Mad as all Heck
All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.
You’ve gotta say, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”
—Peter Finch, “Network,” 1976, screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky
Joey Vento and Ann Coulter are mad as hell.
Or are they?
They have thrust their anger—or is it coolly calculated malice?—into the public arena and have been rewarded by vast amounts of national and international publicity.
More to the point, their cash registers are going ka-ching!
The Seductiveness of Fame
Everybody loves publicity.
As a young man, Warren G. Harding—arguably the worst president of the United States—bought a failing newspaper, the Marion [Ohio] Star and turned it into the biggest paper in town, which it still is today. Harding’s exquisitely simple editorial philosophy: “Mention the name of everybody in town twice a year.”
“I don’t care what you about me, as long as you spell my name right.” This adage has been attributed to many people. Among them: theatrical genius George M. Cohan, baseball team owner Charlie O. Finley, Louisiana Governor Huey Long, showman P.T. Barnum and sex bomb actress Mae West.
Very likely all of them said it at one time or another, because all were publicity hounds. Hey, I once heard my father say it.
But is all publicity good publicity?
Cheesy Treatment of Customers
The signature sandwich of Philadelphia is the Philly Cheesesteak—thin-shaved slices of beef fried up with onions and served in a hoagie bun with melted Kraft’s Cheez Whiz.
Done right, a Philly Cheesesteak—with chips and a root beer—is to die for.
One of the two premier purveyors of this iconic concoction is Geno’s—a garishly lighted food stand in South Philadelphia that is a must-visit tourist venue right up there with the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
Last week Geno’s proprietor, Joey Vento, did a very South Philly thing. Because he believes immigrants should learn to speak English, he put up signs next to his take-out windows that declared:
This is AMERICA. WHEN ORDERING, SPEAK ENGLISH.
A week ago Friday Vento’s vent generated five television interviews and call-in appearances on seven talk radio shows nationwide. His protest now is all over the media and the Internet like a cheap suit. He is in newspapers around the world—from Ontario to China.
“If you can’t tell me what you want,” he once told a reporter from The Inquirer, “I can’t serve you.”
Vento is talking to the world’s media, but refuses all contact with is hometown paper.
Vento’s action is quite remarkable, since Geno’s is just a block south of the fabled Philadelphia Italian Market—virtually unchanged since the 19th century—where Italian was the lingua franca of this pulsating community of immigrants, many of whom had arrived off the boat and not yet mastered English.
Vento drew fire from the American Civil Liberties Union. Spokesperson Mary Catherine Roper was quoted in The Inquirer as saying that Geno’s “has a right to express its opinion, however offensive, but there are specific limitations on places of public accommodation, because they are supposed to be available to everyone.”
The Philadelphia Commission on Human Rights has filed a discrimination complaint against Vento.
Remarkably the restaurateur not only insults non-English-speaking tourists from all over the world, but his frosty welcome sends them over to the other equally famous, equally iconic purveyor of Philly Cheesesteaks, Pat’s—arch competitor of Geno’s.
The two stands are directly across the street from one another.
Vento, surveying the long lines of customers—many of whose parents were no doubt immigrants—could care less, even though he comes across as a smirking South Philly lout wallowing in his 15 minutes of fame.
In terms of business acumen, the registers are going ka-ching!
Taking Conservatism over the Top
To promote her new book, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism,” conservative extremist Ann Coulter took aim at four women who lost their husbands in the World Trade Center sneak attack by Muslim extremists.
Calling them “the Witches of East Brunswick” (New Jersey), Coulter said:
These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.
By the way, how do we know their husbands weren’t planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they’d better hurry up and appear in Playboy.
These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process.
Coulter’s fury is fueled by these women grabbing center stage to raise consciousness about the need to fix the nation’s security shortcomings. It galls Coulter that no one dares criticize these widows for politicizing their situation, because to do so would show disrespect to their losses. She was equally vicious to Cindy Sheehan, the mother who lost her son in Iraq and picketed the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas:
Call me old-fashioned, but a grief-stricken war mother shouldn’t have her own full-time PR flack. After your third profile on “Entertainment Tonight,” you’re no longer a grieving mom; you’re a C-list celebrity trolling for a book deal or a reality show.
Is Coulter’s Anger Real?
According to David Carr’s incisive New York Times story on June 12, 2006, “Deadly Intent: Ann Coulter, Word Warrior,” the leggy Rapunzel blonde—and her publisher—know exactly what she is doing. Her books are “written, edited, lawyered and then published.”
On camera, Coulter’s seething, spitting rage is palpable. America’s literary terrorist is unrepentant and leaves no doubt that she believes she is right—very Right. Any male interviewer questioning her propriety can expect to find his testicles rolling around the studio floor.
As “The Media Guy,” Simon Dumenco wrote in a Monday AdAge.com story:
After her recent rabidly hateful, foaming-at-the-mouth, sub-human “Today” show appearance—in which she reiterated her assertion that 9/11 widows are “enjoying their husband’s deaths”—even her former supporters began to fantasize about how much nicer the world would be if it were Coulterless.
Coulter knows how to pull the right levers and make cash registers go ka-ching! This week “Godless: The Church of Liberalism” has ranked as high as No. 1 on Amazon.com and No. 4 on BarnesAndNoble.com.
Recently PBS presented a concert version of Rogers & Hammerstein’s 1949 masterpiece “South Pacific,” which won a dozen Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize. It contains this surprising—and disturbing lyric:
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
Ann Coulter and Joey Vento are cashing in on this wellspring of hate that still runs deep 50 years later.