If you’ve been anywhere near a news dispensing device in the last week, you know the story of Steven Slater. He’s the Jet Blue flight attendant that signed off from his job with a curse filled tirade over the planes intercom, then fled via the emergency chute after grabbing a couple of beers. Opinions on Slater seem to cover the whole spectrum. To some, he’s the voice of the overworked Everyman, who had the guts to say what many people think every time they deal with a rude member of the public, an obnoxious boss or a job they hate. At the opposite end of the spectrum, others see Slater as a whiny criminal who did his job poorly and put lives in danger my deploying the emergency slide. A third camp has emerged which wants to give Slater his own reality show. Shudder.
These quickly formed camps of opinion exemplify one of my favorite emerging pet peeves, which I like to call: The Race to the Bottom. Love him or hate him, you, along with the entire internet, every media outlet, your hairdresser and the guy that butters your bagel all have an opinion. As a culture we can’t get enough of Slater. The same goes for Lindsay Lohan, Tila Tequila, Mel Gibson and whoever the train wreck of the day is. It’s scary. I’m not condemning gossip. I like to know who was caught making out in the bathroom as much as the next guy.
What’s scary is we have become addicted to watching average people melt down in public, in increasingly more dramatic and destructive ways. That’s the race to the bottom. It used to be that gossip was confined to the rich and famous. Being rich and famous, when they made a public boo-boo, we all gathered round to watch stars stumble from their pedestal. The problem is now, the pedestal is missing. With the pedal to the metal, headed downwards, we don’t have gossip anymore, we have a Running Man like system of watching people suffer. Is that entertainment (it certainly isn’t news even by the loosest definition of the word)?
This may have a profound effect on the way we form relationships and interact with each other. If we love to watch people fall to the wolves publicly, do we get the same glee from doing this to the people we interact with in our lives? We’re treating life like a great big reality show, without the cameras. If this is becoming the baseline attitude for people, how can we expect to form healthy, lasting connections with other when we are secretly waiting for the to “pull a Snooki” so we can get our dose of amusement for the day.
Steven Slater is the most recent example of the plunge to the bottom. In a week or two he’ll either be forgotten, or appearing weekly on a reality show that creates more human characters for us to watch, and ultimately enjoy suffering. The race to the bottom will continue unabated, and we’ll all keep suffering the consequences in our personal lives as it becomes more and more difficult to feel empathy with others, and make a significant connection with other people.
My suggestion? Take a little bit of time to step back, and think about what you are actually “enjoying” the next time you’re about to click your 34th link to a story about some average person who has been thrust into the spotlight for doing something stupid, crazy or unfortunate. Don’t worry, I promise you there is plenty of gossip to go around, the well won’t fry. Just try avoiding the stuff that has a negative effect on the people it mentions, ourselves, and those we interact with. The costumes in the Running Man look cool, but we don’t want to live in that world. Neither does Steven Slater.