“Will it play in Peoria?” is a very old showbiz expression that means “Will it appeal to the average person?” For many years, Peoria, Ill.’s demographics were more or less those of the country as a whole. Not only did stage plays showcase there, but Peoria was the test market for Pampers disposable diapers, the McRib sandwich from McDonald’s and New Coke. So, good news, people! Politicians abusing their power and trying to stifle debate does NOT play in Peoria. Mayor Jim Ardis has won himself a Red Forman Dumbass Award for proving it.
For those of you who haven’t watched the late and lamented “That ’70s Show,” Red Forman was a curmudgeonly father, a hard-working Korean War vet who just didn’t understand why his son and his friends behaved foolishly. He had a term for them: dumbasses.
Ardis joins this elite group of numbskulls for abuse of power. According to Wired, he “directed his city manager to use the police to hunt down the author of a parody account about him and threatened Twitter with litigation unless it suspended the account, which it did. Now a man who was raided and arrested for creating the account is suing the mayor, a former police chief, and others for violating his constitutional rights.”
Jonathan Daniel’s @peoriamayor account sent out tweets that Wired stated “contradicted the mayor’s clean-cut image by conveying the mayor as having a preoccupation with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Though he also sent out tweets from the account, he labeled it a parody account three days after he created it, and the account was only active 10 days before it closed.”
It’s one thing to impersonate someone on the Internet or anywhere else with an intent to deceive. Parody and satire, however, are long-standing pillars of free speech. And Daniel made no secret of the fact that he was making jokes, that what he was saying was not meant to be taken as gospel.
Yet the Peoria police, like the security services of some comic opera dictatorship, secured warrants to get the subscriber IP address used for the account and Daniel’s home address (the ACLU claims they did so under false pretenses) The Chicagoist.com reports that the police raided his home, confiscated computers and smartphones, detained at least two of his roommates and then went to his place of business to arrest him. When he demanded a lawyer, they let him go, but they seem to have kept his phone.
So, Mayor Ardis, let me make this easy for you. You are a public figure. It is within the First Amendment for people to mock you and your actions. Daniel says, “The joke of the account was to have my fictional mayor saying things that no one would possibly think that Mayor Jim Ardis would say.” He even labeled it a parody.
The good news is that the ACLU is helping Daniel with a lawsuit, and it’s an open-and-shut case. Sadly, the mayor probably won’t have to pay a penny in damages personally and will probably not learn a damn thing from this. He’s acted like a tin pot dictator, and he probably will continue to think he did nothing wrong.
Meanwhile, I ask the good people of Peoria, “Do you really want a dumbass as mayor?”