Pizza Pizzazz

Love brings people together.  But not as much as pizza.

There are several reasons why Ellen DeGeneres’ pizza delivery stunt at Sunday’s Academy Awards was such a big hit.

(If you missed it:  Halfway into the telecast, the host asked if anyone was hungry.  A few segments later, a pizza guy turned up and everyone in the front row chowed down.)

For starters, as widely noted, it playfully underlined the way that Hollywood stars effectively starve themselves in the days leading to big awards shows—and, in many cases, on every other day of the year as well.

Further, it served to puncture the Oscars’ infamously hoity-toity self-importance and provide a moment of cheeky irreverence of which the annual TV ritual is always so desperately in need.

And perhaps most noteworthy of all—thanks to how gamely most of the would-be targets of this bit played along—it brought Hollywood’s most glamorous kings and queens back down to Earth, allowing them a flash of authenticity that came across as endearingly, well, authentic.

Sure, the regal show business life of champagne and caviar may be every bit what it’s cracked up to be, and that old chestnut about how celebrities “are just like you and me” is mostly nonsense.  But when you’re locked in a theater for four hours and the rumbling of your stomach threatens to drown out the orchestra, nothing hits the spot quite like a greasy, gooey pile of tomato sauce and melted cheese.  Vanity be damned!

Such is the democratizing effect of America’s favorite food—a food that, according to a study released this week, is consumed by some 13 percent of Americans on any given day.

We are a country and a culture divided as severely as ever between haves and have-nots—a world in which the lives of the rich and the poor have less and less in common and seemingly exist in separate, alternate universes from each other.

But pretty much everybody loves pizza.  No amount of money or prestige can efface its bubbling, artery-clogging allure.

And why should it?  What is there about pizza to which one could possibly object?  It’s simple to make; it’s extremely cheap (although it can also be expensive, if you prefer); it’s available for takeout or delivery in every town in America; it comes in all shapes, sizes and varieties; it can be eaten elegantly in a fancy restaurant or scarfed on a street corner while you wait for the lights to change; and it can be served hot or cold, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Because pizza is so manifestly irresistible—so universally beloved and consumed—we become deeply suspicious of those in public view who seem resistant to its natural charms and, when pressed, try just a little too hard to blend in with the crowd.  Can you ever truly trust someone who has to pander on pizza?

Case in point:  Bill de Blasio.  In January, the newly-inaugurated mayor of New York City was caught at Goodfellas Pizzeria in Staten Island eating a slice with a knife and fork—a mortal sin within the five boroughs.

Interrogated by reporters on his way out, de Blasio offered an explanation so labored and elaborate (and clearly untrue) that it only made things worse.  As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote at the time, de Blasio “sounded like a parody of the self-serious New York liberal, convinced he’s right about everything.”

The point isn’t the silverware.  People should be free to transfer their food from their plates to their mouths however they see fit.

The question is:  What kind of a weirdo manages to make eating pizza sound complicated?

In the name of all that is good and holy, if you have to B.S. your way through a pizza party, as though you’ve never attended one before—well, either you’re an alien or a liar.  And if a man is prepared to lie about pizza, what won’t he lie about?

Is this not how our minds work when it comes to our public officials?  We want to know that they are men and women “of the people,” and for whatever crimes they might commit while in office, we are prepared to forgive and forget so long as they prove themselves human and, therefore, relatable.

Back in 1998 during “Monicagate,” for instance, America faced the prospect about its commander-in-chief, “If he’ll lie about sex, he’ll lie about anything.”  Yet the public ultimately gave Bill Clinton a pass, and today he is as popular as ever before.  After all, the only reason Monica Lewinsky was in the Oval Office in the first place was to deliver a pizza.