Steven Slater: Our Public Menace or Our Hero?

That depends on whether you fantasize about telling off your boss or not

The Steven Slater story is amazing to watch.

There was such a visceral reaction to Slater’s Howard Beale moment from an underpaid, overworked and under-appreciated workforce that the man was a hero before the morning papers.

You know the basics of the story: The 38-year-old Jet Blue flight attendant was upset with a female passenger who conked him on the noggin with some luggage from the overhead bin. Slater then cursed her out on the PA system, grabbed a couple of beers from the service area, hit the mechanism that launches the emergency chute, and slid into history.

It sounded more like a breakdown than a heroic act, but the reasons didn’t matter. It was the act itself that struck a chord. [SIGNUP]

It is a wonderful example of new media. Tweets, posts and blogs made Slater a star before the networks and newspapers could even get their footing. And since the Internet has become the favorite new means of research for producers and publishers, the traditional media was more than willing to dub Slater a “cult hero” overnight. It normally takes some time to build a cult. This may be the fastest rise to cult hero status in history.

It is a sign of reporting in the new millennium that the traditional media now follows the Internet crowd. A Facebook page raising money for Slater’s legal defense fund had more than 100,000 people signed up before Slater was processed in Brooklyn. The morning show news hosts were more than willing to follow the Facebook crowd by gushing over Slater, while he was being held in jail as a public menace.

It is not surprising that Slater got this kind of immediate reaction. The working class in America was looking for a hero and grabbed onto Slater without reservation or examination.

A recent poll showed that 55% of Americans are unhappy in their jobs.

Can you blame them? During the recession many employers dropped the company 401K match, increased employee contributions to their own health care, and cut or froze wages.

And now that companies are enjoying increased earnings (the S&P 500 saw an average increase of more than 50% from last summer), they are stubbornly refusing to create jobs. Those who survived the recession are just expected to keep doing more for less.

Steven Slater had his Jet Blue moment at the perfect time.

Even as more details come out — that Slater could have killed someone when he launched the emergency chute, that he delayed flights for hundreds of passengers, that he was rude and agitated on the plane before the luggage assault, that he is a recovering alcoholic who may have gone off the wagon with his two beers, that he was not acting out against his company, but an unruly passenger and, in fact, wants his job back — none of that matters to the bloggers and tweeters who have dubbed him a hero.

Facts don’t matter in fantasy. The reaction to Slater’s lapse of sanity had little do with his reality and a lot to do with our fantasy of making a dramatic exit at our workplace.

But, of course, we can’t. We desperately hold onto our jobs so we don’t slip into the unemployment abyss. And if you pulled a Slater, you would be fired for cause and wouldn’t qualify for unemployment.

And so instead we cheer on our most unlikely celebrity, even in a world of Snooki, the Housewives from Wherever, and Carson Daly.

In another time, in another climate, this story could have turned out much different for Slater. He picked the perfect moment to snap.

Steven Slater is our Accidental Hero.