January 25, 2008
ITHACA, NY—A new study conducted by the Cornell Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences has found what researchers believe to be a demonstrable link between being struck with a banana cream pie and a sudden, significant drop in one's public standing.
"What we have observed is nothing short of astounding," Dr. Philip Shaw, a human sciences professor at Cornell and the study's lead researcher, said Monday. "By having cream-topped pies forcibly applied to their faces—or kissers—men and women of high regard were seen to immediately fall in both status and esteem."
A banana cream pie much like the ones used in the study.
"Whether the subjects were wealthy shopkeepers, pompous barons of British descent, or matronly women sporting tiny opera glasses—our results were always the same," Shaw added.
The study, which was conducted with the help of 25 dignified members of the aristocracy and three rather clumsy butlers, showed a direct correlation between unexpected contact with the custard-based stimulus and a loss of social stature—including the respect of bystanders, the affections of untold gentlewomen, and any possibility of securing a sizable donation for one's struggling playhouse.
Even more surprisingly, results showed that the drop in standing took place in mere seconds and not over the course of many weeks, as is generally needed for adjusting an individual's hierarchical status.
"Upon each pie's delivery, we were able to detect a 12 pecent decline in both privilege and hubris," said Shaw, who conducted further experiments on the airborne dessert phenomenon in a highly controlled masquerade-ball setting. "However, much to our surprise, a host of secondary factors—such as the angular velocity at which the pies were thrown, the length of time they stuck to a participant's face before sliding off, and whether they were accompanied by the honking of a loud bicycle horn—also affected the overall reputation of our subjects."
Timing was also cited as being pivotal by Shaw, who said that the sequence of introducing a pie into the face of an elderly countess, giving her time to clear the cream from the eyes and mouth, and then administering a second pie into her face generated the sharpest descent in stature.
"Response to the delivery of the pies was generally varied among participants, although we did observe nearly 15 separate threats of 'Why, I oughtta…' and roughly six distinct cries of 'Well, I never!'" Shaw said.
A 12-minute black-and-white video recording released by the researchers documented some of the more acute reactions to face-first pie contact, including the rapid emission of compressed steam from a participant's ears† and, on three separate occasions, a fast-motion but ultimately unsuccessful chase around an elegant dinner table between participant and researcher.
Isolated incidents of a cream pie causing one's dickey to fly up into one's face were also reported.
Though the long-term effects of Shaw's pie experiment are still unclear, a number of the subjects registered a strong psychological reaction within moments of completing the study.
"Why, I cannot remember the last time I was so insulted in all my life," said socialite Thomas DuBottomer, who on day four of the study ducked an oncoming cream pie only to have it land square in the face of a passing police officer. "I demand an apology, you troublemaking so-and-so!"
Shaw's report is not the first of its kind. Four years ago, a Princeton study attempted to measure the effects of discharged seltzer water on one's reputation; and in 2005, scientists determined that slipping on a discarded fruit skin, rolling down a circular flight of stairs, and landing face-first into an awaiting cart of horse manure could be definitively linked to being fired from a board of bank trustees.
Though the report has yet to be published in any major journals, Shaw has defended his team's research.
"I strongly believe our study to be of the utmost importance," Shaw announced at a conference of behavioral scientists in Chicago on Tuesday. "Whether others approve or disapprove of it is not my concern. We are serving a greater purpose here, a higher purpose. What we have accomp—"
The outspoken Shaw was thereupon struck with a banana cream pie, his opinions at once rendered completely irrelevant.