Steven Slater (Personal Photo)
Steve 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 mid-air 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!
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? Every day two million American service men and women of the United States military take orders from superiors for meager pay, dodge IED’s in Afghanistan and snipers in Iraq, and rarely get any appreciation other than empty lip service from the American people they protect. And yet, with the occasional exception of a celebrity like David Petraeus, they labor on in utter anonymity. They endure pressures that a spoiled child like Steven Slater can scarcely comprehend. But you don’t see them flipping out and ejecting from their F-16’s over Kabul because they hate their jobs and feel undervalued and underappreciated. Yet it’s Steve 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, 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.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts ‘The Shmuley Show’ on 77 WABC in NYC. He is the founder of This World: The Values Network, and is the author, most recently, of ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.