Saturday, May 30, 2015

Attendant who slid off jet finds a big welcome on the Net

IT SEEMS that people the world over have sipped the Slaterade and now have full blown Slatermania.

Confused? Pull your chair into the full upright position and grab a tiny bag of peanuts.

The topic is Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant who lost his marbles on Monday when he was clocked in the head with a piece of luggage on flight 1052, moments after the plane landed at JFK International Airport, in New York.

The clocking came courtesy of a female passenger who told Slater to "f--- off" after the 38-year-old flight attendant told her not to remove her bag from an overhead compartment, witnesses said.

Slater's reaction is already the stuff of legend: He unleashed a few choice words over the public-address system, grabbed his bags and a beer - hey, why not? - and escaped via the plane's emergency inflatable slide.

If Slater's tale ended there, it would be one hell of a story.

But what makes it really interesting is this unexpected, still-unfolding development: Slater has become something of a phenomenon on the Internet, where tens of thousands of people have rallied around him.

As of last night, 64,700 people had identified themselves as supporters of Slater on Facebook, more than twice as many as had Phillies ace Roy Halladay (31,285) and more than half as many as had Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie (126,418). On one hand, his appeal is obvious.

Slater's screw-you-and-screw-this-job outburst resonates with anyone who's ever been frustrated with his life, much in the same way that the fictional TV anchor Howard Beale's "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" diatribe in the movie "Network" connected with people in 1976. What makes Slater's situation unique, social-media experts say, is that users of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have added an extra dimension to the story by responding to it in real time, en masse.

"If we didn't have the current media forms that we have, this probably would not be something we'd be talking about now, except maybe a minute or two around the water cooler," said John Edward Campbell, an assistant professor at Temple University who specializes in new media.

Campbell noted that mainstream media reports of the incident focused on the outrageousness of Slater's behavior, and the string of felony charges he's facing.

Through Facebook and Twitter "you start hearing other people's perspective, and it gives the story an entirely different complexion," Campbell said.

"Now you see it through his perspective, and the perspective of others who wish they could do the same thing."

Indeed, numerous people posted messages of support on Slater's Facebook page.

"YOU ARE FREAKING AWESOME!!!!! STEVE FOR PRESIDENT!!!!" wrote one person.

Another wrote: "Steve is officially my hero; standing up for the working class citizens who deal with so many unruly people every day."

In spite of the multitude of happy thoughts, life's not all sunshine and lollipops for Slater. Police arrested him at his home in Queens not long after his outburst on Monday. Newspapers in New York claimed that cops busted him while he was having sex with his boyfriend.

He was charged with numerous felonies, including criminal mischief, that could bring him seven years in jail. As of yesterday, Slater was reportedly free on $2,500 bail.

He also was removed from duty by JetBlue. An internal JetBlue memo, obtained by TMZ, focused on how Slater's use of the plane's slide could have injured or killed someone on the ground.

And for all the positive support that Slater has garnered through social-networking sites, there is a negative, noted Christine Becker, an associate film and television professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Private details of Slater's life - his past struggles with alcohol, his mother's battle against lung cancer - have been spread around the world. "He can't stop any of this now," said Becker, whose musings about the case on Twitter were quoted yesterday by the "Today Show."

"It's gotten away from him in that sense, and look at how instantly it happened."

gambacd@phillynews.com 215-854-5994
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