The past week, we were inundated with up-to-the-minute news about Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who apparently could not take it anymore from a rude passenger. So he announced on the PA what a terrible person she is and proceeded to declare he’s had enough. Then he grabbed two beers, opened the emergency exit and slid down the emergency shoot! What an exit!
Sounds like a story for a sitcom or the latest drama on HBO? Not quite. What followed was even more unexpected. People started raining in their cries for sympathy and support. At last, someone had the guts to publicly declare they just had it with rudeness, with uncivilized behavior, with the crabby, short-tempered public who feel they have a right to be in a bad mood, show it, and make everyone around them suffer for it.
For the next few days, pundits, social psychologists, renowned professors all over the country were interviewed on radio, print, and TV, to give their two-bits on the matter. Is he a hero? So far, thousands of tweets and posts say so. There is even the Steven Slater defense fund that you can donate to online. The media has gone into a feeding frenzy. LA Times even talked of a movie deal. Mr. Slater’s Facebook page has more than 150,000 posts. “Going down the slide,” is the newest expression, similar to “going postal” back in the nineties.
Experts talked about the difficult times, the stress of the economic downturn, how flying has become very stressful after 9-11. Older flight staff were interviewed and they talked of the days when it was considered glamorous to be a flight attendant (back then, they were called flight stewardesses) and flying was a privilege and quite the novelty.
Whatever happened to civility and gentility as a value? Our generation was supposed to be raised by parents who instilled good manners and proper decorum. We in turn, have brought our children up to be polite and considerate. It’s not only more pleasant to be around such people. More importantly, it’s supposed to demonstrate our humanity, our separateness from other animals for that matter.
The experts have denounced many movements as contributory to the worsening of public behavior. The relaxation of many formalities, ceremony, and social norms. They have also tied all this to the sense of entitlement many Americans walk around demanding of everyone around them. From the nuclear family aspect, have many more parents changed their philosophies to the extent that we are a nation of spoiled indulged brats who have not really grown up? Have we and our children been brought up to be more narcissistic and self-absorbed? And the slowly growing movement of social and environmental responsibility among our teens is just the pendulum desperately trying to swing the other direction for a change?
Well, Steven, I bet you did not expect to trigger such a national debate. And your fifteen minutes of fame at that! For all the times we passengers have had to endure clueless, inept, inconsiderate parents with blatantly out-of-control children on a long transatlantic or transcontinental flight. For all the times we have had to grit our teeth with clearly inebriated and belligerent passengers. For all the times when we have had to witness a flight attendant reduced to tears by some diva or Kingkong. Here’s to you!