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Jewish World Review July 26, 2001 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5761

Michael Kelly

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Consumer Reports

Not-Us? Tough Luck -- LET us feel for Lizzie Grubman. Miss Grubman is the daughter of Allen Grubman, a very rich music biz attorney. She is 30, a college dropout and an entertainment industry publicist.

On the night of July 6, Miss Grubman was in the Hamptons, partying, this being basically her job. Late that night, she got into arguments with employees of the Conscience Point Inn as to where she could park her daddy's Mercedes SUV. According to press reports, club bouncer Scott Conlon asked her to move the car from a fire lane. Miss Grubman allegedly riposted: "[Expletive] you, white trash." She then allegedly drove the SUV, fast, about 35 feet in reverse, striking and injuring 16 persons, including Conlon. She fled the scene. Tragically, some of those injured were not, in fact, white trash but as New York magazine noted, "A-listers."

Miss Grubman has been most cruelly treated in the court of public opinion and also may not fare well in a court of law, where she faces charges of first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of the accident. Meanwhile, she gazes out from the July 30 cover of New York magazine, soulfully, sadly, wearing a simple, tasteful black sleeveless something or other.

Pity Miss Grubman. She is a victim of our culture if ever there was one. How was she to know that it was impermissible to run over white trash? Miss Grubman knows what we all know. There is us -- us in the VIP rooms, us in the VIP schools, us in the VIP jobs. And there is not-us, the white trash, and there are very different rules for what each can do to each.

What, Miss Grubman might say, about Jeff Zucker? Mr. Zucker is the very role model of us. He is the president of NBC Entertainment. As such, he is responsible for "Fear Factor," NBC's "reality show" in which people who are desperate enough for money are induced to risk bodily harm and endure national humiliation. Contestants on "Fear Factor" have allowed hundreds of rats to swarm over their bodies and have been chased, in protective clothing, by attack dogs.

Mr. Zucker mocks those who find something wrong in this. "We're having fun, we're having a great summer," he told reporters this week. "Get a life."

It would be wrong to say that Mr. Zucker is a vile, immoral, contemptible, evil careerist who would bury his own children in rats for an overnight 30 share. He would never do that. Not to his own children. His own children are not white trash. The people who agree to endanger and humiliate themselves on "Fear Factor" are, on the other hand, definitionally below Mr. Zucker's concern as human beings: by agreeing to participate in Mr. Zucker's freak show, they place themselves clearly in the category of not-us. Their choice. Get the rats, boys.

Has anyone fired Mr. Zucker? Has General Electric, NBC's parent company, yanked his vicious little perversion off the air? Have the powerful stars of NBC News, Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric and the rest, stepped up to denounce "Fear Factor?" Nah. What lesson is Miss Grubman to derive from this?

And what is Miss Grubman to think when she considers the example set by C. Matthew MacInnis, another us role model? He is the editor of the Harvard Crimson, the nation's oldest continually published college newspaper. Mr. MacInnis is overseeing a project to establish an Internet archive of the Crimson dating back to its inception in 1873. To do this, the Boston Globe reports this week, Mr. MacInnis has signed a $45,000 contract to have the newspaper's early years typeset. The contract is with Digital Divide Data, which has opened an office in Phnom Penh, where it employs poor and disabled Cambodians. The typists who input the Crimson will be paid 40 cents an hour. As the Globe report noted, the Crimson this year championed the successful student movement to force Harvard to pay a "living wage" of $10.25 an hour to its low-end employees.

"Are we getting cheap labor?" said Mr. MacInnis. "Of course. But you can't employ someone in North America to do this kind of job at this cost." Well and boldly put, Mr. MacInnis! White trash labor costs a fortune these days -- $10.25 an hour in some places.

Bury them in rats. Off-shore their jobs to lame Cambodians. Run an SUV into them. Miss Grubman must wonder, what's the dif? What's the big deal? It's so not fair.

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© 2001, Washington Post Co.