Commentary

Celebrity should come with humility

Updated: 2013-04-30T23:41:00Z

By LEONARD PITTS JR.

The Miami Herald

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.

If you ever find yourself asking, “Do you know who I am?” it’s a pretty good indicator that you are not, in fact, as famous as your hired sycophants and (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.

Reese Witherspoon, known for her work in films like “Legally Blonde” and “Walk the Line,” 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 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.

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.

We know the rules apply differently to those who possess celebrity. It gets you better seats in restaurants, more attentive service in stores.

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 at little occasional humility in return. If you have none, at least have the good sense to fake it.

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.

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 22 court date.

Score one for the rest of us.

To reach Leonard Pitts Jr., send email to lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats live every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. Central time at www.miamiherald.com.

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