We're living through extraordinary times, which means we are especially vulnerable to believing extraordinary things that, on their face, seem totally unbelievable.
Like, say, Olive Garden taking a political stance against Sean Hannity.
On Friday, a statement from the Italian restaurant chain began circulating online that the company was working with the FBI to identify customers who may have participated in the attempted siege at the U.S. Capitol, and that it had stripped the Fox News host of his bottomless-pasta privileges.
Here's the full post:
"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 on 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 for 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 you and your family smiling and 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."
If you couldn't figure it out around the point of "viscous attack" or "Hospitaliano," it's satire—a send-up of the ill-conceived corporate hand-wringing commonplace in "These Difficult Times." The parody originated on Twitter with a Portland designer named Louie Mantia Jr.
Mantia thought most people would realize it was a joke after reading past the first few lines. But as the statement—which, to be fair, is incredibly well-executed, and even mocked up with the company's logo, signature fonts and color scheme—gained traction, Mantia realized that far too many people were taking it seriously.
He decided to delete it—but not before it reached Hannity himself:
A bit of context: On Thursday, after a mob of Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., CNN anchor Anderson Cooper commented on the "completely unconstitutional behavior" of the people who participated in the attack, adding that "they're going to go back to the Olive Garden and to the Holiday Inn they're staying at later…to have some drinks and talk about the great day they had in Washington."
That, naturally, kicked off a minor skirmish in the ongoing culture war cable news loves to perpetuate, leading Hannity to respond on his own show with a paean to the Land of Infinite Breadsticks: "There's nothing wrong with Olive Garden….Some nights you get unlimited pasta. They have these hot, doughnutlike things you put chocolate sauce or caramel on. Great! Really delicious."
"There is a very low bar for what companies and individuals feel like they need to make public statements about," Mantia would later explain, pointing to a very real tweet from the official account of Axe, which felt the need to denounce "the violence and hate at the Capitol" after a can of its body spray was found at the scene.
So, Mantia decided to draft a fake response from Olive Garden to the whole kerfuffle, for no other reason than having fun on the internet—plus, "I have very little actual work to do these days," he wrote.
He figured people would get the joke, particularly once they got to the part about the Holiday Inn. ("Viscous attack," it turns out, was just a happy accident.) Also, the restaurant stopped offering "Lifetime Pasta Passes" in 2019.
Once it took off, though, leaving the realm of his 22,600 followers, it turns out the satire may have been too well done.
"People joke that social media managers have a rough time when something like this happens," Mantia tweeted. "I know that to be true, and I didn't consider that aspect seriously enough. Nor did I consider that my verified badge on Twitter would lend credence to something as stupid as this."
He decided to delete the tweet and pin a mea culpa to his account, but by the time he did, "it became a problem outside of my control," Mantia tells WW.
That led to Hannity having to address the issue on Fox. Naturally, he called it "fake news"—he never even had a Lifetime Pasta Pass!—and tried to use the gag to illustrate the hypocrisy of Twitter finally banning Donald Trump.
"Now today, the leader of the free world's permanently suspended, and I read on that same site that believes in truth that I lost my lifetime pasta membership to Olive Garden," he said, "which is not true."
Somehow, the argument did not get Trump's account reinstated.
As for Mantia, Hannity never mentioned his name or handle on the air, so he managed to escape without any right-wing trolls in his mentions. For that, he is grateful.
"All in all, the damage report for this silly prank is pretty minimal," Mantia says. "As far as rewards, while I didn't get a Pasta Pass, Sean Hannity did waste time and energy on this, and that makes me smile."