From Seth Godin’s blog:
A long line at the American Airlines counter. Finally, a particularly well-dressed man gets to the front, loudly announcing that he wants to check in for first class.
The harried agent does her best, but there’s no room. He starts getting louder and more angry. He’s blathering about his power and authority.
She tries to placate him, but to no avail.
Finally, he yells, “Do you know who I am?”
Without missing a beat, the gate agent grabs the microphone. “Attention in the gate area. We have a medical emergency. The man at gate 11 has just suffered a serious bout of amnesia. If anyone recognizes him, can they please come forward and help him?”
When I was younger, and I grudgingly played the celebrity game (with the screenings and the photo shoots and all that stupid crap), I encountered my fair share of other Big Deal Celebrities. I was often equally amused and horrified by some of the big attitudes many of them displayed, like they really believed that they were better than everyone else because they’d been in six episodes of a mid-season replacement. Even when I was in the middle of my 18 year-old idiocy (which had less to do with capital-F Fame and everything to do with capital-I Insecurity), I never treated people like they were beneath me, and I never pulled the “don’t you know who I am?” bullshit because 1) it’s totally lame, and 2) the person you’re hoping to intimidate simply has to say, “No. Next.” and you’re done.
Several years ago, I was at the airport in Las Vegas, on my way to the taxi line (this was before it took longer to get a cab than it does to fly there from Burbank). I paused near the rental car counter for some reason, and overheard a businessman talking to the agent.
She gave him some shit about turning in the car fifteen minutes late or something like that, and said he’d be charged for another day.
He very calmly said, “I was delayed in traffic. If you’ll look at my rental history, you’ll probably want to let me have that fifteen minutes, so you can keep me as a customer.”
I can see this next moment like I’m watching it on HDTV: she smirks at him, like she’s really excited to tell him to get bent — like it’s seriously going to make her day. Then looks down at the monitor. Her whole face goes slack, then her eyes widen, and she says, “I’m so sorry, sir. We’ll waive the fee. Thank you for using Budget.” He smiles, nods his head, and says, “Thank you.”
I don’t know what was on that monitor, (maybe it was an endless string of 4 8 15 16 23 42) but it really got her attention. I remember thinking that the guy could have been a huge dick, because he was obviously an important customer, but he didn’t need to be a dick (actually, nobody ever really needs to be a dick, and there’s a difference between being a dick and being assertive, but that’s a whole different post), because he knew the company would want to keep his business, and it wasn’t worth one day’s rental fee or penalty or whatever to lose it.
From that experience, and also from a bit of my personal experience, I drew the conclusion that, most of the time, when someone is being a big, loud, “don’t you know who I am?” asshole, it’s because they’re insecure. It’s as much about them making themselves feel important, as it is about intimidating someone else and getting their way. It’s a classic Mike Caro poker tell: strong means weak, and weak means strong.