Resurrecting Howard Beale

Ever see the movie Network?

If you haven’t, you totally should.

It was one of the first movies in which the main character is the workplace anti-hero. A long-time news anchor’s ratings are sagging and he’s given the boot by the network superiors. After finding out he’s got two more weeks of his career left, he announces to a shocked viewing public that he’s going to commit suicide on the air at the end of his tenure.
After being talked down, he’s allowed back on the air a few days later and, once he is, he launches into an iconic rant where he repeats, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”, a sound bit that has been sampled, copied, interlaced into radio promos, and generally became a part of the pop-culture zeitgeist and still hangs around today.

Howard Beale, the main character in that movie, became an icon in that world because he refused to lie down and do what he was told. He didn’t want to be a good little soldier anymore and wouldn’t ride quietly off into the sunset when he was told to do so. He was mad as hell and he didn’t take it anymore.

He was the first infamous person to do this on film. He wouldn’t be the last.

Movies like Network, Clerks, Office Space, Fight Club, Waiting, Wanted, even the scene where the dude quits his job in Half Baked (f*ck you, f*ck you, you’re cool, f*ck you, I’m out), have an intense fantasy element that appeals to all of us white collar/service industry workers: the ultimate way to raise a giant middle finger to the job you hate.
Whether it’s playing hockey on the roof, telling off your annoying boss then smashing your ergonomic keyboard into the face of an annoying co-worker, or even burning the building down, there’s always that one crazy thing we’ve always wanted to do that we know is either extremely taboo or patently forbidden and would probably result in the loss of our jobs. Usually, in the movies, some good comes of whatever is done (free money, promotions, being recruited by the Fraternity of Assassins, etc.), but in the real world, we’d probably just be out on our asses without much of an issue.

That is, until Steven Slater.

If you’ve been hiding under a rock, Steven Slater is (read: was) a JetBlue flight attendant who, after a particularly nasty confrontation with a particularly nasty customer, he snapped. His response was to give a verbal rebuttal to the customer in question over the intercom, grab a few beers, pull the emergency exit, and hit the big yellow slide off the plane and on to the tarmac, exiting through an unlocked door that lead to the street, getting in his car, and going home.
Of course, that’s the truncated version. There are many other longer versions of the story available at your favorite news websites. I didn’t want to spend too much time regurgitating what you may have heard a billion times.

Mr. Slater is being declared an overnight working-class folk hero by several websites, talk shows, and tabloids. Your faithful narrator is inclined to agree.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the service industry – be it food, retail, or any other customer-centric detail – has the private fantasy of quitting their job in the fashion perpetrated by Mr. Slater. We all want to do the big, dramatic, middle-finger exit. We all want to tell that one annoying person (or group of annoying people) that they should sit and spin. We all have our own version of the emergency door slide; that thing we’ve always wanted to do but never could because we knew it would mean instant discipline or termination.
The problem is that most of us live paycheck-to-paycheck and, in this economy, there’s no room for us to flip the middle finger and walk because, as unfortunate as it is, money is essential to survival in modern society. As much as we might want to steal beer from the company, kick open the door, and jump down the slide, we’ll never do it because our jobs hold our lives in tenuous economic neutrality (well, relative neutrality, anyway). Most of us just don’t have the balls to throw our jobs to the wind in such a fashion, especially not after working in an industry for twenty-eight years, as Mr. Slater has.

Is Steven Slater a hero? Yes. The only thing he could have done better would be to tell off his boss before jumping down the slide.
While discussing this aloud, someone raised the point that Steven Slater will never, with the amount of publicity surrounding this, be hired by another company again unless he decides to get a job at Starbucks or Mickey D’s.
I counter by saying nay. If this keeps up, this guy is going to have his own reality show. After that burns out, he’ll host another reality show or get on one of those celebrity mash-up shows. He’s not going to want for much once the contracts start rolling in. Guaranteed, with the buzz surrounding this whole thing just over the last three days and the fact that “jet blue worker” is still in the top searches on all the big engines, he’s going to be fielding some calls and setting up some meetings today if he hasn’t already. There will probably be a book deal at the very least.

Through his insubordination and his anger, he’s set himself up for life, probably much better than continuing to work for the airline until he dropped. Proof positive that showing some balls when necessary can be its own reward.

Steven Slater is the savior of the service industry. He was mad as hell and he wasn’t going to take it anymore. He did what every mistreated service worker in this world wishes they could do every day of their life. He didn’t care about consequences. He just did it. For that, myself and the rest of the working class salute him.

I leave you with my mantra, one held over from my days of retail drudgery.
In the words of the great Randall Graves: “This job would be great if it wasn’t for all the fucking customers.”

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

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