I realize that I have been writing a lot about Bizarre Sensational News, but Reese Witherspoon’s arrest video is online, and it is exactly as deranged and amazing as one might expect, and I would be remiss if I did not share it.
But what about this dashcam footage makes it so captivating?
There’s the “Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us” angle of it. There’s the perennial titillating embarrassment of the celebrity mugshot, the arrest footage. But it’s oddly compelling past that. “This is beyond,” as Reese Witherspoon would say. (And that is just a great turn of phrase.)
“I’m a US citizen,” Reese insisted. “I’m allowed to stand on American ground and ask any question I want to ask.”
“You better not arrest me. Are you kidding me? I’m an American citizen. This is beyond. This is beyond. This is harassment. I have done nothing against the law. I have to obey your orders? No, sir, I do not.”
No one is ever so adamantly American as the moment just after we have done something wrong.
The assertion, on a dashcam video, that You Can’t Do This To Me, I’m An American Citizen, is not unique to Witherspoon.
The comedian Jenny Johnson quipped on Twitter that “Reese Witherspoon became the Rosa Parks of drunk white girls when she said, ‘I’m allowed to stand on American soil.’ during her arrest.”
In your head, the second you are inebriated, American, and fall afoul of the law, your rights multiply.
You have the right to stand here and say this. You have the right to shove a cop, just a little, to get your point across. You have the right not to be handcuffed right now. You have the right to be drunk and disorderly. You have the right to NOT BE SILENT! YOU WILL NOT BE SILENT! You remember all of this vaguely from an Aaron Sorkin movie, with overtones of Law & Order: SVU. You will speak, and you will not be repressed, because THIS IS AMERICA! You are Norma Rae and Rosa Parks rolled into one!
“You can’t do this to me!” Marion shouts, being kidnapped in Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I’m an American!”
You are an American, a wild eagle, soaring out of reach. You are a turkey, majestic, gobbling. You don’t have to walk that line, officer. Walk the line yourself. This is America.
You reel off the Bill of Rights. You are pretty sure whatever you just did is in there. In America, everything you just did is legal, because you are an American. QED, officer! Boom.
“Don’t you know who I am?” you bellow. “I’m an AMERICAN CITIZEN.”
This is membership in the most elite club there is.
This is what we assume, which is why it is always so depressing when you discover that someone has violated this trust — that someone’s been improperly detained, in a more real way than, say, a celebrity being dragged down to the precinct.
To us, American is this magical password to Ultimate Freedom.
And the thing is, it actually is. Being an American should mean you don’t get arbitrarily arrested and told to follow orders in the middle of the night and that you can stand somewhere (“on American ground”) and say a thing. Heck yeah.
Just, maybe not this thing in this particular place when your husband has been pulled over for a DUI.
(“I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. The words I used that night definitely do not reflect who I am. I have nothing but respect for the police and I am very sorry for my behavior,” Witherspoon said in a statement later.)