Published August 12, 2010
Instant fame! Everyone gets their 15 minutes today, thanks to MySpace, Twitter -- and 500 million active Facebookers.
One minute Steven Slater was a psychotic flight attendant shouting expletives at passengers, triggering the emergency exit on a plane and escaping down the inflatable slide. The next, he was a working-class hero, propelled by overwhelming support on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Let's call it the "Betty White phenomenon," after a Facebook campaign to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live garnered more than half a million votes and landed her on the show. It's the power of the social web that turned Slater's "take this job and shove it" actions into the latest viral phenomenon.
With more than 150,000 "like this" fans on his Facebook page -- Slater is trying for 1 million by the end of the week -- Slater has become an online sensation and media darling. And it didn't take a high-priced PR firm or publicity-obsessed celebrity lawyer like Gloria Allred to get him there.
"Slater slide" is quickly becoming part of the popular lexicon, a hot hash tag on Twitter, and even noticed by the White House staff. On Wednesday Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made a joking reference to Slater's escapade: "There's no truth to the rumor that I've added an inflatable exit to my office," Gibbs said in response to criticism of comments he made about those he called "the professional left."
Of course, there's already a T-shirt for sale: "Quit Your Job With Style" it says with an image of a person sliding down an airplane emergency chute. Buy it on your choice of online sites; I prefer the Donkey Ts version to the Cafe Press and Etsy editions.
What started it all? According to authorities, on Monday Slater confronted a passenger on JetBlue Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to New York who was violating safety rules by removing her luggage from an overhead compartment before the plane was at a complete stop. The unruly passenger used an expletive, which was the last straw for Slater.
He went to the microphone and cursed out the passenger (the quote on his Facebook page reads, "To the passenger who called me a m----er, f--- you").
Slater then grabbed two beers, pulled open an emergency exit and whisked down the inflatable slide to freedom. Police later swarmed his home in Queens and took the smiling Slater into custody.
"This guy got to his breaking point and did what most people only dream of!" wrote Sarah Miller Whitworth on Slater's Facebook page. Indeed, most comments there and elsewhere online voice support for Slater, many even call him a hero.
"I'm slidin' with Steve!," wrote JoLynn Hammond in another post, a comment that's fast becoming a catch phrase of its own.
Before Slater was released from jail Wednesday, many online supporters offered to help pay his $2,500 bail. And now that Slater has terminated his JetBlue career with such bravado, the web had several suggestions for Slater's next career move, including beer spokesman, air marshal and American Idol judge. Several fans want to see him keep his job at JetBlue.
Clearly, Slater's actions touched a nerve, leading many to voice their own frustrations with working conditions and rude customers. A common refrain on Twitter and Facebook has been a call to arrest the passenger who disobeyed the flight attendant's instructions.
In fact, according to the Federal Aviation Authority, passengers can be fined up to $25,000 for being unruly and disobeying a flight attendant's instructions.
Even passengers on the Pittsburgh to New York flight had sympathy for Slater. Some reportedly found his outburst and Errol Flynn-like exit funny. Kati Doebler, who was on the flight but couldn't see who was speaking on the PA system, told the Associated Press, "The passengers all started to giggle a little bit."
But for all the jokes and online support, Slater still faces some serious consequences for his actions. He's been charged with criminal mischief, trespassing and reckless endangerment. He could spend up to 7 years in prison, according to authorities, if convicted.