Saturday, August 14, 2010

Going Slater

Unless you’ve been in a coma, you’ve heard about Steven Slater. He’s the Jet Blue flight attendant who upon landing announced his resignation to the passengers with a big FU, deployed the emergency exit chute, grabbed a couple of beers on his way out and slid down to his 15 minutes of fame. Obviously, Steven was having a bad day. No need to go into the details of the story. If you’re interested, just google Steven Slater.

What I find interesting is the reaction people have had to his behavior. I admit that I had a good laugh about it. It became less funny when I realized the danger he posed to the ground crew by deploying the emergency exit chute. But, I guess it’s still newsworthy. (It’s as least as good as the one about the dog eating the rotting toe off of his drunken diabetic owner’s foot.) The interesting part about Steven Slater is that he has become a folk hero to millions of disgruntled workers.

It’s as if there are millions of Howard Beales out there just waiting to say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. I’m old enough to clearly remember that movie, Network, which came out in 1976. I also remember “Take This Job and Shove It”, the Johnny Paycheck song (1977). The anger is out there. Dozens of movies, TV shows, books and songs tell stories of worker unhappiness, bitterness, resentment, rage and retaliation.

So what does this mean? In my opinion, it means that history keeps repeating itself but maybe now at a faster pace. The serf toiling for his landlord 800 years ago probably wasn’t too thrilled with his lot in life either, but did not have many options or outlets for expression. Millions who have come to the United States, including my European ancestors, were essentially fed up with their old lives and decided to change it. There are those brought here against their will who have fought back and struggled and changed it. The Labor Movement of the early 20th century was motivated by unhappiness, bitterness, resentment and rage. Today, developing nations such as China are starting to feel pressure from their work force.

It's the cycle of life. It’s human nature. You’ve heard the old saw about “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a life time.” My corollary is this: The man will eventually grow tired of fish and want a good steak, a nice bottle of wine, a beautiful woman and a big flat screen television…and air conditioning.

So when I see someone “Going Slater”, I wonder if it’s about the job or if they are just tired of eating fish.

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