Seven Reasons We Love Steven Slater

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Patrick E. McCarthy / Newsday-MCT-Landov

By now, only the dead are unaware of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who took a couple of beers from the plane's refrigerator and then memorably told passengers to take his job and shove it before he escaped out of an emergency chute. Initial reports from the media pegged him as just another airline wacko like Naomi Campbell, with the New York Post calling him a "freakin flier" until the Web exploded in support of Slater. Suddenly he was a folk hero, the best thing since Robin Hood. People as far away as the U.K. have sung his praises, with Brian Reade from the Daily Mirror writing, "So well done Steven Slater for telling one locker invader to '**** off' when she abused him. His only regret should be that it wasn't the old bag and her bag he sent down the emergency chute." And while I can't condone murder, I totally get where all this hero worship is coming from. 

Airlines charge passengers fees for everything, it seems, but oxygen. Combine that with onerous security regulations and you've got the makings of a riot on every flight. No one doubts the industry has been under stress, but why does it even pretend we're still flying friendly skies? And it's not as if there are any perks to being a flight attendant. According to USA Today, they're just like all the rest of us, facing more layoffs and getting less and less satisfaction out of a job that seems to demand more for less every day. Slater just expressed a general howl of frustration that we all feel on an airplane.

Wall Street seems to have recovered just fine—all the bailed-out banks are still in business—but working folks are still trying to recover from a real economic nightmare. I bet many of the people who are writing Slater tribute songs and flocking to his Facebook page are just sick to death of being told that we should be grateful for our jobs no matter how horrible the environs. Our tax dollars have helped the airlines plenty of times, the auto industry, the banking industry, and of course Big Agriculture. When is it our turn to get an emergency chute?

Steven Slater just lost it. He decided "Damn the consequences," and told those who had offended him exactly what he thought of them. I have a friend who has to write, "Calm down. Calm down. Calm down," over and over in her notebook in meetings just to keep from screaming. The productivity rate of American workers has gotten us out of the last couple of recessions, but I think we may have finally hit our limit. If you want any more work out of us, you're going to have to start treating us better.

slater-history-nixon Bob Daughtery / AP

All of this bad news, I really think, is making us feel weak—oil spills, never-ending wars, unemployment stuck near 10 percent, a different politician in trouble every day. Yankee ingenuity and can-do spirit used to be an American hallmark; now all we seem to produce are credit-card debt and crazy pop stars. We like Steven Slater because he made us feel, for one minute, as if we could take control of our economic destinies from the big companies that act more and more like casinos and the politicians who act like VIPs, not public servants.

slater-history-chappelle Stefano Paltera / AP

I know we're in a recession, but sometimes it's not all about the money. When Dave Chappelle walked away from a $50 million contract with Comedy Central, the world thought he was crazy. Who turns down that kind of money? But for Chappelle, it was about having some self-respect. He thought there were parts of his audience that were laughing at him, not with him, and he no longer wanted people to think he trafficked in the lowest kind of racial stereotyping. In 2006 he told Oprah, "I don't want black people to be disappointed in me for putting that [message] out there ... It's a complete moral dilemma." A dilemma he solved by walking away in almost as dramatic a fashion as Slater, by going to South Africa to visit friends and family but not telling anyone—including his wife. 

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Billy the Kid robbed banks and was far from being Robin Hood, but we loved him anyway. Heck, the governor of New Mexico is considering pardoning the Kid more than 100 years later. Passengers on Slater's flight are saying he was rude and unhelpful from the beginning of the flight. (Though to the woman who complained that he wouldn't give her a napkin to clean up spilled coffee ... Hello?  His head was bleeding.) The Wall Street Journal is hot on the case, finding evidence that Slater's story doesn't jibe with witness testimony. But trust me, it won't matter, he'll always be our hero. Even if it turns out his wound was self-inflicted. We just love people who speak truth to power, or seem to.

Our corporate overlords aren't going to take care of us anymore. They're worried about their market share and stock price. But that doesn't mean we have to be content to be wage slaves.  We can use that good old Yankee ingenuity and our famous can-do spirit to get out from under our feelings of economic inadequacy and a general feeling that we're no longer in control of our financial destiny. You may not want to do it the way Slater did—but remember, Google and Facebook were both startups. Right now, there are more than 20 million small businesses out there without a single employee except the founder. Think about it. Maybe your next boss will be yourself. Then you could use Ed Norton's trick from Fight Club any time you like.

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