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Let’s just take it all out on the powerless!

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I’m way late on this story about Chuck Schumer calling a flight attendant a “bitch”, mostly because I didn’t feel any need to point out that it’s really not so great of a man to fling that word at women to put them in their place. Like Tracy Clark-Flory pointed out, it’s hard to even get that outraged, because the word “bitch” is flung around so often that you get numb, which creates this weird irony, because when a man calls you a bitch, he usually wants it to sting really bad, and it doesn’t have that power because it’s used so much. So, I skipped it. But M. LeBlanc has pulled me back in with her wily blogging ways. She’s linked to Michael Wolff, no doubt thinking he’s being daring, talking about how Schumer is some kind of hero for calling some poor woman who works shitty hours for low pay a bitch.

Amongst his many sins against common sense, Wolff blows off the word “bitch” as a “mild epithet”, which Matt calls him out for. Like I said before, when a man flings it at you, it’s quite clear that it’s anything but mild—he usually wants it to hurt bad, and is less than pleased if you’re numb to it. (Which is why “cunt” is often flung in its stead, to keep the misogyny fresh.) But this is mild compared to some of the crazed shit that Wolff says, while pissing on those less fortunate than he.

Among the worst things you can do in upper-middle-class, politically-correct, don’t-call-attention-to-yourself culture is insult a service person. This is counter-intuitive because one of the things that is most often done in upper-middle-class culture is complain about service.

Presumably, we are to laugh at this tendency of people to think it’s less than noble to lash out at people who make very little money to put up with your bullshit. Because, as Wolff will explain, sometimes the help isn’t being submissive and apologetic enough for continuing to have sentience while waiting on you.

But the arrogance and entitlement of a United States senator is no more probable then the petty tyrannies, surly dismissiveness, and automaton-like manner of a flight attendant. Such contempt has only increased with 9/11-inspired laws that make looking cross-eyed at airline personnel an imprisonable offense.

And this is where he demonstrates why we need rules like, “Don’t just snap at the stewardess because she’s doing her damn job.” Because people like Wolff are childish, and like children, will blame the person closest to them instead of the person responsible for their pain. The flight attendant has to tell you to turn off your cell phone, asshole. Believe you and me, she wishes more than you probably do that this wasn’t a rule, and therefore she didn’t have to enforce it on snotty people who blame her, due to their childishness. Because you can’t tell the difference between the person responsible for the rule and the person who has to enforce it, we have have rules of etiquette to save you from yourself.

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There are two points here. The smaller one has to do with the idiotic notion that cell phones might interfere with airline systems, which everybody knows (or strongly suspects) is bogus. The larger one is an odd conceit that it is somehow rude, domineering, and unnecessary, to quibble about the service you’re getting—that if you do, you are obviously way too entitled.

Except, of course, that there probably wasn’t any problem with the service. I’m sure the flight attendant is very good at her job, and provides exactly the service that the customer pays for. In fact, I would point out that if she did tell Schumer that his phone call was holding up the plane, she was doing a bang-up job of service. Because there are other people on the flight, and like a good server, she was thinking of their comfort and desire to get to their destination. For this, I commend her. I have to fly somewhat frequently, and I always want to beat that asshole who holds up the plane for no reason about the head and shoulders.

As for the comment about the cell phone rule, well, I’ve actually heard a flight attendant tell a passenger that the rule is mainly there so that people don’t bother their seatmates. While I’m not happy that they lie to us about why there’s a rule, I appreciate the sentiment driving it. If people sat on their phone during their entire airplane flights, there would be a lot more violence on airplanes. But whether or not you agree with the rule, the point is that the flight attendant doesn’t have a choice about enforcing it. Someone else wrote that rule, and common sense would dictate that you complain to the person in charge, not the person with no real power. But Wolff doesn’t truck with that. He prefers to lash out at the immediate human being.

Rather, more to the point, he’s expressing the frustration which everybody on an airplane pretty much always feels—so, logically, he should be cheered.

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His excuse is that many service people are rude and incompetent. I should point out again that the flight attendant seems to be very competent, since part of her job is facing up to the unpleasant task of making assholes behave so everyone else on the plane can arrive at their destination on time. Since Wolff can’t tell the difference between incompetent service and someone who is enforcing a rule he finds annoying, I’ll bet he makes this mistake on service people who are helpless all the time. After all, as M. says, most of them do the best they can.

Just a few days ago I was flying from LA back to Washington. I had a layover in Minneapolis, and I guess the airport screwed up fairly bad. We arrived on time, but our gate was occupied, and they took their sweet time reassigning us to another gate, and then we had to sit there for 15 mins while we waited for the ground crew to show up. All in all, we were about 30 minutes late, which was just enough for me to miss my flight. I was shocked at how agitated people were, and how rude to the flight attendants. I did an informal poll of the people around me, and none of them seemed to have a legitimate reason for being pissed off, beyond “I want to catch my flight.” But why? Important meeting you need to be at? Kid’s piano recital? Catching a once-a-day flight to Beijing? Nope. No one had a reason. The flight attendant was very apologetic when I told her that I was going to miss my flight. I was like “eh.” So, I waited another two hours.

I will say this: Those of us who get crabby when forced to wait around in airports are not bad people, nor are we imperious because we want to get to our destination. I’ve definitely had reasons to be upset when my flight is delayed. I missed a day in Amsterdam because of it once. I’ve missed parties I planned on attending at conferences, and keynote speakers as well. When you’re paying your money or your labor to get to events, you damn well want to get there. And when you’re coming home and you’re tired, you want to get there, too. So I have no problem with people being crabby.

But there’s being crabby and there’s taking it out on innocent people. A flight attendant doing everything she can? You should be exquisitely polite. A customer service person whose job is to stall and distract you from the fact that they can put you on another flight? You should be polite, but firm and insistent, making it clear you respect them as a human being, but that the distraction techniques they’re taught to use aren’t going to work and you will be getting what you stood in line for. Remember at all times that it’s not their fault that their bosses make them play this game with you. I often say it, to relieve them of the pressure of having to go through the steps they’ve no doubt been made to memorize. They’re just trying to make a living. Most of them, if they had their way, would just give you what you want straight away.

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Now, that said, I won’t deny that there’s occasionally someone working any kind of job that gets on some crazy ass power trip and decides to lord it over you. But honestly, they’re rarely the flight attendant at airports. The rare imperious asshole I’ve met while flying tends to work security, and they enjoy rifling through people’s stuff and screaming orders at them a little too much. Then again, theirs is not a service job, and the problem is probably that they fall too much into the adversarial role they’ve been given. Service workers aren’t in an adversarial role, and it’s really quite rare when they act like they are. Which is why Wolff’s paranoia really sounds off the charts here:

Everybody knows modern life is a pitched battle between the server and the served

Now that speaks more to his guilt than any of the other behaviors he sneers at, such as not berating service workers for enforcing their bosses’ rules. Only people who feel deeply guilty about their position get into those paranoid cycles where they think people lower on the totem pole are constantly stealing from them and trying to fuck with them. It’s the same mentality that drives racists to load up on guns and drives sexists to run around the internet screaming about the plague of false rape accusations. When I see someone that paranoid, I wonder what kind of nastiness in their heart makes them feel so guilty. Except in Wolff’s case, he hangs out his contempt for working people trying to scrape by right on his sleeve.

There is the view, or the rationalization, that service personnel should not be blamed for the sins of their corporate owners, which, if you think about it, makes service employees out to be a form of human shield in front of corporate management (not to mention letting the server off the hook for his or her own tyrannies and incompetence).

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Of course, there was nothing tyrannical or incompetent about a flight attendant doing exactly the job she was told to do. So, in fact, Wolff’s suggestion that we scream at service workers for enforcing rules they hate that their bosses make them enforce—instead of, you know, actually taking up our complaints with the people responsible—is an ugly form of cowardice. Oh, Michael has frustrations, but he doesn’t want to take them out on someone with power! So he’s going to lash out at someone making $10 an hour and whose job probably involves cleaning up people’s bodily fluids in some capacity. Maybe he thinks because they deal with other people’s real shit, they should have to swallow his bullshit, too.

I hope next time he eats out, the waiter spits in his food.

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