Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steve Slater, Hero?


"Move over, Sully Sullenberger, there's a new folk hero in the skies. OK, maybe not a universally acclaimed hero. And not a 'hero' in the sense of, like, saving lives, or stopping a terrorist, or really doing anything traditionally considered 'heroic.' Still, Steven Slater—the JetBlue flight attendant who reportedly had an altercation with a passenger who injured him in the head, cursed her out over the PA, then deplaned, with a beer, via the emergency slide—is the talk of the country today."

Or, from PEOPLE.com: Is JetBlue Flight Attendant Steven Slater A Hero of Felon? And so on...

Again, a real-life demonstration of why this blog is called Superhero Babylon; the language of different values make's one man's hero another man's disgruntled employee. His story is nothing new, of course; Johnny Paycheck already cashed in on this theme years ago with "Take This Job and Shove It." His story is interesting because of the unusual exit strategy, but the theme is as old as employment itself. Is he really a hero, though? Well, let's think about it; what's a hero? A "defender" or "protecter." Who was Slater defending?

Well, the "pro" side would say: First and foremost, himself, by standing up to a rude passenger. What about the airline? He was enforcing the airline's rules as part of his job; whether or not he did it well is another matter (though I'd be pissed to if I were hit in the head because of a passenger's defiance...) Then there's the case that he was, implicitly or explicitly, standing up for the "working man," the "serving class," if you will. That's where the "folk hero" aspect comes in.

The naysayers might say that the "folk hero" label can be a double-edge sword; think Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, The Legend of Billy Jean, where the "hero" label is attached to actions where heroism was not the intent. (And remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Bobby had nightmares about his hero, Jesse James, killing his family?). Ok, Slater is no Jesse James, but I think you get the point...He might be more reasonably compared to someone like Howard Stern, the kind of person who gets away with "saying what everyone else would like to say." There's a fine line between being heroic and simply being pissed off...and why, if this was building over a long time, didn't Slater take a more practical approach, in the long run, by changing jobs or finding something less demeaning? Or, if the "pro-hero" side objects to his being forced out by rude customers, why didn't he work to change the landscape internally?

Having been on both sides of this kind of situation, I can see valid points on both sides; nothing trumps personal responsibility, but close quarters create pressure-cookers as well...Hero? Villain? What do you think?