cold chisel.
“The only blind director in the history of cinema”? Vegetables of Good Will? *Swoon*
In other issues, it was revealed that Roger Vadim (former husband of Brigitte Bardot) was “a DIY fanatic secretly obsessed with small balsawood aircraft,” that Marlene Dietrich led expeditions to hunt down the Loch Ness monster, and that Michael Caine had a motor that ran on yogurt. “I got away with it purely because I had a credulous editor and the magazine was not distributed outside Belgium,” Godin said.
If Godin is to be believed, his grand crusade has only begun. One day their slogan (according to some websites, “Let’s pie! Let’s pie! Nincompoop guys!”) will be shouted from the barricades. Godin again:
“We are just beginning. We feel ready now. Ready to attack another sort of target. A genuine International Brigade Patisserie has been born. We believe that we are capable of achieving great things in the near future . . . No obstacle can stand in our way. Like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Gene Tierney and Barbara Stanwyck in the old Hollywood films, we have a crazed belief in ourselves . . . I hope to brighten the lives of my British friends . . . Tell them to expect me when they see a cream-colored shooting star traverse their cheerless skies.”
Noel Godin, please, I beg you, come to the United States. You are our only hope.
Some new “Belgian pranksters” have even emerged, though they are not actually associated with Godin. For instance, one of them put the entire country of Belgium up for sale on eBay.
That said, there are some pretender Belgian Pranksters, some amateur Belgian Pranksters, who have tried to claim the title “Belgian Prankster” and failed miserably. Here’s a prank gone horribly wrong on a Belgian TV show. Frankly, it’s a stupid prank; the amateur Belgian prankster throws a weird little green net on his victim, a stranger at a shopping mall (why? what’s the point?). Unfortunately for him, one of the bystanders is a martial arts master:
If you look at it on YouTube, the comments are hilarious: “But you have to agree his stance is common in TKD not KF. That is a classic TKD form or stance for sparring and fighting but as I watch repeatedly, his kick is not an authentic TDK style.” Why do I have the creeping feeling this commenter knows neither kung fu or tae kwon do, but has just played a lot of Mortal Kombat?