The bipartisan shock over the gate-crashing of a White House state dinner has given way to a sputtering moral outrage now that the pretenders, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, are trying to market their stunt for profit.
In this age when everything has a price tag, the Salahis’ mercenary instincts might’ve been overlooked had the pair not shown such a fierce belief in their right to not only be paid for discussing their shenanigans, but to also be rewarded for them with parts in a reality TV show.
The couple has reportedly canceled a “Larry King Live” appearance in order to start a bidding war for their first media interview, while also hoping their White House hijinks would bolster their chances of being cast on
“Real Housewives of DC.”
At the bottom of such chutzpah lies a breathtaking perversion of democracy: The common man and woman no longer believe it’s their right to seek 15 minutes of fame, but that the country owes them that fame. Call it the 28th Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law abridging the right of citizens to become celebrities.”
Ms. Salahi’s Facebook page
is particularly illuminating, a virtual portrait gallery of the vivacious looking blonde who tells readers, “I was honored to be invited to attend the First State Dinner hosted by President Obama & the First Lady to honor India.”
Then, in a stroke of malarial hubris, she writes: “I hope you will join me at the next featured event I support or endorse in the Washington, D.C. region.”
Michaele Salahi’s page further advises that “This site and notes will be used by Media & TV in Perpetuity throughout the world,” while instructing businesses seeking her product endorsement to contact her via email.
About the only good news to come from the state-dinner security breach is that no one got hurt. This isn’t surprising. After all, the Salahis are not terrorists seeking to unleash the dogs of war but mere publicity hounds. They weren’t out to change policy or to make a political statement, because their only agenda is appeasing their own vanity. How different history might have been if John Wilkes Booth had a Facebook account.
The Salahis are by no means alone. A little more than a month before Tareq and Michaele skated through White House security checkpoints, the Heene family memorably told the world that their son Falcon was trapped inside a homemade hot-air balloon that had become unmoored. Soon, we discovered, the only thing unmoored was Falcon’s father, Richard, whose mad scheme included getting lots of publicity and, of course, a reality TV show.
There is, in the antics of the Salahis and Heenes, a laughable self-belief in the hoaxers’ value to the American public. Like Rupert Pupkin in Martin Scorsese’s film, “The King of Comedy,” or Sara Goldfarb in Hubert Selby’s novel, “Requiem for a Dream,” they imagine themselves destined to play leading roles on the stage of pop history. Rupert dreams of performing standup comedy on a late-night talk program, while Sara pines to be on a game show.
But Rupert’s quest for adulation leads him to staging a kidnapping, while Sara’s obsession with losing weight to appear on TV lands her in a mental hospital. Today the holy grail of fame seekers is no longer talk shows, games shows or book deals, but reality TV programs.
Still, the road to the Green Room of history remains hazardous – especially since the seekers are oblivious to the dangers of their actions.
Who knows what might have happened if there had been one Secret Service agent present during the White House state dinner who figured out the Salahis were fakes, but who also believed them to be terrorists? For that matter, might not their party crashing somewhere down the line inspire real assassins to explore the possibility of repeating the Salahis’ prank?
And did Richard Heene have some canned remarks ready in case some of his son’s would-be rescuers were killed searching the skies for Falcon’s balloon?
If the Salahis and Heenes ever do appear on a reality TV show, it should be called, “Who’s More Pathetic?” Richard Heene and his spouse, Mayumi, admittedly once had a brush with reality TV (“Wife Swap”), but nothing in the Salahis’ past seemed to prepare them for their White House gambit. Perhaps their socialite status (Tareq founded an organization called the USA Polo Team
) gave them a needed extra layer of entitlement to their belief in their right to be on TV.
The Salahis aren’t the first people to crash a White House event, and they may even never be charged with a crime. Our TV-driven culture is filled with gotcha pranks and punking, and perhaps Tareq and Michaele believe their gate-crashing is just part of an ongoing cultural joke.
But, again, what is scarier than the ease with which an uninvited couple sauntered off the street and up the president of the United States is the Salahis’ feral hunger for fame – a hunger increasingly experienced by other Americans.
The danger isn’t that we’re becoming a country in which everyone is famous, but that more and more people seem to be willing to do anything to be a celebrity.