American fantasies of sticking it to The Man

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 23:16 EDT
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Regardless of the nit-picking in the mainstream media about whether we’re in a “recession” or a “downturn” or a “recovery”, for the American public, we’re living in a straight-up Depression. There’s 10% unemployment, and many of those lucky enough to hang on to their jobs are seeing their hours and wages cut back. Foreclosure rates are sky-high and people who are managing to hold it together stay up at nights in fear that the bottom is going to fall out any day now. Our Village idiots seem to take arguments about how it’s more important to avoid taxing the rich than to keep our roads paved and our lights on. But Americans know that things are bleak.

Which is why you’ve seen not one, but two stories this week that are folk legend ready that share the theme of telling The Man to fuck off. Most Americans can’t even dream of doing it; things are so bad that they fear that anything short of keeping their head down and working for free when asked will result in their name getting on the list of those to ax during the next round of layoffs. But we can read and we can dream.

Exhibit #1: Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater has had enough of your bullshit.

After a dispute with a passenger who stood to fetch luggage too soon on a full flight just in from Pittsburgh, Mr. Slater, 38 and a career flight attendant, got on the public-address intercom and let loose a string of invective.

Then, the authorities said, he pulled the lever that activates the emergency-evacuation chute and slid down, making a dramatic exit not only from the plane but, one imagines, also from his airline career.

On his way out the door, he paused to grab a beer from the beverage cart. Then he ran to the employee parking lot and drove off, the authorities said.

Like John Cole, I must say that grabbing the beer on the way out is the sort of touch that propels this from “funny story” to “folk legend”. I’ve seen some grousing about this guy’s actions from people, but I have to say, complaining about Steven Slater just makes you sound like an elitist. I fly somewhat frequently, and I wish someone would tell the imperious fuckheads who break the rules and end up wasting everyone’s time to fuck the fuck off. And even when the rules don’t make any sense, I think it’s an asshole move to disrespect the flight attendants who have to enforce them. They’re not the ones who decreed that your iPod that doesn’t transmit any signals is a danger to the aircraft’s communications systems.

And since this post will inevitably bring about, “But but but I’ve seen flight attendants who are legitimately bad at their jobs!”, no one is defending some motherfucker who takes out his anger at the world by riding your ass or making stupid mistakes that cause flight delays. But for anyone who’s worked in the service industry, it’s hard not to smile at this one.

Exhibit #2: This amusing story told in shots involving a whiteboard. In sum, the young woman in the shots tells the story of being an assistant to a man named “Spencer”, who she portrays as a real douchebag and who she claims drove her to quit by calling her a “HPOA”, aka “Hot Piece Of Ass” behind her back. Even if her whole story isn’t true, this kind of harassment is all too common.

In fact, the point of these stories isn’t that they’re true, but the opposite. People eat them up because they’re fantasies of what they can’t have, which is a chance to tell an overbearing boss to fuck off. On the contrary, one of the great underdiscussed aspects of unemployment is the emotional toll it takes on many Americans, who have lost leverage at work. While many of us are blessed with coworkers and supervisors we like, if you hate your boss—and a lot of people do—then the increased pressure to keep a job means even more subservience, word-swallowing, and daily humiliations. No wonder these stories make us smile.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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