Incivility in the air, on the airwaves, everywhere

Steven Slater incident just the latest in a trend of obnoxiousness

August 16, 2010|Susan Reimer

Only in America can a flight attendant, with what appears to be an overhead bin full of personal problems and a flare for the dramatic, go from being a late-night talk show punch line to a major political trend. But there you have it.

Steven Slater, who took the microphone to cuss out rude customers on a Jet Blue flight, grabbed a couple of beers and slid down the emergency escape ramp and into the national consciousness, has quickly become a hero to everyone in this country who would like to quit his job in a glorious huff.

But those who thought Mr. Slater would simply get his 15 minutes on Leno (I thought he should be the next "Bachelor," or failing that, be asked to join "Dancing with the Stars") appear to have shortchanged the fellow.

The talking heads have since ascribed his frustrations to voters, and are saying that we are all going to curse like mad and grab a couple of beers on the way to the polling booths in November, so fed up are we with our political leaders.

Pundits on MSNBC are calling us a "JetBlue Nation," but the analogy doesn't quite fit because if we truly shared Mr. Slater's desire to flee with flair, we wouldn't vote at all.

Nevertheless. I see less job frustration in Mr. Slater's tantrum than I do something of the frog in the pot.

We in this country are certainly fed up to here with jobs we don't dare quit if we ever want to earn a paycheck again. But we are also so immersed in a rising level of incivility that we don't know when we are cooked. I am surprised more of us don't boil over the way Mr. Slater did.

He is now the unofficial spokesperson for a serving class that is increasingly abused, or simply ignored, by those whom they serve. Flight attendants are not the only members of that class who could tell tales of incredible rudeness. We seem to be a country of people who look down, not up, the food chain and reinforce our feelings of superiority by treating everyone on the links below badly or as if they didn't exist. And we feel entitled because somebody treated us in the same fashion.

In addition, the anonymity of the Internet notwithstanding, we are now quite comfortable saying the most appalling things about our president and his wife, not to mention less-exalted people with whom we disagree, and signing our names. You should see my e-mail. You would not believe it. Unless, of course, you wrote it to me.

Public discourse in the country would have to rise some before it could aspire to the levels on "Maury." Just listen to a few minutes of Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh. Even Vice President Joe Biden, it turns out, has a potty mouth.

Why don't we all just take the stage and scream ourselves hoarse at each other, say hurtful things we can never take back, and have everyone watch?

What we think we saw in Mr. Slater's exit was certainly job frustration. However, it was provoked by years of cramped-quarter exposure to people behaving really, really badly. But they are not just on airplanes anymore.

They are everywhere.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her e-mail is susan.reimer@baltsun.com. Twitter.com/susanreimer.

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