question of the day: Does Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater deserve to be a folk hero?

If the news has become entertainment, then surely there’s something of a pop culture perfect storm brewing over the spectacular exit flight attendant Steven Slater made from a Jet Blue plane on the tarmac at New York’s JFK airport the other day. Slater’s actions encompass so much of what is frustrating these days: the aggravations of air travel, the apparent increasing rudeness of interpersonal interactions in all public places, the dissatisfactions so many people have with their jobs, and the fantasy of quitting those jobs in dramatic ways. So naturally, everything Slater has gone viral on the Internet — he’s got his own page on Known Your Meme, which is an excellent place to start exploring all things Steven Slater.

Does Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater deserve to be a folk hero?

Obviously talking about Slater — and engaging in Internet meme activity — operates as a sort of pressure valve for a lot of people, but is that necessarily a good thing? Slater could inspire people to make changes in their own lives (perhaps in less theatrical ways), but is it possible that such a pressure valve can have a negative side, in that it releases pressure that should be relieved in other, more constructive ways? Is celebrating Slater a sort of bread-and-circuses we peasants invent for ourselves, just a distraction from real issues that need real solutions?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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Thu, Aug 12, 2010 11:33am

I just put my two-week notice to my employer this week as well. Of course, I didn’t do it so extravagantly because there are people here I like and respect, and I absolutely want to keep friends rather than be a prat. Of course, I currently work at a job that I would not mind coming back to if I fell on hard times and was let go from the place I will be moving to shortly.

Ultimately, I could care less about Slater. I don’t think what he did will change anything, really. I’m more interested in Elizabeth Warren and others who are really trying to give a lift to people who seem to have no voice anymore than to paying even a whit of attention to Slater. The best that can be said for Slater is that he fulfilled his fantasy… but usually, they’re fantasies for a reason.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 11:42am

No – I think what he did was stupid, irresponsible and probably caused a lot of hassle for his co-workers. I have worked in customer services though and what he did would be on the milder side of my fantasies. I did laugh when I heard about it though. I understood. Everybody’s job can be crap at times. Like everything else in life, it’s learning to cope with the peaks and troughs.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 11:53am

It was entertaining, yes. For a minute.
But folk hero status?
Come on. Are we so slack-jawed as a society now that we must elevate every drama queen that makes us laugh for a second?
It’s bad enough some silly network exec will very likely want to give the guy a reality show.

If people like him are lauded to such a degree, it will eventually escalate to another rash of irritated employees going postal, referring to the extreme workplace violence which led to the coining of that phrase.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 12:31pm

No, he does not. At best, his actions can serve as a jumping-off point (sorry) for discussions about the tensions between corporations and consumers and the service employees stuck in the middle of those tensions.

Overall, the business just strikes me as another example of someone doing something theatrically asinine in public in the hopes of cashing in for fifteen minutes.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 1:41pm

I’m not convinced it was publicity grab on his part, sounds just like he lost his good judgement. The rapid deployment of websites/memes is just indicative of the age we live in. People are very worn out right now from economy/war/environmental/politics, so we’ll latch onto things like this, even fleeting, to catch some relief. It’s why Conan’s mistreatment (however unimportant it was, as he himself always pointed out), got so much play in a certain demographic.

Too me each time things like this play out, it’s like any fad, there are some who get obsessed over it, but most people forget them after a few months. Whatever hot toy that you had to have as a kid functions the same way.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 1:44pm

How did you make this blog post regarding memes about quitting work THIS WEEK without referencing Jenny the HOPA, hired to hold the false “I Quit and you play Farmville too much” whiteboard?

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 2:09pm

@ Rykker –

Yes, we as a society really are that slackjawed, sadly. If my housemate can refer to ‘Australian Border Cops’ and ‘Amercia’s Most Dangerous Car Chases’ as ‘documentaries’ with a straight face, people are going to make this guy a folk hero.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 2:25pm

Slater’s actions speak to the unease of the job market. To have someone stand up and say “F-ck it no job is worth this hassle” and then go out with style (grabbing a beer and sliding down the plane chute), well it means something to people….

As someone who nearly lost his job dealing with a… problem patron, I sympathize with Slater. I don’t agree to his using the chute (that caused problems for others to clean up), but I sympathize with his telling off the idiot passenger who ignored safety rules, bonked him on the head with a heavy carryon, and had the gall to insult him.

Slater’s not a folk hero, not like Sullenburger (someone else noted a compare/contrast between the two), but he stands for the put-upon stressed-out underpaid service employees coping with atypical problem patrons from the fifth plane of Dante’s Inferno…

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 2:30pm

Folk hero, I think not.

Completely awesome? Yes.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 2:32pm

I’m glad the genuineness and spontaneity of the flight attendant overshadowed the woman with the whiteboard.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 4:26pm

This kinda reminds me of Jersey Girl. Affleck’s character trashes Will Smith and ruins his career. Years later when he tries to get back into the PR game, he meets two PR guys that call him a legend but that they would never hire him in a million years.

Yes, Steven Slater’s actions will resonate with anyone working in the service industry and they’ll say “boy, I wish I had the guts to do that” but a folk hero? Why does every nutcase that does something so stupid nobody would do it called a hero? Real heroes stick at a shitty job to support a family. Real heroes struggle to do the right thing. This guy just threw an over the top hissy fit. He’ll get his 15 minutes then he’ll sink back into obscurity where he’ll find that he is unemployable.

I saw a video of him being hounded by the press and the look on his face was priceless; he was loving every attention-grabbing minute of it. Enjoy it whilst it lasts bucko.

Lanna Lee Maheux-Quinn
Thu, Aug 12, 2010 4:28pm

No. Definitely not.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 5:17pm

I didn’t really know the full details of this story so just finally read it . . . let me this straight . . . this man is 38 years old??? And some people are holding him up as a folk hero? Wow, that really says a lot about some of the people in our society.

He got on the loud speaker and told those aboard “go f*** yourselves.” Wasn’t it just one passenger that was rude to him (not that saying that even to the rude passenger would have been appropriate or professional)? If I were one of the passengers, I would have been offended by his behavior, especially since as having been a passenger on an airplane, I have never been rude.

It just seems as the years go by, the bar set for people’s appropriate behavior just gets lower and lower . . . very sad.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 5:23pm

As someone who’s worked retail all her life, Yes!
As someone who’s worked retail all her life, No.

Most days the pleasant customers outweigh the insufferable, the know-it-alls, the going-to-tell-you-your-jobbers, the stinky (clean your hair, people, clean your hair), the idiots*, the shouters, the can’t-speak-above-a-little-girl’ers(women, get your shit together), the demanders, the hurry-up-and-sell-it-to-me-because-I-can’t-plan’ers – the rude don’t get a different category, because most of the above are rude.

So I can understand why he went ape. But the momentary pleasure of telling people off? Doesn’t last long. And in these tough economic times, a foolish thing to do. Momentary Folk Hero To Retail Workers, sure. Long term Folk Hero? No chance.

* actual conversation last week:

Teen customer: How do you arrange your books?
Me: Alphabetically by author.
Teen: How do you mean?
Me & coworker: ?!

See also:

Is this a library?
Do you sell books here?
Is there snow in Vermont? (asked in February)

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 5:36pm

@ I_Sell_Books:

I’m looking for a Book with a Blue Cover! Yes, it’s definitely blue!

Former librarian here. Yes, we had our fair share of… atypical patrons…

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 5:56pm


Do you have that book by that guy? I think they made a movie out of it?

Laughing Bunny
Laughing Bunny
Thu, Aug 12, 2010 6:26pm

No, he isn’t a “folk hero” to me.

However, I was very glad to see that the airline is trying to locate the woman who jumped out of her seat, made a grab for her oversize luggage and cursed at Mr. Slater. Her actions may result in $25,000 worth of fines.

If Mr. Slater had maintained his cool, he would have written up a complaint against her, identifying the ways in which she was abusive and behaved in an unsafe manner, gotten eyewitness accounts of her actions, etc. to build a case against her.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 7:31pm

I think he is a folk hero – because he did the thing that everybody has wanted to do at some point, if he could have done that without insulting the woman, that’d been even better.

I’ve worked a lot of shit jobs and I have ached to do similar stuff to what he did. The closest I came was when a shop I was in went under as a company – I managed to call the CEO a ‘numpty’ and I made a sign on the counter that said ‘Posh People, Please is not a sign of weakness’ – I had some astonishingly road posh customers.

Thu, Aug 12, 2010 8:36pm

I’m just curious what may have driven the passenger to the breaking point and, if she had done the exact same maneuver, if people would be celebrating her as a folk hero railing against the airline industry.

I get the backlash against “entitled” customers. I worked at a call center for a while doing tech support and got my share of tantrum-throwers, morons and nutjobs. But I also got a lot of people frustrated because the product was confusing (and in several cases defective), the call center was understaffed (leading to long hold times, labyrinthine phone tree menus, and a slow death by smooth jazz), and my coworkers were occasionally antipathetic on the customer’s first tilt at the windmill. The customer was stressed and had no clear avenue to vent at The Powers That Be, so they raged at me. It was wearing, sure, but I tried to maintain a level of empathy.

I’ve flown a lot and I’ve noted the degradation of customer service from airlines. Understaffed check-ins, checked baggage fees — no wonder so many carry-ons are overstuffed! — lost luggage, missed transfers due to runway delays, cramped seating… by the time I’m boarding I’m often crabby. I like to think I’m controlled enough not to take it out on the poor person who’s just trying to keep me alive, much less comfortable, at 35,000 feet. I’m human, though, and I know that given the right set of circumstances I might snap, too.

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 10:01am

From what I’ve read, no one on the plane was rude to him, in fact most accounts from other passengers have him acting like a prat to everyone else first. Its like he just went apeshit and quit. He’s going to have a hard time finding another job.

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 3:25pm


Yeah, we got that book. It’s the one with the blue cover. It’s about a man who meets a woman during the war.

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 3:27pm

He’s going to have a hard time finding another job.

That’s where the reality shows come in…

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 6:08pm

He seems like a bit of a prat to me as well. Hope he enjoyed his 15 minutes because he will play hell getting another job anytime soon.