Posted by: joha5 | August 18, 2010

Steven Slater and the Perpetuation of Endless Anger

Steven Slater. American hero. The JetBlue flight attendant, who blew a gasket and cursed out his passengers, chuted out of his plane and straight into mythic American status as a workingman’s hero. Go get ’em Steve. Stick it to the man. Tell those darned awful, rude passengers where they can shove those bags they hit you with. Forget the fact that they actually pay your salary, or that you wear the uniform of a company that expects you to represent them with civility. Forget also that had you erupted just twenty minutes earlier while the plane was in midair and activated the emergency exit, you would have killed yourself along with a bunch of the hated passenger miscreants. The only thing that matters, Steve, is that you’re angry. And when you’re upset, just go with it. Say what you feel. Swear like a sailor. We’re with you Steve. We’re also fed up, and we’re not going to take it any more. You’re our guy. Babies will be named after you. JetBlue will let you fly the plane next time. Goooooo Steeeeeve!

Steven Slater in all his glory

 But what does it really say about American culture that we’re prepared to elevate someone who behaves like an out-of-control psycho as a model of how all working stiffs ought to act? Millions of people toil everyday in labor and in utter anonymity. They endure pressures that a spoiled child like Steven Slater can scarcely comprehend. But you don’t see them flipping out because they hate their jobs and feel undervalued and underappreciated. Yet it’s Steven Slater who’s being treated like a hero.

The truth of the strange tale of the mad Jet Blue flight attendant is that America is becoming an angrier, more vulgar nation. Lunatics that erupt in public are considered entertaining. They amuse us and capture our attention. From Donald Trump who called Rosie O’Donnell a “fat slob,” to Rosie who shot back that the Donald is a pimp, there is scarcely the expectation that people in the public eye will behave with decorum and civility. The idea of sitting passively in his seat apparently never passed through the mind of Kanye West at last year’s MTV music awards. On Talk Radio there are daily rants where liberals call conservatives morons and conservatives calls liberals idiots. A good time is had by all the listeners. The more angry the host, the bigger the audience. Joe Wilson can call the president of the United States a liar in public and see his fundraising go through the roof. On MSNBC, Keith Olberman does his nightly ‘Worst Person in the World routine,’ which, while humorous, endorses the idea of extreme name-calling as outrageous entertainment.

"I'm so angry..and it's often for no reason at all!"

I, for one, don’t need Democrats and Republicans to agree with each other, and I have no problem with one party obstructing the legislative agenda of the other when they believe it is injurious to the country. If I want a one-party state I’ll move to China. But the expectation of basic civility between the parties is surely not too much to ask. The growing culture of disparagement came to a head with the Ground Zero mosque with the billionaire mayor of New York telling those who questioned the mosque that they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Really? Was it too much to ask that the mosque organizers show basic sensitivity by meeting with the victims families prior to building, and ensuring that at least a single floor of edifice be dedicated as a shrine to those who died on 9/11 and a museum with exhibitions repudiating Islamic extremists? Next it was President Obama’s turn to condescendingly lecture the public about constitutional rights regarding freedom of worship, as if what we are allowed to do in this country is the automatic equivalent of what we ought to do. Not that the mosque’s opponents are free of anger themselves. A great many continually excoriate Islam as an evil and militant religion, forgetting that for the past millennia a great many crimes have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity until brave men like John XXIII, John Paul II, and a host of modern evangelical leaders like Billy Graham and Rick Warren returned Christianity to its original teachings of peace and love. We await more Islamic leaders doping the same for their faith, repudiating the militants and emphasizing Islam’s teachings of peace. But there is light at the end of this angry tunnel, with some responsible members of the culture rejecting the growing anger and condescension that has come to define it.

Simon Cowell brought an all-too-typical British television nastiness to the American airwaves with his constant put-downs of American Idol contestants as talentless losers who ought to go back to stocking shelves at Wal-Mart. But Ellen DeGeneres resigned shortly after filling his place because, she said, she simply did not want a job putting people down and making them feel bad about themselves. This doesn’t mean, of course, that an American Idol judge, or anyone else, has to lie and ascribe talent where it doesn’t exist or excuse the inexcusable. It does mean that one can be respectively dismissive of someone without robbing them of every shred of human dignity, and one can stand up for what one believes without demonizing the other side.

Simon Cowell may want to rob you of your dignity but at least he is entertaining to watch when he isn't doing it to you.

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Responses

  1. Hi Jon
    I was very interested in your post about anger, and it’s acceptance in contemporary society. Here in the UK we’ve recently had a folk hero psychopath named Raoul Moat, a nightclub bouncer who, on release from prison, murdered his ex-girlfriend’s new lover, shot the girlfriend, and then shot a policeman in the face, blinding him for life. He finally blew his brains out in a beauty spot in the North of England after a week long police man-hunt. Thousands of people posted RIP messages on his facebook page, and now the family have scattered his ashes in the river beside which he very publicly topped himself, thereby creating a shrine to his memory.
    The public sympathy for such ‘outlaws’ at the moment is, I think, a manifestation of our anger and frustration at all the crap that is being heaped on us by politicians, bankers, businessmen and corporations who remain free to make us pay for their cock-ups while they themselves walk away unscathed from the global ground zero of their creation, cutely called ‘the credit crunch’. I feel that the anger is perfectly understandable but woefully misdirected.
    But I think your concluding paragraph relating to the despicable Simon Cowell is a very different issue. Correct me if I’m wrong but did this kind of confrontational TV not begin with The Gong Show and Jerry Springer in America? I also thought that this sort of stuff went further back to the eighties when getting to the top by barging others out of the way was considered an admirable personality trait. The public humiliation that is American Idol is the modern equivalent of the stocks and the whipping post. Now that is British!
    Bill

  2. once again…well said. I was in India when I saw the news about Slater on TV and was baffled about why he was a hero. Somehow he was an office worker and had quit on a mean boss I would understand, but not someone who could potentially endanger the lives of people.

  3. this is awesome man

  4. im feeling it


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