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Kevin Smith's Southwest Airlines incident sets Web all a-Twitter

February 16, 2010|By Chris Lee

Hollywood directors have long been known to throw their weight around to get what they want. But over the weekend, on a Burbank-bound Southwest Airlines flight, indie auteur Kevin Smith took that cherished convention to a new extreme.

The plus-sized writer-director behind such potty-mouthed comedies as "Clerks," "Dogma" and 2008's "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" was kicked off a plane at Oakland International Airport on Saturday, allegedly because the captain deemed Smith's obesity a "safety risk" to other passengers.

Nothing happens inside a vacuum with Smith, one of the entertainment industry's most online-savvy operators -- a guy with over 1.6 million Twitter followers and the propensity to channel righteous indignation, as well as his own frequent humiliations, into 140-character dispatches. And the director managed to turn a small dust-up into headline news around the globe.

Once inside the airport terminal, he went on the offensive, needling Southwest in a barrage of tweets.

"I broke no regulation, offered no 'safety risk' (what was I gonna roll on a fellow passenger?)," Smith wrote on Twitter Saturday. "I was wrongly ejected from the flight . . . " Less than an hour later, he tweeted: "Hey @SouthwestAir! Look how fat I am on your plane! Quick! Throw me off!" -- and attached a camera phone photo of himself onboard a later flight.

Although the director has so far declined all media requests, Smith has used almost every Information Age tool available -- his blog, social networking websites, a podcast and the 24-hour news cycle's insatiable churn -- to conflate a personally embarrassing ordeal into a larger contretemps about society's alleged mistreatment of overweight people.

Southwest ultimately tweeted a response that expressed regret, but restated its seating policy, which would appear to place the blame back in Smith's, uh, lap.

The predicament (that some 'Net wags have taken to calling "Fatgate") provides Smith a windfall of exposure at a transitional time in his career -- namely, just before Smith's new action-comedy, "Cop Out," reaches theaters Feb. 26. Starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, it's the first feature in the Independent Spirit Award winner's 16-year career for which he served as director but did not write his own script. Worse, many in the entertainment industry have consigned Smith to "movie jail" after his last few films failed to launch at the box office.

For his part, the director continues to use the Tweet Deck to deny that Fatgate is any kind of promotional stunt. "Sometimes it baffles me how little people think things through," Smith tweeted Sunday. " 'Free Publicity!' = 200 new articles declaring I'm fat. Yay, me. Epic win."

chris.lee@latimes.com

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