(This is the story we are led to believe. Of course, it could all have been an act. Whether it was or not, though, is irrelevant to the point I want to make.)
Many people were impressed by this action. A "nobody" is allowed to interact with the "somebodies," and his life dramatically improves afterward. The high and mighty lower themselves to eat a humble slice of pizza over multi-thousand dollar dresses and suits. The common man is exalted. Equality is venerated.
I, however, see this scenario as exactly the opposite: cruelty and swagger, thinly disguised as benevolence. A room full of powerful people rubbing their power in the face of someone who has not had the same luck as they have had, just to prove how powerful they are. Flaunting their riches for a laugh. Sure, the guy got a thousand bucks that night. He was also insidiously put in his place, as were all the millions of peons watching the spectacle.
When I posted this opinion to my Facebook page, several of my friends disagreed vehemently with me.
There's always more than one way to interpret a story, of course, but I think this is a story about the power imbalance in our culture, and the signalling of that power from one strata to the others. Typically in the past, power dominance has been signaled via fashion, possessions, and language. There are many other ways to signal superiority, however. The story with the pizza delivery man is an example of powerful people signalling their power to the rest of society, just as they've always done, but in a new and creative way.
I'm really surprised to be quoting Zizek, since generally I don't tend to agree with him, but he is correct when he talks about a philanthropist "repairing with the right hand what he ruined with the left hand." Someone who accumulates a ton of power through a system that allows that kind of power inequality to exist seldom, then, actively works to dismantle the very system by which he survives. He can only make a show of being kind and good by redistributing relatively small amounts of that power (usually in the form of money) to those less fortunate.
Think of a king in ancient days who would walk through his kingdom once a month to see how things were going. On one of these walks, he happened to see a beautiful peasant girl. He ordered her to his palace and made her one of his concubines. We all know, based on the system of the time, there was nothing anyone could do to stop him. The king had that power. Granted, the girl's life would probably become substantially better because of his act-- she wears nicer clothes, no longer has to work in the fields, gets to eat nicer foods. But from a humanistic perspective, it's a problem, because she has no choice in the matter, and the king has all the choice in the matter. That someone's life is improved, and that the king had good intentions, doesn't mean that this situation is OK. Neither intentions nor outcome addresses the insidious problem behind the scenario, which is, the gross disparity of power among the people in that society. The ideal of "all humans are created equal" is far from being realized in that society.
By the way, the king could also randomly have people executed, just because, just as easily as he could improve someone's life, just because.
(Another "by the way": I think the ideal of "equality" is like the Golden Mean being approached by the Fibonacci sequence... It is an "infinite" concept that can never quite be reached, but we must keep trying anyway.)
I think the story of the pizza guy is about power, for a few reasons.
- Informed consent is a basic feature of treating other people with dignity as equal human beings. According to the story (and there may be some fudging of the details, who knows), he was led to believe he was just going to deliver a pizza, and instead he ended up in the spotlight on national television. He was not asked if he wanted this or was comfortable with this. That is a violation of his autonomy.
- If it were just about blessing someone with a big tip and promoting his business, they could have done that off-air. They could have left him a $1,000 tip in the lobby, and told all their friends what a great pizza place this was. Instead, they decided to air the whole thing. Why would they air it unless there were a point, beyond just common concern for one's fellow man?
- In a society that is supposed to be based on the ideal of equality, we must ask if there is any reciprocity in what happened that night. Could the pizza guy conceivably do a similar act to the stars as they did to him? Could he make them wait, surprise them with unrequested national attention, and arbitrarily boost their business? Unlikely. (By the way, they could have been mean to him on stage and told everyone how disgusting the pizza was, too. Just as the king could arbitrarily have had people executed if he wanted. Disparities of power can work for good or ill.) It's extremely ironic that the pizza guy chose to use the term "American Dream" to describe his experience that night, when what happened is exactly the opposite of the American Dream.
- The fact that these people are wearing multi-thousand-dollar costumes and eating cheap pizza over them is another signal to the rest of society (the 99%) how much choice the stars have, and how little choice the rest of us have. While almost everyone in society can order a pizza, not all of us can afford those clothes, or decide to change someone's business practically overnight, etc. The whole Oscar's ceremony is an exercise in opulence and indulgence anyway --by bringing an element of the "real world" into it, it creates a foil that only increases the awareness of the disparity between their luxury and the conditions of the "real world."