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Hell’s litigants

December 3, 2001

America’s next official victim group may be roaring your way on their Harley-Davidsons. Bikers are sick and tired of rampant anti-biker bigotry, so they are seeking status as a legally protected class in Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina and several other states. The idea is to end all the ridicule, the tattoophobia, the tendency among apprehensive roadhouse owners to seat them at remote tables. “To me, it’s kind of like the back of the bus,” said a Harley-riding Georgia state senator, shrewdly adopting the rhetoric of the civil rights movement. Watch for new legal militance among owners of gas-guzzling SUVs — bigots make fun of them, too. Yes, it’s time for this column’s annual roundup of new and creative breakthroughs in the everyone’s-a-victim movement.

  • The world thinks that actor Robert Downey Jr. is suffering from drug addiction, but actually he may be a victim of “acquired situational narcissism,” a term coined by therapist Robert Millman, who made up the term. Millman says ASN is the result of adulation early in life, complicated by pressure and fame later on. In a sense, the real culprits are the sycophants and enablers who follow famous people around, cleaning up after them. “There is always somebody to pick up the pieces for them because of who they are,” lamented Mark Greenberg of the Betty Ford Center, which picks up pieces itself for various celebs.
  • Feeling victimized by HBO’s “The Sopranos,” a Chicago-based Italian-American group argued in court that the popular Mafia crime show was unconstitutional under Illinois law. The American Italian Defense Association (AIDA) said the show violated the state constitution’s “dignity clause,” which prohibits hostile communications based on religion, race and other affiliations. A failed hit. The suit was dismissed.
  • In Chicago, a woman who makes $175,000 a year embezzled nearly $250,000 from her employer to pay for shopping binges. In court, she argued that she was suffering from a compulsive shopping disorder, and that what appeared to be a crime was actually an attempt to “self-medicate” the depression behind shopaholism. Her theft-is-medicine defense worked. No jail time. Just probation and six months of home confinement on weekends.
  • In Britain, Woolworth stores believe that their “Father Christmas” costumes could run afoul of European gender legislation. So the stores are stocking up on “Mother Christmas” outfits to avoid being taken to court over sex discrimination. Possible next marketing step: nativity sets with interchangeable “Jesus and Jane” infants.
  • A judge in Germany is suing Coca-Cola, claiming that his habit of drinking two Cokes a day for many years played a role in causing him to develop diabetes. He also plans to sue MasterFoods, since he ate lots of the candy they distribute — Mars, Snickers and Milky Way.
  • Bethany Halliday is suing the D’Oyly Carte opera company for refusing her the role of a teen-age virgin in “The Pirates of Penzance.” Halliday was pregnant at the time and would have been six months along by the time the show opened.
  • Japan’s attack on the United States on Dec. 7, 1941, was the action of a victim lashing out at a victimizer, many people in Japan argued when the movie “Pearl Harbor” opened. The Los Angeles Times reported: “Tokyo homemaker Mikako Murakami, 28, typifies Japanese sentiment with her comment, ‘I feel Japan got roped into World War II.'”
  • In order to suffer from “road rage,” you have to drive a car, but you can qualify as a victim of “desk rage” just by sitting down in any office or shop. Surveys report that 23 percent of workers have been driven to tears by workplace stress. Two big causes are obnoxious co-workers and infuriating technology, usually computers. “Our research has revealed that computers do make us vicious,” said one psychologist. So many desk-rage victims are attacking their computers that a new word has been coined for the offending items: “slaptops.”
  • Court investigators concluded that Los Angeles judge Patrick Couwenberg had falsified much of his academic and military background, then lied to the governor about it to improve his chances for a judicial appointment. Couwenberg replied that he was suffering from a medical condition called “pseudologia fantastica,” which compels victims to tell tall tales and mix fiction with fact. (In alternate psychiatric terminology, this little-known malady might also be called “biggo whopperos.”) The condition, the judge explained, pushed him toward falsely claiming that he had earned a master’s degree in psychology, fought in Vietnam, and worked for the CIA.
  • In Kensington, Md., two families thought they would be uncomfortable having Santa Claus at the annual tree-lighting ceremony, so the town, which is strongly anti-discomfort, banned the famous red-suited benefactor — but relented and let him come after all. Kensington is in Montgomery County, which became a national laughingstock by trying to ban all smoking in one’s own house or apartment. When the anti-smoking legislation was vetoed, one councilman said: “At least now Santa can stay home and smoke.”
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