This is for the rest of us.
Meaning the ones who don’t have personal chefs, gift-wrapping rooms or hired sycophants, who don’t hobnob or rub shoulders, and who drive the same car every day of the week.
The rest of us would like to offer some of you a little advice:
If you ever find yourself asking, “Do you know who I am?” or any variation thereof, it’s a pretty good indicator that you are not, in fact, as famous as your hired sycophants (and your ego) have led you to believe. If it is necessary to call attention to your fame, you may not be all that famous to begin with.
Besides which, doing so is in terrible taste.
Reese Witherspoon, known for her work in films like Legally Blonde and Walk the Line (for which she won an Academy Award), is the latest celebrity to learn this. She was arrested for disorderly conduct recently after allegedly interfering with a Georgia state trooper, who had pulled over her husband, Hollywood agent Jim Toth, on suspicion of drunk driving.
Authorities say Witherspoon, who has since apologized and pronounced herself “deeply embarrassed,” asked the trooper, “Do you know my name?” and announced to him, “You’re about to find out who I am. … You’re about to be on national news.”
In other words: “Do you know who I am?”– a question that should never be asked by anyone who is not suffering amnesia. And yet, it — or, again, some version of it — is asked often whenever the famous, the near-famous, the used-to-be-famous and the famous in their own minds find themselves colliding with real life.
Do you know who I am?
This was, in essence, Gloria James’ alleged riposte during a drunken 2011 altercation with a parking valet, though her only claim to fame is that 29 years ago, she gave birth to LeBron. It is what washed-up NBA star Allen Iverson reportedly spent 20 minutes yelling at a police officer during a 2011 traffic stop in Atlanta. It is said to be what Lindsay Lohan’s mother Dina yelled when she was turned away from a Hollywood nightspot in 2009 for trying to take her then-15-year-old daughter Ali inside. It is, according to police, what the rapper N.O.R.E. screamed as he was punching out a customer a few years ago at a Fatburger in Miami Beach.
Do you know who I am? It might as well be the battle cry of privilege. The rest of us have a complicated relationship with privilege.
We know the rules apply differently to those who possess celebrity. It gets you better seats in restaurants, more attentive service in stores. You don’t wait in lines. And if you find yourself in trouble, you may even receive the kind of “justice” O.J. Simpson did in 1995.
No one loses sleep over this. So be it. C’est la vie.
But that forbearance carries an unwritten rule: You may accept these perks, but you may not ostentatiously demand them. To do so is to affront what remains of our egalitarian ideals. From those upon whom we confer celebrity, we expect a little occasional humility in return. If you have none, at least have the good sense to fake it.
Witherspoon did not.
Do you know who I am?
The question reeks of entitlement, condescension and arrogance. It is the bratty inquiry of someone who has believed her own hype, drunk her own Kool-Aid, become lost in her own image.
The lady will weather this, of course. Who could hold a grudge against Reese Witherspoon?
Still, there is a certain satisfaction in seeing her rant answered with handcuffs, in watching humility imposed on someone who needs it. It seems a welcome reminder of egalitarian ideals too often lost in celebrity’s flashbulb glare. Witherspoon has enrolled in a pre-trial intervention program. She has a May 22nd court date.
Score one for the rest of us.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
AP Photo/City of Atlanta Department of Corrections