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Should we care who you are?

Movers and shakers or has-beens, VIPs never seem to tire of a tired query.

Do you know who they are? From left: Pa. Health Secretary Eli N. Avila, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Allen Iverson, Tatum O'Neal, and David Hasselhoff. All have used the six-word celebrity battle cry.
Do you know who they are? From left: Pa. Health Secretary Eli N. Avila, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Allen Iverson, Tatum O'Neal, and David Hasselhoff. All have used the six-word celebrity battle cry.Read more

Among the many things money and power can't buy, apparently, is originality.

Over the winter, Eli N. Avila, Gov. Corbett's secretary of health, got into a tiff at a diner called Roxy's over whether his eggs were fresh. To sharpen his point, he resorted to the trite and true "Do you know who I am?"

Avila left Roxy's and filed a complaint against the place with Harrisburg's health department, which found only minor violations. None of them had to do with eggs.

Avila has not commented on the incident, but his representatives have said he thought there was a legitimate health concern.

Whether his motive was pure, the incident triggered a wave of criticism. After all, this is America. Opposition to despots, big or small, is why we're here.

We so relish our triumph over tyranny that we court danger to celebrate it. We set off fireworks and consume mass quantities of beer and hot dogs.

In Philadelphia, we use a real guillotine to reenact Marie Antoinette's beheading (with a mannequin or watermelon).

We refuse to eat cake (exceptions made for the dictator known as Weak Will). We're the land of the huddled masses, not privileged classes.

Or so we think.

The truth is, in the last 20 years the gap between rich and poor has grown dramatically. So many powerful people have invoked "Do you know who I am?" that they must believe it works.

The phrase turned up in stories about Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Early in their relationship, Kate confronted the bonnie prince over his plan to take another woman to Africa, according to the book William and Kate: A Royal Love Story.

Prince William allegedly responded, "Do you know who I am? No one tells me what to do."

Eventually, he changed his mind and took Kate on their first summer vacation together.

When former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly assaulted a maid in New York, he is reported to have shouted, "Do you know who I am?" and its first cousin, "Don't you know who I am?"

On this side of the pond, the rich and powerful are as capable as DSK of invoking this trope.

Take A.I., for example.

In March, Atlanta police pulled over former Sixer Allen Iverson when the friend driving A.I.'s Lamborghini changed lanes without signaling. When officers said they would tow the car because its tags had expired, Iverson, a passenger, gave The Answer: "Do you know who I am?"

He added a few expletives for good measure but later apologized to the police.

If Iverson and others are any gauge, "Do you know who I am" may be the mark of the celebrity has-been. Tatum O'Neal uttered it while trying to get out of a 2008 arrest for alleged possession of crack cocaine. The Hoff (if you have to ask who that is, you are not reading enough celebrity news) blurted it during a drunken 2006 incident at Wimbledon.

At the other end of the fame spectrum, comedian Will Ferrell told The Inquirer in 2008 that those six words sum up the characters he likes to play.

"I just have always found the trait of unearned confidence fascinating. I think that's so typically American," Ferrell said. "We have so many people walking around who are like: 'Do you know who I am? I'm the top real estate broker in the Philly metro area.' It's like: 'Who cares?' . . .

"I love portraying those types of people who, when you see them alone having a moment with themselves, turn out to be scared by life. I find that really funny."

The line did not help Iverson, O'Neal, or, OK, David Hasselhoff, but a recent study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that behaving like Ron Burgundy can make people seem more powerful.

In one test, researchers had 126 people watch one of two videos. In one, a man sat at a sidewalk cafe and acted politely, according to Scientific American. In the other, the same man stretched his legs out on a chair next to him, tossed his cigarette ashes around, and barked orders at the staff. People thought the rude man was more likely to be a decision-maker and get his way than the polite man.

G. Terry Madonna of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College says the powerful may pull rank because they believe their own hype.

"These folks hold important positions and make decisions that affect the lives, in some cases, of millions of people. That's pretty heady stuff. Another factor is the way they get treated by their staffs, lobbyists, and the folks they interact with - with great deference," Madonna said. "Having said this, I don't think Avila's outburst is typical. I have known many down-to-earth, even humble, political and governmental leaders."

Finally, there is this advice from a 2005 New York Times article headlined "New to Capitol Hill? 10 Tips to Avoid Ruin." It addresses the dangers of using "Do you know who I am?"

Writer Elisabeth Bumiller cautioned: "The answer from the young woman looking for your lost ticket at the charity dinner check-in table may well be an embarrassing no."