A year from now, most people will have no idea who Stephen Slater is. However, today he’s a hero to thousands of people. He’s the JetBlue flight attendant who lost his temper, quit his job while on duty, grabbed some beer, activated the emergency chute, and slid to fame. Why did a guy like this become a hero to so many people?
In these economic times, it might seem strange that someone would throw away a job. I’m sure there are unemployed people and others with backbreaking jobs who can’t identify at all with what Slater did. On the other hand, many people today feel that management is taking advantage of workers. Employers know how hard it is to get a job today, so they hire people at lower wages with fewer benefits. As a result, there are considerable ill feelings towards employers today.
I’m not defending what Slater did. I’m just trying to understand it. However, there are many people who are defending him, even though he broke the law. They are thrilled by the way he quit, and see him as a hero. He did what many working people fantasize doing. He put into action the words of the old Johnny Paycheck song, “Take This Job And Shove It.”
There is a tradition in America to turn those who break the law into heroes. Jesse James was a folk hero. Bonnie and Clyde were, too. Don’t forget D.B. Cooper. He was the guy who hijacked a plane, got $200,000 in ransom, and parachuted out of the plane with the money.
Americans don’t (hero) worship just anybody who breaks the law. Those who are admired are people whose actions are audacious and aimed primarily at “the man,” government, big institutions, or corporations like banks, railroads, and now airlines. If someone steals the money from the cash register of a little store, nobody is going to make that thief a hero. But if a meek doorman at Goldman Sachs ingeniously figures out a way to get into the vault and steal millions of dollars on his lunch hour, he becomes an instant hero.
I don’t think it’s a particularly good thing that Americans make heroes out of these people, but that’s the reality. And speaking of reality, it’s no surprise that there are rumors that Slater will be in a TV reality show soon. He already has a Hollywood publicist named Howard Bragman. How perfect is Bragman for the name of a publicist? According to Bragman, they’re getting all kinds of show business offers, and they’ll deal with them once Slater takes care of his pesky criminal charges.
I’m sure he could do commercials for all kinds of products. He could definitely help sell the kind of beer he grabbed from the plane — Blue Moon. But if I were the head of JetBlue, I’d hire Slater and make sure that his contract was exclusive. Then I’d put him in a JetBlue flight attendant’s uniform, and he’d say on camera, “Everybody makes mistakes, even JetBlue. Sometimes we’re late. Sometimes we overbook. Sometimes we accidentally seat you 20 rows from your 3 year old. But whenever JetBlue happens to make a mistake, I think you should forgive them — just as JetBlue has forgiven me.” Then he’d grab a couple of beers, and slide down a chute.
It’s definitely the smart way to go. You see, if a big corporation like JetBlue were to forgive someone who embarrassed them like this, and if they made fun of themselves in the process, well, there’s a good chance JetBlue would become a folk hero.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.