In 1961, John Updike wrote a short story called A&P. The story ends when narrator Sammy quits his cashier job and reflects, “My stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.”
In 2008, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company is still a grocer-titan. And part-time jobholders are still getting into trouble.
The A&P is suing former employees Matt D’Avella, 20, and Mark D’Avella, 22, for $7 million on counts of defamation, infringement and disparagement in response to a mock rap video the brothers published on video site YouTube this past summer.
Matt, a sophomore BTMM major who recently transferred from Bloomsburg University to Temple, said the brothers’ parody “Produce Paradise” wasn’t made out of disloyalty to his former place of employment.
“It definitely wasn’t a rebellion against A&P at all,” Matt said. “It was all about produce, as the lyrics say. It has nothing to do with A&P, nothing to do with the corporate headquarters.”
The video is a four-minute rap in which the brothers use various veggie puns, rhyming couplets and visual shenanigans to spoof what the D’Avellas said they intended to appear as a generic grocer backdrop.
The brothers’ depiction of phallic bananas and pre-packaged, pre-licked lettuce are a few of the things that could turn off grocery-store customers who view the sketch. At one point during the video, Matt mimics urinating on a box of greens stored in the back room of the store.
Though the brothers said they meant no malice toward A&P, the company is suing for charges on the grounds that the A&P logo can be seen briefly on Mark’s hat at one point during the video.
“That’s the big thing,” Matt said. “The Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company [was] pretty mad about that. We didn’t want the A&P to be in the video because we didn’t want to strike up any controversy or make the A&P mad.”
The D’Avellas were given the freedom of their consequent decisions by their lawyers.
“I definitely want a settlement to occur right now, because if a settlement doesn’t happen, then this is going to be dragged on for another two or three years, and it’s just going to be a lot more stress,” Matt said, “especially while I’m going to be graduating from college and going on to the real world.”
However, the D’Avellas were originally reluctant to settle the case out of court.
“We originally didn’t want to give in to A&P,” Matt said.
Mark D’Avella was moving into his dorm, microwave in hand, when his father informed him about the lawsuit.
“I kind of just took it with a grain of salt,” he said. “It was like a ‘you gotta be kidding me’ kind of thing.”
His brother Matt reacted similarly.
“I didn’t really take it too hard,” he said. “It was definitely a shock. I was actually contacted by a reporter, not by the A&P, so it was a little surprising. It was kind of crazy in the beginning because we were getting calls from reporters – 15 to 20 calls a day for about a week. It was just really hard to deal with. A&P never contacted us about this whole ordeal.”
Temple law professor Burton Caine teaches matters of constitutional law and the First Amendment and said the boys could run into some trouble with their case.
“If there were a lot of people who said the same thing because they thought this was an accurate portrayal of what happens at A&P, that is the type of damage that can be asserted against the people who did this,” he said. “As far as damages are concerned, I’m wondering whether the public would assume that this is an accurate portrayal of a supermarket run by A&P rather than simply a joke.”
Removing the video from YouTube would be a part of the settlement request on the behalf of A&P. Matt said the brothers are not removing the video, however, until all settlement agreements are made official.
“I would think that goes to the question of intent, and also the question of damage,” Caine said. “If they’re not removing it, and A&P’s logo is still there, I guess that many more people can say that they have seen the A&P logo.”
The D’Avellas sold T-shirts labeled with their rap group’s name – Fresh Beets – as part of a fund-raising effort for their defense’s cause.
“We basically made T-shirts and sold them to raise money for our lawyers,” Matt said. “We got the lawyers pro bono, but we have to pay a $1,500 retainer. We sold 200, maybe 300 T-shirts, so we definitely made a good amount of money to cover most of the cost.”
The Fresh Beets logo became a particularly important piece of Matt’s wardrobe for quite a time.
“I decided to wear the T-Shirt for a hundred days, in a way to protest against A&P,” he said.
Matt and his brother designed a video in which Matt can be seen wearing all the other T-shirts in his wardrobe in quick succession, as part of a celebration of the end of 100 days. The video can be seen at the brothers’ media Web site, www.fakelaugh.com.
Since getting fired from A&P in Califon, N.J., the brothers haven’t had any trouble finding work. Mark is involved with research for the University of Delaware, where he is a junior leadership major, and Matt works in Temple’s BTMM department. Both students have been pursuing creative endeavors outside their jobs. Matt has a position working with Robot Films.
“I don’t think any company is really going to care about the lawsuit,” Matt said. “I don’t think it’s going to prevent me from getting any jobs at all. I’m not worried about that.”
And so, he’s been handling the criticism lightly.
“I’ve had people that are 80, 90 years old come up to me, and they thought the video was really funny. So it just kind of shows that the A&P didn’t really think about this too much.”
Neither student stated that he regrets making the video that snowballed into a potential financial fiasco.
“If we did end up losing this lawsuit, I wouldn’t be devastated by any means,” Matt said. “I would just continue to live my life, one day at a time.”
Caitlyn Conefry can be reached at email@example.com.