It was a reality show all its own. Last Thursday, 30-year-old Elan Gale, a hirsute hipster and television producer whose credits include several seasons of “The Bachelor” franchise, sent a series of tweets to his roughly 35,000 Twitter followers. Explaining that he was on a delayed flight trying to make it home for Thanksgiving dinner, he described the shockingly rude antics of a fellow passenger named Diane.
Over a four-hour period, Gale tweeted a blow-by-blow of a feud that apparently played out through an exchange of handwritten notes, which Gale snapped photos of and posted on his
Twitter feed. Not content to simply remind Diane that she wasn’t the only one who wanted to get home to her family and that she should treat the crew with respect, he added “I hate you very much” and extended an invitation for her to perform a lewd act on him.
A photo of a note from Diane, written in cursive and promising to call the authorities upon landing, was followed by a photo of another, more threatening dispatch from Gale. With his Twitter audience growing by the second, Gale went on to report that Diane walked up to him at the gate, slapped him in the face and was restrained by airport personnel.
After declining to call the police, Gale said, he handed Diane a final note that read: “Look me up online. Read every tweet. Read every response. And maybe next time you’ll be nice to people who are just trying to help.”
Almost immediately, the saga was being reported on blogs and news sites, most of which praised Gale for standing up for working people (i.e. the flight attendants) and championing common decency. There was some evidence of public chastening a few days later when someone claiming to be Diane’s cousin reported online that Diane was dying of lung cancer and would never see another Thanksgiving. But even those who called out Gale for resorting to sexual taunts, however euphemistic, leaned toward the view that imminent death was still no excuse for rude airplane behavior.
There was one little problem, though. It was all a hoax.
On Monday night, Gale admitted there was no “Diane.” Not that this should have come as any surprise — he had pulled a similar prank last year. There was also the curious fact that, of all the people piling on this supposedly odious woman, none appeared to have actually been on the flight and experienced her in the flesh.
But here’s something even more curious. Some face-palming aside, the general public reaction over the last few days has been that it doesn’t matter whether Diane exists. What matters is that this is an allegory for our troubled, entitled times. What matters is that even if Diane was a fake, the concept and essence of Diane is all too real. And if someone fights back, even with his own entitled moves straight out of a middle school boy’s locker room, then, well, he’s only doing what the rest of us would do if we had the guts.
Except that most of us, gutsy or not, actually wouldn’t do that. Most of us know that picking fights with volatile airline passengers doesn’t qualify as “sticking up” for the flight crew. Most of us know that the best way to deal with rude people is to shame them with politeness or ignore them altogether. And, frankly, most of us who are over the age of 12 could come up with better insults than the ones Gale employed.
Still, the prevailing logic is that all of us have a 12-year-old inside us and that letting him out occasionally signals a kind of righteous authenticity. It’s easy to see why someone like Gale and his fans would buy into that notion; it’s the same logic that informs reality television. As a successful reality show producer, Gale knows how to paint unflattering, largely inaccurate portraits of the American people and then sell his product back to them by saying it’s a mirror. Like “The Bachelor” and its ilk, his tweets managed to insult people’s basic intelligence and humanity while purporting to give them what they want.
There’s money to be made in that arena (and Twitter followers to be gained; Gale has picked up more than 100,000 since his stunt began), but it’s not exactly conducive to imparting lessons in public behavior or furthering the cause of civility. In real life, as opposed to reality TV, what most people want is for everyone to shut up and mind their own business. But that’s a ratings killer if there ever was one.