Never Ending Pasta Pass

January 10, 2024 • Louie Mantia

Three years ago, we all saw some dummies break into the Capitol. That day on CNN, Anderson Cooper condemned these bozos, saying, “They’re going to go back to the Olive Garden and the Holiday Inn that they’re staying at—”

Naturally, Fox News lost their minds about this. The next day, Fox News personalities mentioned Olive Garden several times on-air. Here’s Tucker Carlson:

And Sean Hannity:

Ever since brands and celebrities joined social media, being even marginally related to an issue seemingly forces them to make some kind of statement. For example, someone snapped a photo of an AXE body spray can among the debris in the Capitol Building, and AXE couldn’t help but make it about them.

We'd rather be lonely than with that mob. AXE condemns yesterday's acts of violence and hate at the Capitol. We believe in the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power.

— AXE (@AXE) January 8, 2021

This kind of reaction from brands is so ridiculous. They don’t have to say anything. Yet, I still wondered: what would Olive Garden have to say about this?

The thing about that question is that I’m very capable of visualizing the answer. I started drafting a fictional press release, grabbed the logo from the Olive Garden website, and set the copy in their brand font. I intentionally sprinkled in references to Anderson’s original video (Holiday Inn), signaling that this was clearly satire.

At Olive Garden, “We’re all family here.” Our traditions, like unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks, have been enjoyed by many guests from all over the country and throughout the entire political spectrum. It has come to our attention that a few of our guests had taken part in a viscous attack on our nation’s Capitol. We have worked with the FBI and the Holiday Inn in Washington D.C. to identify several guests who both frequented our restaurants and participated in the violent uprising against our government this week. In response, Olive Garden has invalidated our Never Ending Pasta Pass for several guests and revoked a Lifetime Pasta Pass from Sean Hannity. Olive Garden is dedicated to creating a safe and delightful environment for our guests with what we call Hospitaliano. This year has been difficult for many of us, and we cannot wait to see your family smiling in our restaurants once again. Until that time, your favorite dishes from Olive Garden are available to order online for both pick up and delivery.

Just as soon as I finished, I posted the image to Twitter and sent it to a few friends before I went out to get coffee.

On my walk to the coffee shop, I saw the likes and retweets start to skyrocket. I was surprised to see some people mistaking this for a genuine press release.

One of my friends suggested that—though funny—maybe this classifies as misinformation. While I can see that angle, the worst-case scenario is not very significant. If people believe Olive Garden was really making a statement against those chumps who smashed their way into the Capitol, well, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me.

When I got back home, I decided to delete the tweet, but it was too late. People had already screenshotted and re-posted it. There was nothing I could do at this point.

A little later, Sean Hannity tweeted something that nearly knocked me out of my desk chair.

Did Olive Garden revoke my Lifetime Pasta Pass? I respond TONIGHT on “Hannity” at 9 PM ET!

— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) January 8, 2021

He’s really going to bring it up on his show, isn’t he? A paralyzing thought followed: What if he shows a screenshot including my name, live on television? That could potentially ruin several days of my life.

For the first time ever, I tuned into Fox News.

Of course, “blue check” was intended as an insult, because my account was verified (the old way). But what really got me was when he said, “we’ve looked into it.”

There was nothing to look into.

Yet Hannity used this “story” as bait for his viewers to keep watching the show until he revealed the eventual answer. After the first break, he spoke with some guests about who knows what, and then—

“I’ve got to set the record straight.” For the second time, he teased the story before the commercial break. After more of the show, he finally got to the topic.

This was the wildest outcome imaginable. From Anderson’s comments, to my satirical press release, we got a long-winded, shameless Olive Garden plug. As for the revoked Pasta Pass?

“A menacing report.” Sure, I could be a reporter. “First of all, it’s fake news.” Sure, I can be a news outlet. Thankfully he never showed my name on-air.

What’s crazy to me is how this got to him. How he so easily transformed into an Olive Garden shill. How was it this easy for me to manipulate him into spending any amount of time on this? I wasn’t even trying.

But what shocks me most is that no one verified this before they believed it. Some apparent “news” outlets even ran the story. Conservatives started tweeting to Olive Garden saying they’d never visit again because they revoked Sean Hannity’s nonexistent Lifetime Pasta Pass™. (Olive Garden tried to claw back from this, tweet-by-tweet, replying to people that it was fake.) Snopes later “fact checked” it.

I didn’t intentionally misspell “vicious” as “viscous.” And believe it or not, Hospitaliano is an actual marketing term from Olive Garden. I’m not a reporter, but BoingBoing said I’m a comedian.

Reasonable people already knew that what Anderson Cooper meant was that these dinguses would just go back to their lives without repercussions. But that didn’t stop him from going back for more:

Panda Express, Boston Market, and McDonald’s. Why not?

There’s so much to learn from all this, but I think the biggest takeaway is that absolutely none of this was necessary: mincing words, feigned outrage, media personalities using airtime to praise Olive Garden. Everyone’s energy would have been better spent doing literally anything else.

All of this to say that when people talk about January 6, this is the part I remember. Which is stupid.

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