Steven Slater went viral so fast and hard, he’s already a cliche.
To recap: Monday, JetBlue Pittsburgh-to-NYC flight attendant Slater strayed into a battle between female passengers over overhead bin space and got whacked in the head with errant bag.
One of the battling baggage biznatches was asked to gate-check her oversized bag. Said woman threw an obscenity-laced fit at Slater when they landed and the bag wasn’t instantly handed to her on a silver platter. Slater snapped, cursed woman out over intercom, grabbed a brewski or two, and — displaying a flair for drama — exited stage left down the emergency slide.
So why did this act strike such a chord? And why are 57% of respondents to an MSNBC poll saying he’s a “hero”?
The “chord” part is easy: flying is now an act of grim necessity rather than an adventure or an experience in fine travel. Passengers are packed into seemingly smaller and smaller spaces (even as Americans get fatter and fatter), it’s hot, close, sometimes smelly; people are hungry, frazzled, hauling huge-ass bags on board to avoid baggage fees; and there is no joy in Mudville.
Now, as to the “hero” part. I assume deep down people know this was not a heroic act. It was a freakout: a provoked, viscerally satisfying one, but a freakout nonetheless. And, by employing the emergency slide, he was potentially endangering support workers.
The “hero” label, then, comes from the embodied urges of an entire planet of workers frustrated with jobs where they are unappreciated, overworked, insulted, humiliated. These masses yearn to retaliate in kind, to exit dramatically with tormentors left dumbstruck, but they, being practical, dare not.