April 22, 2013 at 12:49 PM ET
When Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon and her husband were pulled over by police early Friday morning in Atlanta, it turned out that even America's sweetheart couldn't resist pulling the celebrity card: "Do you know my name?" she asked the officer. "You're about to find out who I am."
For years tabloids have been doing their utmost to prove that celebrities are just like us -- but that all goes out the window when an A-lister (or aspiring A-lister) goes to pains to remind the little people that they're kind of a big deal.
When leaked, it's a PR disaster of the worst kind, especially when the celeb card is waved under the noses of regular folk (usually police officers) just trying to do their jobs.
But Witherspoon is hardly alone.
Margaret Cho vs. Korean spa
Korean spas are traditionally communal and, in gender-segregated areas, a place where people can soak and shvitz in the buff. But when the heavily-tattooed Cho sat down for a rest, the manager came over and asked her to cover up. As Cho explained in a Gawker essay in late March, "in Korean culture tattoos are very taboo and my body was upsetting everyone there." But cultural sensitivity or no, the comedian was angered. Cho continued, "This is something I have never done -- I actually said, in Korean, 'Do you know who I am?' I am Margaret Cho!"
LeBron James' mother vs. Miami Beach police
In 2011, Gloria James was picked up by police in Miami after reportedly assaulting valet worker Sorel Rockefeller. "I'm very, very humiliated because she told me again, 'Do you know who I am?' when she slapped me," said Sorel of the Miami Heat star's mom.
Lindsay Lohan's mother vs. Hollywood nightclub and Carvel ice cream
The mom who takes the cake (or not, as the case might be), however, has to be Dina Lohan. In 2009 she was turned away from Hollywood nightclub Villa when she tried to get both of her daughters in with her. Lindsay was 22, but Ali was only 15 at the time. "Do you know who I am?" Dina protested, it was reported at the time, and Lindsay jumped in with "You're making a huge mistake. Huge!" A year later, she was busted when trying to pick up a free cake from Carvel with a promotional item giving Lindsay free ice cream for 75 years. She was turned down (because the entire Lohan family had been abusing the privilege), and as Radar reported, she said, "It just shows how (Lohans) get treated so much worse than regular people." And yes, the cops were called.
Tom Hanks vs. West Fargo diner
Let's face it, if a celebrity asked one of us for a special favor, who would say no? In 2012, a jet company Tom Hanks was using called up the TNT Diner in North Dakota and asked owner Tammy Hagensen if she'd open her doors early for an unnamed special guest, reported the Associated Press. Curious, Hagensen opened at 4 a.m. and in walked Hanks, his wife Rita Wilson and their two sons. Hanks was cool: Later he tweeted that the diner "makes killer breakfast." We all know Tom Hanks is the most fun celebrity out there -- but that's another reason why we occasionally get a Witherspoon-esque blunder -- few people can resist doing a celebrity a solid. (And by the way, that Jane-Fonda-turned-away-from-a-steakhouse story? Fake, fake, fake.)
Still, there may yet be hope for celebrities. Though the absence of smug hubris rarely gets reported on, there's at least one incident worth noting from 2009:
Bob Dylan vs. New Jersey police
According to The Awl, police were summoned to a home in Long Branch, N.J., after a report of an "eccentric-looking old man" wandering in the front yard. Officer Kristie Buble showed up and questioned him -- and he said he was Bob Dylan. But she didn't believe him, and took him back to his hotel where he and his manager verified his ID with a passport. (Later reports indicated Dylan might have been looking for a house two blocks away where Bruce Springsteen wrote "Born to Run.") You gotta respect an actual living legend who not only didn't pull out the celebrity card, but doesn't appear to even carry one.