The Sad, Strange Saga of "Papa John" Schnatter

"40 pizzas in the last 30 days," is just the latest twist

"Papa John" Schnatter is a broken man.

If his latest interview—in which he points cryptically to an unspecified future when "the record will be straight"—were not a clear enough sign of a shattered ego, the fact that he claims to have eaten 40 pizzas in the last 30 days drives the point home.

Apparently this dietary onslaught is part of an effort to find fault with the company's current direction. He says the quality has gone downhill, and the oil from those 40 pizzas seems to be seeping from his skin and hair as he delivers an unconvincing chuckle and instructs his fans to "stay tuned, a day of reckoning will come." Teary-eyed, he claims he wouldn't go back to his company now, but he hints at changes in management—the group that ousted him as CEO in 2017—that might change his mind, insisting that they are doing "everything wrong."

While it remains to be seen if his ominous predictions are based on evidence, his track record doesn't suggest a strong chance. For the most part, his history in the public eye can only suggest a broken man, stripped of his legacy by his own hubris, and sitting sadly atop an unconscionable mass of hoarded wealth.

john schnatter with the original camaro

When he founded Papa John's Pizza in 1984, John Schnatter was only 22 years old, and he had no help from anyone…except his father, whose tavern served as his sole source of customers. Still, he did take risks and make sacrifices to get himself started, selling his 1971 Camaro and using the funds to buy used pizza equipment. It's not clear why a 22-year-old bachelor fresh out of Ball State would choose to go by "Papa," but the most apparent possibilities are that he thought it made him sound Italian, or that it's a weird sex thing. What is clear is that, from that foundational moment with the Camaro, John Schnatter's life was forever changed—set on course for the tragedy it has since become.

Success consumed him. Within ten years, Papa John's Pizza had gone public and expanded to over 500 locations. America had never experienced pizza like this. The box proclaimed that it was made with "better ingredients," and while it's hard to imagine that slogan referring to the excessive sugar in its tomato sauce, or whatever they used to make the crust so difficult to eat, this pizza came with a pepperoncini and a little tub of garlic dipping sauce in every box. And a nation fell in love. That sauce was almost pure fat and could turn just about anything edible. It was the best, most unhealthy thing to dip your pizza into since ranch dressing. It became such an iconic part of the Papa John's experience that, last year, the company started selling it by the gallon.

Papa John's gallon of garlic sauce NY Magazine

Without those little tubs of garlic sauce, it's hard to imagine John Schnatter becoming as wildly successful as he did. At this point the franchise has more than 5,000 locations worldwide, and John Schnatter's personal wealth is estimated to be nearly a billion dollars. In 2009 he bought back the original 1971 Camaro for $250,000. That same year he was accused of sexual misconduct by a 24-year-old employee and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money.

By all accounts, John Schnatter did whatever he wanted with the assurance that he could get away with it. You might think that a man who had built that kind of get-out-of-jail-free fortune on little tubs of garlic sauce would be humble about his success—that he would give thanks and want to give back to the society that had given him so much. You would be wrong. Perhaps it was his proximity to that word "billion"—the godlike quality we ascribe to that highest tier of affluence—that pushed him to become defensive of his wealth. Whatever the cause, Schnatter began inserting himself into politics in 2012, when he decried the injustice of the Affordable Care Act and the "11 to 14 cents per pizza" that it would add to his company's costs.

papa john ACA meme

The backlash seemingly did nothing to deter him from offering further political commentary. In October of 2017 he spoke out on the NFL players who were kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence. According to Schnatter, the league's inability to quash protests was the reason behind Papa John's poor sales figures, as they had an endorsement deal to be the "official pizza company" of the NFL. These comments soon brought about John Schnatter's ouster as CEO and the sad spiral that has followed.

colonel sanders Pictured: a relevant modern icon of tolerance Bettmann Archive

In July of 2018, in a conference call that was intended to coach Schnatter on how to avoid future controversy, he seemingly sought to minimize his own mistakes by referring to the historic practice of lynching-by-dragging and pointing out that "Colonel Sanders called blacks n*****s and Sanders never faced public outcry." Unsurprisingly, this didn't go over well. Schnatter stepped down from his position on the company's board the same day the story broke, was soon replaced as their spokesman, and has since been relegated to the sidelines, where he makes his bitter commentary about "a day of reckoning" and sells off his stake in the company he built, bit by bit.

John Schnatter is a broken man.


Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman.

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did.

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny.

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid.

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper.

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.


That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.


So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.

What do the victims of lynch mobs, witch trials, and the holocaust all have in common? Wealthy white men identify with their struggles.

Donald Trump, comparing his treatment in the impeachment inquiry to a lynching, is just the latest in a long line of wealthy white men who recognize a commonality between the people who've been horribly mistreated by the dominant culture and the people who are at the center of the dominant culture. There's nothing like a centuries-long legacy of brutally clinging to power to suddenly transform you into an underdog when people start to challenge your natural role at the top of the social hierarchy.

Donald Trump's "Lynching" Tweet Twitter

That's what makes this such a terrifying time to be a rich white guy. Cultural activists want to amplify the accusations of women you (allegedly) assaulted, minority groups want to reform the police forces that solely protect your interests, and political candidates want to take the wealth that you justly harvested from crops of underpaid workers. As wealthy white men are eager to tell you, we live in a culture that is cruelly victimizing wealthy white men.

The Emmet Till Memorial Covered in Bullet Holes

Donald Trump gets that. Who can better relate to the experience of Emmett Till than the man whose key demo vandalized Emmett Till's memorial to the point that it had to be replaced with a bulletproof version? Who could possibly understand the struggle of the black Americans, and the historic horror of lynching, better than the man who wanted to close down the National Museum of African American History and Culture for a private tour on MLK Jr. Day—and who couldn't be shown anything "difficult" there, because he was in a bad mood? Why should he have to see the cruelty that marginalized people dealt with in the past, when he and wealthy white men like him are living it right now. Can you imagine being Jordan Peterson, having to deal with a lot of people saying mean things to him on Twitter just because he has built his career on the refusal to acknowledge the existence of trans people? He no longer feels safe to even post his own tweets! Is there any clearer example of erasure? I literally can't think of one. Doesn't he deserve some sort of space where he can speak his mind without being bullied by those with less power and cultural status? A space that's safe, if you will? He is a unique and fragile individual, as precious as those little things that snow is made of (what are those called again?). We have to protect him!

And you have to feel bad for Brett Kavanaugh, who had his life so destroyed by multiple, corroborated accusations of sexual misconduct that he's been forced to serve on the Supreme Court and continue coaching his daughter's basketball team. Meanwhile, his most notable accuser has the luxury of remaining in hiding and no longer teaching more than a year after she recounted her deepest trauma in the most public venue imaginable. Remember how nice the Republican senators were about her testimony, just before they voted for the man who assaulted her?

Brett Kavanaugh Being a Sad Little Boy REUTERS

And consider the lot of Tom Perkins, the tech billionaire who sounded the alarm on how bad things were getting for rich white guys all the way back in 2014, comparing his experience to that of Jews in Nazi Germany. Poor guy (not literally poor, obviously, that would be gross). And Trump's climate adviser, William Happer, who has made a lucrative career advocating for fossil fuel companies, made a similar observation about the demonization of carbon dioxide, yet we continue to give Greta Thunberg a platform to spread her carbon hate, with only death threats and constant harassment to put her in her place. Won't someone please think of the oil executives?!

Truly, unlike every other instance in recorded history, in the modern day it's the wealthy and powerful white men who are on the receiving end of oppression. The struggle is real.